Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 03 April 2008

Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Bill: Freight Transport Association

COMMITTEE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

OFFICIAL REPORT

(Hansard)

Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Bill

Date 3 April 2008 

Members present for all or part of the proceedings: 
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson) 
Mr Trevor Clarke 
Mr David Ford 
Mr Tommy Gallagher 
Mr Samuel Gardiner 
Mr Ian McCrea 
Mr Daithí McKay 
Mr Alastair Ross 
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:
Mr Gerry Fleming ) Freight Transport Association 
Ms Joan Williams ) 
Mr Tom Wilson )

The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Boylan):
The Committee will now hear evidence from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) on the draft goods vehicle licensing of operators Bill as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny.

Mr Wilson, you and your colleagues are welcome to this morning’s Committee meeting.

Mr Tom Wilson (Freight Transport Association):
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide evidence to the Committee. You have received notes on the background to the Freight Transport Association, which is a large trade organisation. I have been in the industry most of my life. For the past five years, I have represented the Freight Transport Association in Northern Ireland. Gerry Fleming is the fleet manager for Belfast City Council, which operates one of the largest fleets of commercial vehicles in Northern Ireland. Joan Williams is the head of road freight policy for the FTA in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and she helps our members to deal with legislation as it is introduced.

I will run through the briefing paper that I submitted this morning, which explains the purpose of our presence here today, and I am aware of the time limitations.

The Department of the Environment (DOE) had consultations in 1991, 1998 and 2003 on its proposals to introduce full operator licensing for Northern Ireland commercial vehicle operators. The consultations were issued to over 2,000 operators in 2003, and DOE stated its intention to introduce primary legislation by 2005, but, dealing with direct rule Ministers, that was never achieved.

The DOE, supported by the Freight Transport Association, subsequently conducted eight roadshow presentations throughout Northern Ireland during February and March 2008, providing comprehensive information to all commercial vehicle operators, which detailed the reasons for introducing the new legislation in the Assembly. The DOE wrote to the registered keepers of all 35,000 commercial vehicles weighing over 3·5 tonnes, inviting them to attend those information meetings. They were very well attended, with a huge turnout, and there was very positive feedback to those meetings.

There is now a strong expectation in all sections of the freight transport industry and its users for the Assembly to urgently address the passage of the Bill, because operators in Northern Ireland have a poor record in terms of road safety. The industry would be supportive of action taken by the Assembly. There is an immediate need to raise the image of the road freight transport sector through education and better regulation, and there should be no further delay in introducing the legislative process.

I underline again the importance of the local supply chain, which is essential to everything, from having a newspaper delivered, to going to a restaurant or working on a farm. None of that could happen without road freight transport. We rely entirely on it.

The review of the transport industry in Northern Ireland addresses the following needs: to improve road safety and operational standards; to raise the image of the industry, which is very low and does not attract young people to work in it; to improve its poor reputation; to make the business sector a desirable place to work in, because we are looking for inward investment and increased employment opportunities, and if our image is tarnished in road transport, that will not help; to ensure fair competition; and to help reduce criminality. Those are the key reasons why we feel that the Bill must be introduced now.

Let us look at how the standards of operators in Northern Ireland are rated against the rest of Europe. Statistically, the worst three countries in Europe are Romania, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with German- and British-registered heavy-goods vehicles being the safest vehicles on the road. Department of Transport statistics illustrate that the roadworthiness condition of visiting vehicles, and their drivers’ non-compliance with the rules on drivers’ hours, presents a significant road-safety risk. Hence, vehicles from this island are regularly targeted when they visit GB.

The industry urgently needs to improve its reputation with the outside world, therefore better regulation must now be a top priority for the Assembly — especially after the recent findings that, out of 40 roadside school-bus inspections carried out by DOE enforcement, 17 buses were issued with immediate prohibitions, and a further 10 were issued with delayed prohibitions.

The next issue is to improve road safety and operational standards. Out of all the inspections carried out by the DOE road safety policy branch in 2007 — both at the roadside and by visiting premises — it was found that 40% of the vehicles inspected were in an unroadworthy condition, and 30% were given immediate prohibitions. There were 26,267 vehicles tested at the 15 test stations in 2007, and the submission we have provided for the Committee gives the figures of the fail rates. Those tell us that no one is really trying very hard to work to get their vehicles passed first time. We believe that, in the absence of full operator licensing in Northern Ireland, operators are not paying enough attention to the condition of their vehicles, and are not preparing their vehicles.

If all operators in Northern Ireland were required, as part of their licence acquisition, to undertake to carry out safety inspections at specified intervals, and ensure drivers carry out pre-use checks, the detection levels of non-compliance would be significantly less, and our roads would be much safer. That system has been in place in GB for 40 years, and it has the best record for vehicle roadworthiness in Europe.

Moving to the issue of parity with the Republic, InterTrade Ireland’s ‘Freight Transport Report for the Island of Ireland’, published in March 2008 concludes with a recommendation:

“To co-operate North-South and East-West to regulate and support the freight industry”.

The report states:

“There should be a joint approach to the licensing of commercial vehicles and enforcement of Vehicle Standards.”

It notes that the present situation creates many difficulties for companies operating across the whole of Ireland, as well as those that travel to and from Scotland, England and Wales and suggests that it is, therefore, a topic that might usefully be considered by the transport sector of the British-Irish Council.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), which is a section of the Irish Department of Transport, commissioned a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers entitled ‘Commercial Vehicle Testing Review’. That report, which was published in 2007, contains 25 recommendations, the majority of which require immediate attention. Improvement 24 notes that:

“A commonly held view amongst stakeholders interviewed is that all operators of commercial vehicles should be licensed, irrespective of whether they are used for ‘own account’ or ‘hire and reward’ activities.”

The Irish Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, announced on 8 February 2008 that he approved the RSA proposals with a requirement that the measures be implemented within the shortest possible timescale.

The cost of road-safety regulation is currently borne entirely by the hire and reward transport sector. Some 35,000 commercial vehicles over 3·5 tonnes are registered in Northern Ireland. Only one fifth, or 7,000, of those are operated by the hire and reward sector and are subject to current operator licensing. The remaining 28,000 are operated by the own account sector and are not subject to the same regulations. Therefore, it is unfair that the hire and reward sector should have to bear the cost of all road-safety enforcement.

It is important to ensure fair competition. Three areas of unfair competition currently exist. First, there is the issue of overloading. The enforcement bodies’ findings revealed that commercial vehicles are often overloaded by as much as 25% over the legal carrying weight. Not only does that make the use of the vehicle unsafe — vehicles are designed to carry only the weight for which they are constructed — it also has an adverse effect on the condition of our roads and can lead to excessive wearing down of the road surfaces.

An example about the overloading issue that I often use involves the consideration of a working week — five working days. A person who overloads every day will be finished his work by Thursday. However, a person who is working legally will not finish his work until Friday. That is how bad it is.

The second issue of unfair competition involves drivers’ hours. There was evidence in the findings of widespread abuse of the EU drivers’ hours’ regulations with drivers not taking the appropriate rest breaks.

Thirdly, there is an issue about unroadworthy vehicles, which appears to be the most common infringement as many operators continue to work their vehicle until it breaks down — there is no preventative maintenance.

All such activities result in unfair competition for both the own account and the hire and reward industry. Full operator licensing will go a long way to reduce the levels of non-compliance and infringements, and ensure fair competition. The high annual test fail rate costs operators more money, it delays the appointment of waiting times, and it creates resource problems for the DOE test centres.

There is a need to reduce criminality. There is a high proportion of illegal trading of fuel, which I have talked about. It is immoral for criminals to be permitted to continue with those activities. The introduction of full operator licensing will go a long way in enabling the enforcement authorities to detect and apprehend those involved.

In conclusion, in order to become one of the best vehicle operators in Europe, Northern Ireland must aspire to raise vehicle operator standards through a continuous improvement process. The Freight Transport Association urges the Committee for the Environment to write to the Minister, Arlene Foster, to progress the legislative process without further delay.

It is our understanding that a slot has been allocated. The issue has been well consulted, the industry is waiting for the legislation to be introduced, and we would be happy if the Committee were able to ensure that that happens without further delay.

Mr Weir:
Thank you for your presentation. You have made a cogent argument in favour of the legislation. It is obvious that there are higher standards of regulation across the water. It is also clear that the Republic of Ireland is moving in the direction of having a much greater degree of proper regulation. It is important that Northern Ireland is not left in some sort of black hole.

It is also important that the majority of transport providers, who operate in a responsible fashion, are given a level playing field and that they are not undercut by unfair competition. The Committee has touched on that issue on a number of occasions, and it has serious road safety implications. It is very dangerous for drivers to exceed the legal limit on their working hours or for vehicles which are not roadworthy to be used. If there is an accident involving freight transport, it is much more likely to be fatal because of the size of the vehicles concerned.

You mentioned that the Department has been involved in consultation through roadshows. As far as you know, what was the industry’s reaction to these proposals? What was the level of response at the roadshows?

Mr T Wilson:
The response was very positive. Firms asked questions about how the new regulations would affect them. Without exception, the feedback was positive. There is great concern that almost 50% of the vehicles, on roads that we travel every day, are not roadworthy. The Department provided statistics and illustrated that it has little power at present to deal with those illegal operators. The fines for illegal drivers’ hours are relatively small. If we compare the Northern Ireland legislation to that which has been running for 40 years in GB, we find that operators there are very fearful of falling foul of the authorities because the ultimate sanction is the removal of their licence and closure of their business after two or three instances.

The message that came back is that the industry is getting very poor rates for its services, that there is oversupply in the industry and that the way to tidy that up is through better regulation. Everyone must conform to the same standards and a level playing field should be created.

Mr Weir:
Presumably, if regulation is spread right across the field, it will generate more money that can be used for enforcement. The Department will at once create the level playing field for enterprises and the safety of everyone can be enhanced.

Mr Fleming:
The member is correct. What we are looking for is consistency across the panel. We have identified what is happening in Southern Ireland. The member has mentioned a key point. Earlier, we discussed finance and how these changes will be supported. The flow of revenue from the organisation to enforce the legislation would be self-perpetuating. That is important: it is a key area in finance.

It is most important to have transparency right across the board, throughout Great Britain, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, to show that we are adhering to the regulations, both in the transfer of information and the transportation of freight.

Mr T Clarke:
How many members has the Freight Transport Association? What organisations are affiliated and roughly how many members does each have? From your presentation, it seems that the association is in favour of the introduction of the legislation. However, I understand that the association strongly opposes the proposal to maintain an annual road freight vehicle licence.

Ms Williams:
Let me explain: we oppose not so much the concept of licensing, but the ways that fees are charged and the administration process. The system will demand that a licence must be applied for every year. There is also the road-freight operator’s licence, but the actual vehicle disc has to be applied for every year. We do not oppose the licensing system, but the processes and the administration requirements of the system. I do not know what wording the member has before him, but I understand the concept because I was part of the discussion on that issue.

Basically, we oppose the administration and the process that is currently in place that operators must go through every year in order to apply for the disc.

In comparison, the system in GB allows continuous licensing for five years, at the end of which there is a review process. The operators are asked to confirm that they are still compliant with the financial standing qualifications, and so on, and their licences continue to be valid. The operators do not actually have to apply for a new licence every five years, nor do they have to apply every year for a specific vehicle disc. We oppose the process, rather than the principles, of licensing.

Mr T Wilson:
There are 14,000 commercial vehicle operators in the UK and Ireland. The total number of commercial vehicles on the roads is 440,000. Our members operate over 250,000 of those, a large percentage of which operate in Northern Ireland. We have approximately 350 members in Northern Ireland. The FTA has lobbied for licensing for the last 15 years, and we are absolutely behind the proposed legislation, because our members believe that it will create a level playing field. Our members feel that the enforcement authorities lack the ability to take strong measures against those who regularly flout the law in the three areas that I described — overloading, drivers’ hours and unroadworthy vehicles. It is so bad that it allows those operators to undercut rates. Therefore our members are behind the proposals, without any doubt.

Mr T Clarke:
Is your organisation the largest one for drivers?

Mr T Wilson:
The FTA is multi-modal; it covers road, rail, sea and air transport, and it has many members that are not vehicle operators, but manufacturing companies. They do not physically operate vehicles, but they are members of the FTA because transport is critical. The other organisation is the Road Haulage Association, which is not as large as the FTA, but it specifically looks after the hire-and-reward sector; its members are road-haulage contractors.

Mr T Clarke:
Do you have a rough figure of how many members it represents in Northern Ireland, as opposed to your 350 members?

Mr T Wilson:
The Road Haulage Association is not based here. It covers Northern Ireland from Scotland. However, I understand that it has about the same number of members as the FTA. Many of our members are also members of that association. The Road Haulage Association was present at the eight roadshows at which we presented. The FTA and the Road Haulage Association present a very united front in their attempts to convince the Committee that it is important that the legislation goes through without further delay.

Mr Ford:
Thank you, Tom and your colleagues, for that presentation, which was extremely useful in setting out some of the circumstances, particularly the road-safety issues. Perhaps the Committee should look at that issue on a wider scale, including the work that was done previously on school buses, for example.

You will be aware that officials from the Department of the Environment came to the Committee a few weeks ago. On that occasion, I took the line that I wished to see the highest possible standards in Northern Ireland. I was concerned that there seemed to be nothing happening with regard to regulation in the Republic, and that operators in the Republic could, in effect, be used in Northern Ireland in order to get around the proposals.

You said specifically that, on 8 February 2008, the Minister in the Republic announced that he approved of the recommendations. Therefore, do you envisage any obstacle to the two jurisdictions implementing broadly similar legislation quickly?

Mr T Wilson:
We certainly do not want to be left behind the Republic. We are heartened by the fact that the Republic has made that announcement. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report was lengthy, and, during its production, PricewaterhouseCoopers visited GB and investigated how the system works there. It compared that system to the one in Northern Ireland, and it went to the Road Safety Authority, because the Republic’s road-safety record is worse than Northern Ireland’s. The Republic’s Minister for Transport said publicly, through a press release, that he wants the measures to go ahead without further delay.

With regard to our ability to work through the North/South Ministerial Council, I suggest that that is one important area where, through the Committee and the Ministers, we can work towards trying to ensure that the measures that are introduced are as similar as possible.

Many of our members cross the border daily, and the last thing we want is for there to be widely differing sets of regulations South and North — that would simply create further confusion. We can see no reason why the Republic’s measures should be any different from those that are applied here.

Mr Ford:
You highlighted issues such as overloading, drivers’ hours and unroadworthy vehicles. Is there any significant difference between the safety standards for the minority of vehicles that are hire and reward and those for own-account operators, given that the hire-and-reward sector is supposed to be subjected to a more stringent regime?

Mr T Wilson:
The regulations in the hire-and-reward sector are such that a driver must give an undertaking to keep the vehicle in a roadworthy condition when applying for a licence. That differs from the regulations in GB in that, in GB, a driver must specifically state the frequency of safety inspections when applying for a licence. That provision is not included in the current legislation for the hire-and-reward sector here, and we strongly recommend that it be included.

You asked about finding out how many in the own-account sector fall within that poor category. DOE has not given us those figures, and we have been told that it occurs across the board. I suspect that if drivers in the hire-and-reward sector who travel cross-channel regularly want to ensure that their journeys are not impeded by the authorities, they will make an effort to ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy. However, the own-account operators who work within the North will not be subject to that same scrutiny. If those vehicles are found to be not roadworthy, the authorities can do very little about it. They cannot revoke or suspend drivers’ licences, because they do not have a licence.

Mr Ford:
The figures for roadside tests show that 40% of vehicles are unroadworthy, and that, even in annual testing, over 30% are unroadworthy. Have you any figures that show how Northern Ireland compares with GB in that respect?

Ms Williams:
I have not prepared the statistics on roadworthiness, but I can certainly send them to the Committee without delay because they are published regularly by the Vehicle and Operator services Agency (VOSA). There are statistics on foreign vehicles, or non-GB vehicles, from April to December 2007. Of the total number of non-UK vehicles that were prohibited, HGV vehicles accounted for 46·3% and trailers accounted for 52·3%. The figures for Northern Ireland for January to December last year show that of the total number prohibited, HGV vehicles accounted for 39·98%, while trailers accounted for 58·8%. I can provide the Committee with the GB statistics later, but I can say that they are substantially lower than those for visiting vehicles.

Mr Ford:
It would be very helpful if you could forward them to the Committee.

Ms Williams:
I can certainly do that.

Mr T Wilson:
My understanding is that the figure is around 10%; it is very much less than the mainland. One of the key reasons for that is that, in GB, performance at the annual operator test is recorded on a database, and that information is made available to roadside enforcement officers when they check vehicles. Thus, drivers in GB have even more of an incentive to ensure that they pass the test first time. However, it seems that drivers here are not trying very hard to pass the test, and their performances are not logged against their driver details. That GB system is called operator compliance risk-scoring and has been in operation for a couple of years. We understand that DOE would like to introduce such a system here.

Mr Gallagher:
I thank the witnesses for their interesting presentation. You mentioned the figure of 28,000 drivers.

Mr T Wilson:
Yes, that is the number of drivers in the own-account sector.

Mr Gallagher:
It seems that at present, until enforcement officers are available who will pull vehicles over and examine whether they are defective, vehicles in your sector will be tested and certification issued. Is that correct?

Mr T Wilson:

All of the 35,000 vehicles — 7,000 hire-and-reward vehicles and 28,000 own-account vehicles — are subjected to the same annual PSV MOT test. Once the MOT certificate is issued, it is only good for that day. From the next day, the standard of that vehicle declines at a certain rate depending on its usage. The system that applies in GB is that the onus is on operators; whether they belong to the hire-and-reward sector or own-account sector, to have six- or eight-weekly safety inspections in order to examine all items that are subject to wear. They must stick to that plan rigidly. There is no such plan here. The legislation will require operators to undertake those six- or eight-weekly safety inspections.

Mr Gallagher:
Thank you for that clarification. Do you believe that the legislation should embrace all heavy-goods vehicles that are on the roads in the way that all vehicles in the hire-and-reward sector are covered at present? Would that make a significant contribution to road safety? If you believe so, I would be interested to know whether there will be financial implications, as there are with everything else. I would not want operators whose businesses are small to have to pay huge fees. However, if that would make a significant contribution to road safety, I certainly believe that the legislation should be all-embracing, provided that there were not serious financial penalties for smaller operators.

Mr T Wilson:
That question is typical of those that were asked at the eight roadshows; such as what the cost would be for small operators who, perhaps, have only one vehicle that goes out once or twice a week and has little mileage. The cost per year of holding a licence is between £130 and £150. It is a five-year licence, so that is not a huge amount of money. The business of taking a vehicle out on the road, whether it is going out on the road one day a year, or is double-shifted and on the road 24 hours a day, is that, at all times, regardless of the activity, and in the interests of road safety, all of those vehicles should be roadworthy. The operator has responsibility to ensure that before a vehicle leaves the yard, the driver has checked whether it is safe to take on the road. Anything other than that is totally inexcusable.

Mr Gallagher:
Therefore, you believe that the legislation should apply to everybody.

Ms Williams:
Operators with fewer vehicles will pay less because fees are structured on the terms of the application and the grant fee per vehicle. Therefore, if someone has only one vehicle, that person will pay less than someone who has 10 or 50 vehicles. Therefore, fees are structured in a way that will prevent small businesses being severely affected.

Mr McKay:
I thank Tom and his colleagues for their presentation. Tom, you explained to the Committee why it is important that the legislation is introduced as soon as possible. On that point, I believe that it is important that there is fair competition and a level playing field. I am aware of cases in which workers have had their rights abused and been forced to work lengthy hours. That will continue the longer that we drag the process out. How widespread are breaches of European legislation and directives on working hours?

Mr T Wilson:
Such breaches are extremely widespread. From the feedback that I am getting from our members, I understand that they are unable to get good rates, they have to pay for the increased cost of diesel, they have to pass the increase in rates to their members and are then told that someone else can do it cheaper. How are other operators doing it cheaper? They are using subcontractors to do work that they would not undertake because getting caught would be harmful to them.

The majority of the industry is keen that roadside enforcement is ruthless on drivers who work outside the EU regulations. Breaches of those regulations are widespread, and, despite the keenness of the enforcement officers, their powers are limited. Stricter enforcement would make the situation fair for everyone. The enforcement officers will only have to set up shop at the ferry ports to ensure that a message is sent that there are regular inspections. Once that message gets through, it will soon be adhered to.

If operators who employ subcontractors and encourage such practice are caught, the matter should go back to their door not just the driver’s. That will jeopardise their licence. The enforcement officers will only knock on the door of operators who break the law two or three times. They then face being shut down if they do not conform. Many of our members would be keen on that because it would enable them to run a proper business safely.

Mr McKay:
Are there any possible loopholes? When you say the operator do you mean the company name or an individual? For example, if operators lose their licence can they get another licence under a different company name?

Mr T Wilson:
No, because the checks on the issuing of operator licences is a thorough process: applicants must give an undertaking of their good repute, and, if they have past records of poor repute that are declared, they will not be given a licence. If they are given a licence and are subsequently found to have lied, the licence will be immediately revoked.

Ms Williams:
At the same time as revoking a licence, we can disqualify the company or its directors from holding another licence. Therefore, the penalties are quite severe. In GB, some of the less reputable operators do not fear the courts because they are happy to pay the fines. However, they have a greater fear of losing their operator’s licence, which makes it a significant penalty that will make operators conform and ensure that they run roadworthy vehicles.

Mr Fleming:
The licence is registered to the individual rather than the company. Therefore, once it is lost, it is lost forever.

Mr McKay:
You said that the standards in Britain and Germany are very high. Are breaches still a major problem in those countries? Can you give the Committee an indication of the extent of the problem in comparison to other countries?

Mr T Wilson:
There is a league table that lists every European country, of which Romania, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are bottom. To get on the league table, 50 inspections must have been carried out in the particular snapshot. In drivers’ hours/prohibition rate, the UK has been 8%, Austria 31%, Czech Republic 16%, Eire 35·8%, France 6·3%, Germany 31%, Hungary 25%, Lithuania 16% and Romania 40%.

Mr T Clarke:
You missed Northern Ireland.

Mr T Wilson:
Northern Ireland is 25%, Hungary 25%, Slovenia 30%, Romania 40%; GB 7·52%, and Italy 25%.

Mr T Clarke:
Could it be that enforcement is not as good in GB as it is in Northern Ireland? There are no statistics that collate accident figures, or the number of checks conducted, in England compared to Northern Ireland. Perhaps, the figures you quoted suggest that we are more proactive in Northern Ireland?

Mr T Wilson:
An EU target of 10,000 or 20,000 inspections must be achieved every year. Those inspections comprise visits to operators’ premises and roadside inspections. A certain number of inspections must be carried out in proportion to the number of vehicles operated. Those per-thousand figures are categorised by, and based on, feedback from VOSA.

The Deputy Chairperson:

Will you forward those figures to the Department and also send a copy to the Committee?

Mr T Wilson:
I will do that.

Mr McKay:
Obviously, you are familiar, in great detail, with the British model, and it is important that we learn from good practice in other countries. If we are to mirror the British model, are there any areas in which we can improve on it?

Mr T Wilson:
In the GB model, there are some exemptions from operator licensing. However, the percentage of features in the legislation that we would want to change is small. The DOE stated at its roadshows that there are areas in the operator-licensing system that it would wish to adapt or fine-tune, because it recognises elements of the GB system with which it is not happy. The Assembly will have the opportunity to execute those changes through subordinate legislation. The DOE position is that the operator-licensing legislation in Northern Ireland will mirror that which is in place in GB; however, the opportunity exists to make improvements that are deemed to be correct.

Mr T Clarke:
Much of what we have been discussing seems to be directed towards bigger companies. How will the requirement for operating centres affect small operators, such as individuals who work with a large transit vans?

Mr T Wilson:
Licensing and the requirement for an operating centre will apply only to vehicles over 3·5 tonnes.

Mr T Clarke:
Large, twin-axle transit vans are 3·5 tonnes.

Mr T Wilson:
Considering the environment, when vehicles are not in use, we believe that it is good practice to keep them in a proper operating centre. Throughout Northern Ireland, various vehicles are kept in the middle of housing estates, and if they are coming and going in the middle of the night and early in the morning it is inconvenient to neighbours.

Questions about operating centres were typical of those raised at the roadshows, and the feedback was that people were concerned about the cost of finding a yard, or whether their employer would have a yard, in which to park a vehicle overnight. First and foremost, such an arrangement would help their insurance premiums. Secondly, it would certainly help relationships with their neighbours. Environmentally, it would stop diesel dripping on tarmac in housing estates. Finally, the cost to park a truck was estimated to be between £10 and £20 a week.

Mr T Clarke:
The Department states that the Planning Service would be able to determine a premise’s suitability. Therefore, people will automatically become involved in Planning Service applications. People would first have to find a site in a suitable area, and then apply for planning permission for that site. I do not know over how many years you would have to take a £20-a-week mortgage, but it must be a long time.

Mr T Wilson:
That interpretation is slightly different from the one that I heard from the DOE at the roadshows.

Mr T Clarke:
That is from the Department’s comments on the expressions of concern.

Ms Williams:
If the same system is being adopted as currently operates in GB, then an operator who already has planning consent cannot be refused entitlement to use the premises as an operating centre. However, it is not a specific requirement to have planning consent.

Mr T Clarke:
Under the proposed Bill, if there is any variation in the operator’s circumstances — for example, if the operator has additional vehicles — then that planning consent will not stand. That will place a burden on the small operator, the man working with one or two vans, to find an operating centre, apply for planning permission and get a suitable site. In a sense, the proposed legislation will put the small operator off the road.

Ms Williams:
My understanding, which we will check with the DOE, is that planning consent should not be required in order to get an operator’s premises authorised as an operating centre. However, if the operator has planning consent, then the DOE should not be able to refuse to authorise the premises as an operating centre, but that can be clarified.

The Deputy Chairperson:
We will have to clarify that with the Department.

Mr T Wilson:
The DOE said that if an existing operator, someone with one or two vehicles, is able to drive the vehicle into the premises from the road, turn it at the back of the house and drive out again, then those premises would be acceptable to the DOE as an operating centre. That is what the DOE was saying to those operators.

Mr T Clarke:
To clarify, was that the DOE Planning Service?

Mr T Wilson:
It was the DOE road safety and vehicle standards division, which gave the impression that it had the power to grant approval for an operator centre and that the DOE Planning Service was not really involved.

Mr T Clarke:
The situation that you described would be seen as operating a business from a residential address, which would require planning permission. If that is what the Department told you, I think that you are being misled.

Mr T Wilson:
The Department said that if planning permission had been granted and the business was up and running, then the operator is already entitled to use the premises as an operating centre. Therefore this would not be an issue.

The Deputy Chairperson:
We will not get into that now; we need to seek clarification from the Department.

Mr Gardiner:
It is not a critical issue.

Mr Wilson, I was very impressed with your presentation, and I welcome the points made in it, particularly your association’s attitude to roadworthiness and to safety. So often we hear about accidents on roads resulting in deaths and those accidents are blamed on the road; however, I have never seen a road getting up to kill anyone — those accidents are generally caused by the vehicle or the driver of the vehicle. I wish your association every success.

The Deputy Chairperson:
I thank the representatives of the Freight Transport Association for their presentation.

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