A rush-hour lorry ban in London could see construction hauliers losing four hours of productivity each day, according to consolidation centre operator Wilson James.

Speaking to following Lib-Dem London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon’s proposals to roll out a blanket lorry ban during peak times, Wilson James chairman Gary Sullivan said with the capital's current infrastructure the move would cause “huge problems”.

Building sites are generally only permitted to operate between 8am and 6pm under planning regulations, he said.

“So, under that basis, if you take [morning] rush-hour, and said it was from 7am to 9am, you're probably losing at least two hours of productivity because although you can't technically start unloading until 8am, your trucks are arriving about 7.45am, which means they are in the Congestion Charging Zone around 7.15am or even 7am,” said Sullivan.

A further two hours would also be lost at the end of the day if a second ban was implemented between 4pm and 7pm.

“Most construction sites are restricted to one delivery point, maybe two on bigger sites. So you are taking a huge chunk out of their ability to deliver materials out of their working day,” he warned.

Starting point

However, Sullivan is pleased that Pidgeon’s proposals have “got people talking about” the challenge of urban logistics and is keen for the debate to drive efficiency.

Wilson James runs the London Construction Consolidation Centre in Silvertown, east London, which has been experiencing growth in volumes during the past two years, doubling its warehousing capacity to more than 12,000m² of space.

“I would agree with Caroline on the issue of increasing consolidation centres. There is no reason why half empty vehicles should be coming into London. Consolidation has to be the way forward,” Sullivan said.

“Other than big lumps of steel, muckaway and readymix, which can't be consolidated, pretty much everything else can.”

However, Sullivan said consolidating items was not always the most efficient option for all jobs, and a “mix and match” delivery approach would work well.

For example, on bigger projects such as multi-storey office blocks, it would still make sense to directly deliver full lorry-loads of items such as drywall plasterboard that will be consumed very quickly in a day.

“It’s about having a coherent logistics plan in place for your construction site. Deliver in bulk where appropriate or via consolidation where appropriate. You mix and match it to meet your cranes and your hoists and any bans that governments might impose," explained Sullivan.

Out-of-hours deliveries

He also called on regulators to enable freight deliveries to be made at more hours than currently permitted due to hurdles such as the London Lorry Control Scheme.

“If we are going to restrict lorries in rush hour, as Caroline Pidgeon suggests, you need to make other times of the day more available. You need to deliver in the evening, or possibly early in the morning. But then you have to take into account residents and noise and that the streets have to be cleaned and repaired.”

With limited road capacity in London and fierce competition from many different sectors wanting to use the available space, Sullivan said better understanding and a far more integrated approach from traffic planners was vital.

The issue of cyclists taking more responsibility for their own safety was also a key challenge Sullivan would like taken up by the next London mayor to help lift the burden of responsibility currently disproportionately placed upon the haulage sector.

“I'd like to see a politician come out and very strongly say we've done a lot to improve our roads and through freight operators improving their vehicles and retraining their drivers. What is the cycling industry doing to make sure cyclists wear high-vis clothing, use lights, do not cycle down the inside of a lorry or cars?”

Making it happen

The concept of consolidation is not new. “It's about the will of people wanting to do things the right way. For construction, it's going to take some leadership from the developers, the client, the government to say you are not going to build unless you do it this way. It needs to be

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mandated and certain areas need to be traffic free,” he said.

But Sullivan is a firm believer that a real step change in delivery patterns will be achieved in the long-term, even if unpopular at the start.

“If you banned trucks in London, we'd all moan for a few years, but we'd all get used to it. People just don't like change. Construction likes its own way of doing things, it’s resistant to change. It would have to think differently and one day it will happen.

“The sector needs to think about all parties in its logistics planning. It will find if it does this it can save money, save waste and it will be a better environment for everyone to work in. I'd love to see it happen in my lifetime. If it received political leadership and leadership from large developers, the rest of us will follow suit and find ways to refine and improve it,” said Sullivan.