LONGER lorries should be allowed on Britain’s roads, says a transport expert at Huddersfield University.
But they should not be used to carry heavier loads, insists David Leach, a lecturer and researcher specialising in freight transport and supply chain finance.
Mr Leach said there would be economic and environmental benefits to individual companies and the country if the UK changed the rules to allow high capacity vehicles (HCVs) on to its roads.
At 25.25 metres, they would be about a third as long again as the largest lorries currently permitted in Britain.
But they would not carry heavier loads. Instead, they would be used for larger quantities of lightweight goods – cutting down on the number of vehicle journeys which would lead to “significant” cost savings, lower carbon emissions and reduced congestion.
Mr Leach’s comments come in a report which looks certain to reopen a controversial topic when it lands on the desks of politicians and industry lobbyists.
A paper based on his work was judged to be the best at the recent Annual Conference of the Logistics Research Network.
Mr Leach’s focus is purely on extended vehicle length while maintaining gross weight at the current UK standard. Other studies have looked at increasing weight and length simultaneously.
He said: “I think that in the right circumstances – for companies that transport lightweight goods in large quantities from distribution site to distribution site – HCVs would be an undoubted benefit and would lead to a reduction in carbon emissions.”
The rail-freight industry – fearing a wholesale switch to road transport – and safety campaigners have been rigidly opposed to larger vehicles in Britain.
But Mr Leach’s findings run counter to many of their arguments.
Mr Leach, who held senior posts in the logistics industry before switching to an academic career, said only a small proportion of freight traffic might switch from rail to HCVs which are unsuited for heavy goods such as steel, coal and road building materials.
He said European studies showed that extra-large vehicles did not create additional road safety problems.
And technical innovations meant that HCVs were just as manoeuvrable as smaller lorries. Their 50% extra carrying capacity would lead to fewer vehicles on the road, cutting congestion.
Mr Leach said HCVs would not be permitted to exceed the current maximum weight when loaded – 44 tonnes in the UK.
“You are increasing the cubic capacity of the vehicle but you are reducing the maximum weight of goods that it can carry,” he said.
“This means that HCVs will only be of value to companies that distribute lightweight goods, such as snack foods, tissues and packaging materials.”
David Leach’s research was commissioned by personal health care products firm Kimberly-Clark.
Mr Leach, who worked on the research with his colleague Chris Savage, estimated that about 15% of the UK’s standard full-load traffic would be suitable for HCVs.
The report said that full adoption in the UK could lead to annual transport cost savings of £226m. Total reductions in carbon emissions could amount to 96 thousand tonnes per annum and the use of HCVs would reduce the total distances travelled by large vehicles by up to 4%, making a useful contribution to the relief of congestion.