A North East MP has dismissed safety concerns over putting longer lorries on UK roads.
Tory minister Richard Holden has defended new legislation that will permit extra-long lorry trailers to be used on British roads. The plans have sparked concerns about increased dangers to pedestrians and cyclists because of the vehicles’ larger tail swing, with campaigners having called for greater testing.
The roads minister, who is the MP for North West Durham, was at the Greggs bakery headquarters in Longbenton on Wednesday to see the bigger trailers in action and insisted they would be “good for productivity, good for the environment, good for road safety”. Department for Transport officials say the policy will generate £1.4bn of economic benefits and save 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere over 11 years by taking one standard-size trailer off the road for every 12 trips.
Addressing the safety fears while stood next to a huge sausage roll-branded lorry, Mr Holden told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “That is exactly the reason we had such a long trial – 11 years to really kick the tyres on the safety element of it. There are two elements to the safety – one is that over that 11-year period, because they are so long and because they require the guys who operate them to have more training, we have actually seen a 61% reduction in the number of incidents involving these compared to standard HGVs.
“The second is that this is going to take up to one in 12 HGVs off the road – that is massively helpful in terms of safety on our road network. There will be fewer lorries on the road, no increase in the weight limit, and a slight increase in the length which is really helpful in terms of road safety.
“This has been front and centre in all of our thoughts while we have been doing this and is why we have had such a long trial. It is also why all the companies have been so supportive of it, because they have seen a positive impact on their safety record for their drivers on the ground.”
Bigger trailers up to 61ft long, some 6ft 9in longer than the standard size, will be permitted to be used from May 31 under legislation laid in Parliament on Wednesday. Keir Gallagher, campaigns manager at Cycling UK, said it was “alarming that longer and more hazardous lorries could now be allowed to share the road with people cycling and walking”.
He added: “Before opening the floodgates to longer lorries rolling into our busy town centres and narrow rural lanes, further testing in real life scenarios should have been done to assess and address the risks.”
A spokesperson for the Newcastle Cycling Campaign said longer lorries “only increase the risk to people walking and cycling” and called on ministers to reverse recent cuts to active travel budgets.
The Campaign for Better Transport has also argued that the the Government should instead focus on moving more freight by train instead of on the roads. Mr Holden said he wanted “as much freight on rail as possible”, but that road haulage was still required because of capacity constraints.
Greggs was among more than 300 companies that have already used the longer lorries during their trial and says that they up the amount of pasties and sausage rolls that each vehicle can carry by 15%. Gavin Kirk, supply chain director at Greggs, said that shifting 20% of its trailer fleet to the Longer Semi-Trailers (LSTs) had reduced the baking giant’s mileage by 540,000km per year.
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