This summer saw the first significant output from the Freight Council, of which UKWA is part, when DfT published Future of Freight: a long-term plan. This seminal report proclaims the start of a new holistic, cross-sector and cross-government approach.
The triple bottom-line of economic, social and environmental performance is reflected in the plan, with objectives to make freight more cost efficient, reliable and resilient and an acknowledgement of the trade-offs between them. For example, the plan shows that supply-chain resilience is key to withstanding extreme weather events, whilst carbon reduction is essential to keep in check the worst projected impacts of climate change.
Encouraging then, that a new Freight Energy Forum is to be set up. A central tenet of Future of Freight, the Forum’s remit will include exploring geographic disparities in energy infrastructure – presumably with a view to resolving them. The foreword promises this will be for the entire sector, so it ought to include warehousing. Our research on the barriers to adoption of solar photovoltaic panels on warehouse rooftops, due to be published this summer, will highlight some key policy asks which the new Freight Energy Forum would do well to heed.
But the Energy chapter of Future of Freight dwells only on transport, without mentioning warehousing at all. Clearly this is illogical because although the carbon footprint of ambient warehousing pales into insignificance alongside transport, there are nevertheless opportunities such as efficient lighting, or electrification of MHE which ought not to be missed. More importantly, the revolution in electric vans, which heralds the development of battery-operated HGV fleets, will exponentially ramp up the power supply demanded by freight. It seems obvious that charging facilities located at warehouses need to be part of the solution, so the adoption of renewables is critical.
During the pandemic, nearly £8bn of government aid was provided to prop up uneconomic shipping routes, new rail freight paths were made available, longer trains permitted and 33 measures were put in place to address the shortage of HGV drivers. There was no equivalent public investment in warehousing, however. Future of Freight proudly lists these actions, as evidence of Government’s willingness to support industry where necessary. More reliable freight transport is vital for efficient warehousing operations so it would be churlish of us not to welcome these initiatives, despite it being glaringly obvious that DfT have conveniently missed us out.
But it will be unforgivable if the new £7m Freight Innovation Fund is reserved for transport-only initiatives, when there is every opportunity to include warehouses in a wider and more accurate definition of freight. As always, UKWA wants nothing more than a fair share for warehousing. And we will continue lobbying on behalf of our Members to secure it.