Heavy goods vehicles are not paying their way on the roads. It’s time for distance-based charging

Lorries on the street of London, 2008. Image: Getty.

The poor state of repair of our urban and local roads, which account for 98 per cent of the network, were highlighted in the Asphalts Industry Association’s latest ALARM annual survey issued last month. The survey showed that more than 24,000 miles of local/urban road need essential maintenance within the next year. In particular, the report showed that London roads are the worst in England with almost a quarter in poor condition – twice as bad as the best roads in the country.

What is missing in the debate about funding road maintenance however, is the recognition that heavy lorries cause far more damage to foundations and structures of roads than cars. Yet they are only cover 11 per cent of their road infrastructure costs, despite what the Freight Transport Association claims. The standard 44 tonne HGV, which is the industry workhorse, causes 136,000 times more damage to road infrastructure than a Ford Focus because the damaging power rises exponentially as weight increases – a phenomenon known as the ‘Generalised Fourth Power Law

Local and urban roads, unlike motorways, are not built to sustain the large volume of heavy goods now traffic using them. And yet, the Road Haulage Association complains that its lorries are being damaged by the existing poor state of local roads – a phenomenon, for which they are largely responsible.

Consider a report called Heavy Goods Vehicles: Do they pay their way? - impacts on road surfaces, produced by RepGraph for the Freight Trade Association (FTA). It claimed HGVs pay three times more than their estimated damage costs to infrastructure. But our analysis at the Campaign for Better Transport shows that the FTA-commissioned RepGraph report is based on out-of-date figures and incorrect assumptions. In fact HGVs only cover one ninth of their road damage costs.

The wider problem is that this underpayment by lorries is not confined to road maintenance. In fact our latest report, which uses government values, shows that HGVs are still only paying a third of the costs they impose on the economy and society in terms of road congestion, road crashes, road damage and pollution costs. HGVs are almost seven times more likely than cars to be involved in fatal collisions on minor roads. They’re responsible for 17 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and a fifth (21 per cent) of NOx emissions from road transport, despite making up just 5 per cent of vehicle miles. When the full costs of HGVs are taken into account that equates to a £6bn a year taxpayer subsidy.


This subsidy undermines the incentive for the haulage industry to be efficient. Only a third (34 per cent) of HGVs are full in terms of load volume. Almost another third (30 per cent) are driving around completely empty – a figure that’s been growing for some years. Partially loaded trucks result in unnecessary lorry journeys to feed our shopping habits.

In contrast, the German distance-based charging system incentivises efficiency and has reduced empty lorries by a third, as well as reducing tonne kilometres because of better loading rates; prior to its introduction, Germany had similar empty lorry levels to the UK. In Austria, per km charging for trucks reduced the percentage of empty vehicles from 21 per cent to 16 per cent. Average loads grew by 0.6 tonnes, to 14,7 tonnes, between 1999 and 2004.          

That’s why we are calling on the government to introduce distance-based charging in its current review of the Lorry Road User Levy. This would better reflect HGV’s costs, encourage the use of less polluting lorries, and reduce unnecessary lorry miles by making more efficient use of the road network.

It is the duty of the government to make sure that the adverse impacts of road freight transport on the economy, the environment and society are minimised and that the public purse is not subsidising bad practice.

Philippa Edmunds is freight-on-rail manager at the Campaign for Better Transport.

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What does the Greater Manchester Spatial Plan mean for the region’s housing supply and green belt?

Manchester. Image: Getty.

We’re not even halfway through January and we’ve already seen one of the biggest urban stories of the year – the release of Greater Manchester’s new spatial plan for the city-region. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) sets an ambitious target to build more than 200,000 homes over the next 18 years.

Despite previous statements indicating greenbelt development was off the table, the plan allows for some moderate easing of greenbelt, combined with denser city centre development. This is sensible, pragmatic and to be welcomed but a question remains: will it be enough to keep Manchester affordable over the long-term?

First, some history on Manchester’s housing strategy: This is not the first iteration of the controversial GMSF. The first draft was released by Greater Manchester’s council leaders back in October 2016 (before Andy Burnham was in post), and aimed to build 227,000 houses by 2037. Originally, it proposed releasing 8.2 per cent of the green belt to provide land for housing. Many campaigners opposed this, and the newly elected mayor, Andy Burnham, sent the plan back to the drawing board in 2017.

The latest draft published this week contains two important changes. First, it releases slightly less greenbelt land than the original plan, 4.1 per cent of the total, but more than Andy Burnham previously indicated he would. Second, while the latest document is still ambitious, it plans for 26,000 fewer homes over the same period than the original.

To build up or to build out?

In many cities, the housing supply challenge is often painted as a battle-ground between building high-density homes in the city centre or encroaching on the green belt. Greater Manchester is fortunate in that it lacks the density of cities such as London – suggesting less of a confrontation between people who what to build up and people who want to build out.

Prioritising building on Greater Manchester’s plentiful high-density city centre brownfield land first is right and will further incentivise investment in public transport to reduce the dependence of the city on cars. It makes the goal in the mayor’s new transport plan of 50 per cent of all journeys in Greater Manchester be made on foot, bikes or public transport by 2040 easier to realise.

However, unlike Greater London’s greenbelt which surrounds the capital, Greater Manchester’s green belt extends deep into the city-region, making development on large amounts of land between already urbanised parts of the city-region more difficult. This limits the options to build more housing in parts of Greater Manchester close to the city centre and transport nodes. The worry is that without medium-term reform to the shape of Manchester’s green belt, it may tighten housing supply in Manchester even more than the green belt already does in places such as London and York. In the future, when looking to undertake moderate development on greenbelt land, the mayor should look to develop in these areas of ‘interior greenbelt’ first.

Greater Manchester’s Green Belt and Local Authority Boundaries, 2019.

Despite the scale of its ambition, the GMSF cannot avoid the sheer size of the green belt forever: it covers 47 per cent of the total metropolitan area). In all likelihood, plans to reduce the size of the green belt by 2 per cent will need to be looked at again once the existing supply of brownfield land runs low – particularly if housing demand over the next 18 years is higher than the GMSF expects, which should be the case if the city region’s economy continues to grow.

An example of a successful political collaboration

The GMSF was a politically pragmatic compromise achieved through the cooperation of the metropolitan councils and the mayoral authority to boost the supply of homes. It happened because Greater Manchester’s mayor has an elected mandate to implement and integrate the GMSF and the new transport plan.

Other cities and the government should learn from this. The other metro mayors currently lacking spatial planning powers, in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, should be gifted Greater Manchester-style planning powers by the government so they too can plan and deliver the housing and transport their city-regions need.

Long-term housing strategies that are both sustainable and achievable need to build both up and out. In the short-term Greater Manchester has achieved this, but in the future, if its economic success is maintained, it will need to be bolder on the green belt than the proposals in the current plan. By 2037 Manchester will not face a trade-off between high-density flats in the city centre or green belt reform – it will need to do both.  If the city region is to avoid the housing problems that bedevil London and other successful cities, policy makers need to be ready for this.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.