Close to 300 delegates headed to Manchester last week to explore the opportunities and challenges facing the logistics sector through the chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Freight in the City Spring Summit moved the debate about sustainable urban deliveries away from  London and focused on the cities of Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield to see what role freight could play in rebalancing economic power between the South to the North.

Setting the scene was transport economist and MD of MDS Transmodal Chris Rowland, who gave the audience an overview of how the shape of freight and logistics might change in the North by 2033.

Multimodal growth, alongside additional rail capacity and investment in key highways schemes were key to keeping freight flowing freely across the expanding region.

Looking to capitalise on this growth, particularly the strength of its multimodal capabilities was the 10-district Greater Manchester city region.

Helen Smith, head of logistics & environment, Transport for Greater Manchester, told delegates that capitalising on the strength of existing assets such as Trafford Park, Manchester Airport and Port Salford would be pivotal, as would the opportunities for growth via the Atlantic Gateway development.

Changing consumer demand and the surge in city populations had seen the shift of suppliers relocating to the area to meet growing just-in-time requirements.

“Is the Golden Triangle of warehousing in the East Midlands, or now centred further North?” Smith asked the audience.

However, strong economic growth and opportunities for logistics firms would also lead to additional pressure on infrastructure and a greater need to mitigate transport activities against quality of life measures for those living and working in cities.

Greater Manchester is therefore working on its own freight and logistics plan, to complement the pan-regional work of Transport for the North.

Key measures being explored will be: the establishment of a long-term freight forum to develop good relationships with logistics firms; a Clean Air Zone feasibility study; creation of a Delivery Service Plan toolkit for businesses; more research into a Greater Manchester-wide urban consolidation centre model; and work to encourage modal shift.


Also flying the multimodal flag was Peel Ports, which highlighted the current imbalance of container freight coming into the South and being driven or rail trunked to the North: 91% of deep-sea volumes enter southern ports such as Felixstowe or London Gateway.

Warren Marshall, group planning director at Peel Ports, said major investment is taking place in northern ports and inland waterways to enhance capacity and improve environmental impact.

The soon-to-open Liverpool2 deepsea container terminal will double container handling capacity from 750,000 TEUs to 1.5 million, while the Manchester Ship Canal was predicted to see TEUs increase from 3,000 in 2009 to 100,000 by 2020.

Next up, Gareth Morgan, senior business development manager at Sheffield City Region LEP, explained how his region was making its own niche in the multimodal capabilities it could offer businesses looking to relocate to the area.

The £56m FARRS road scheme, due to open this spring, is a PPI collaboration that will provide a major new link road between Doncaster Robin Hood Airport and the motorway network, as well as the new rail-connected iPort distribution park in Doncaster.

However, he warned that changing consumer demands were leading to a shift in delivery and collection requirements, with return logistics a particular headache for operators as well as the integration of traditional retail and e-commerce stock requirements.

Different transport implications and patterns could in turn affect planning considerations for new premises, he warned.


DHL Supply Chain’s Ian Cooper, director of transport value creation, called on officials in Northern cities to adopt a consistent approach to freight management.

He warned that locally-adopted measures, such as low-emission zones and HGV restrictions, could hamper efficiency by limiting the use of certain vehicles to smaller areas.

“We serve the North as a region and not individual cities. Why is this significant? We are able to do this efficiently because we gear our operations to the scale of the region as a whole. Scale and interoperability are absolutely key here,” he added.

Ian Stansfield, transport consultant and former VP logistics services and supply chain at Asda continued to drive home the message about efficiency in the road haulage sector, particularly in an urban environment, where water and rail were of limited capability for transporting freight, he said.

He urged city officials to learn to “love the truck” and its ability to keep pace with increasing consumer demands for smaller, more frequent deliveries into traditionally congested areas.


Tackling the issue of congestion and safety at Newcastle University’s main city campus was Bruce Carnaby, urban freight development manager at Clipper Logistics.

The operator runs a successful consolidation model that has seen the university, which itself is the same size as an average small town like Buxton or Hyde, dramatically slash goods vehicle movements to campus and potentially lower its carbon impact by up to 90 tonnes per year.

Goods are taken to a Clipper-run warehouse outside of town for onward consolidation into loads destined for nine drop zones around campus, delivered by low-emission electric vehicle.

Carnaby explained that the success of the scheme was due to the university’s desire to have a safer, cleaner campus for students and the unique buying power of such a large institution which enables it to influence change with its suppliers.

“It was the first time we'd done it with an organisation with so much power and buying control over its supply chain,” he told delegates.

Rounding up the morning session was TfL’s head of freight and fleet programmes Ian Wainwright, who spoke about the 12-year learning process the freight team in London had been involved with and the lessons learned. “There is no one answer,” he said, referring to the challenges of urban freight.

London’s key priorities have been to reduce overall demand for road trips through modal shift, consolidation of freight, or even larger letterboxes; retime or reroute freight to better match the network’s capability to cope; minimise the impact of operations.

“The safest vehicle is the one that’s not there,” he told delegates.

Communication and collaboration with all freight stakeholders has been the key to driving any change in London. An established freight forum provides a platform for all parties to regularly meet, while weekly freight bulletins also keep operators up to speed with any roadworks or route restrictions, for example.

Freight in the City Spring Summit took place on 3 March at Manchester Central Convention Complex.