On 15 June 2022, DfT published its Future of Freight Plan (the “Plan”). The Plan is the first cross-modal, cross-governmental plan for the UK freight and logistics sector, and has been developed in collaboration with industry including through the Freight Council. 

The Plan identifies five priority areas:

  • A National Freight Network – through state and private sector collaboration, the Plan envisages a system-level approach to the freight network, supporting end-to-end freight journeys that are more efficient, reliable and resilient.
  • Transition to Net Zero – the Plan seeks to enhance investment certainty and identify cross-modal efficiencies to support the whole sector achieving net zero.
  • Planning – the Plan recognises that the planning system needs to be more responsive to the needs of the freight and logistics sector and that local planning authorities need to be empowered to plan for those needs.
  • People & Skills – the Plan hopes to meet the demand for the distribution of goods by establishing the freight and logistics sector as an industry for talented, skilled, and diverse people.
  • Data & Technology – the Plan acknowledges the need for the freight sector to embrace technological innovation and accelerate the adoption of currently available solutions.

It is hoped that the UK’s freight and logistics sector will become cost efficient, reliable, resilient to future disruption, environmentally sustainable, and valued by the public, stakeholders, and key decision makers.

The Plan’s Key Proposals

The Plan puts forward a number of proposals, each of which contribute to one or more of the priority areas above. The key proposals include:

  • The identification of a cross-modal National Freight Network that is intended to span rail, road, maritime, aviation, inland waterway, and warehouse infrastructure.  This will be developed by the Government working in collaboration with the Freight Council.  It will then be used to identify key freight corridors across the country, including the density of flows and their value, enabling Government to prioritise strategically important corridors for investment. 
  • The establishment of a Freight Energy Forum, a sub-group of the Freight Council, by autumn 2022. The role of the Forum will be to share energy and fuel infrastructure plans, evaluate technology and research, engage with the development of the National Freight Network, and maximise funding opportunities for freight energy and fuel infrastructure deployment. Alongside this, DfT has reiterated a commitment to the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, and also proposes a regulatory review of the barriers to implementing new fuel and energy infrastructure.
  • A comprehensive review of existing planning practice guidance will be undertaken to ensure that planning policy is not causing undue friction and stifling innovation in the freight sector. DfT expects to publish a freight specific call for evidence on the planning guidance by autumn 2022. The government will also consult on and publish an updated DfT Circular later in 2022 that will include higher standards for roadside facilities on the strategic road network, and build upon the Written Ministerial Statement published with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which outlined the need to take into account specific requirements of different industrial sectors when preparing local plans and deciding planning applications.
  • The development and delivery an industry-led programme, Generation Logistics, with the aim of shifting perceptions of the sector, improving diversity, and ensuring a new generation of logistics workers. In tandem, DfT proposes a reform to the freight and logistics training schemes available, building upon the Skills for Jobs white paper by focusing on improving employer-led classroom-based learning, investing in occupational traineeships, and improving the retraining opportunities for the existing workforce.
  • A new, cross-modal, £7m Freight Innovation Fund is to be established that will focus on commercially available technology and the business cases for their implementation into the freight sector. Supplementing this will be a new innovation sub-group of the Freight Council, to be in place by June 2022, which will be dedicated to evaluating and improving how the freight sector uses existing technology and pushes the development of new technology.

Proposals for Rail Freight

Many of the proposals put forward in the Plan are cross-modal. The Plan does, however, make various points that are specifically applicable to the rail sector: 

  • DfT notes that it can be difficult for Network Rail and National Highways to collaboratively identify opportunities where there are corridors of congestion in the road network due to limited capacity and a corresponding underutilisation of the rail network along that same corridor. The creation of the National Freight Network is hoped to mitigate such issues.
  • The Plan reiterates the Government’s commitment to a modal shift to rail freight, and acknowledges that the area in which a cross-modal approach to freight has been most visible has been through investment in rail freight interchanges, such as the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal. To further facilitate this modal shift, the Plan notes the creation of a Strategic Freight Unit within Great British Railways, and the duty on GBR to promote rail freight in line with a rail freight growth target.
  • The Plan also notes that £10.5bn is to be spent between 2019-2024 on track infrastructure, and whilst this funding is for the rail network generally, this is expected to facilitate significant improvement to rail freight infrastructure.

The Plan affirms the Government's support for the freight and logistics sector.  The commitments to develop a National Freight Network, consider planning reform and invest in innovative technologies are likely to be welcomed by the industry.