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Waterways hold the key to ending our roads nightmare

14 April, 2017

Shepherd, Thomas Hosmer, 1793-1864: Junction of the Regent’s Canal, at Paddington

• NOTING Irene Francis’s cry of despair at the seeming lack of any regulation of the diverse and disconnected projects all piling HGV traffic through the streets of Clerkenwell and Shoreditch (Nightmare of living with building sites all around, April 7).

Surely there must be someone with an overview of logistics plans and scheduling to ensure roads capacity was not overloaded – this should also account for the flows of building waste from the Kings Cross area especially – en route to Barking and beyond.

A major disappointment then that so much development abutting the City Road Basin not only eschews the use of the canal (20 boats per day – 2-3 per hour – would shift over 1,200 Tons or around 70 truck-loads) but these developments are effectively closing off the ability to use the canal in the future – so unwise – seeing the short-term profit whilst losing the long-term resource.

Perhaps if sites had to pay a “footprint tax” on the road damage and other impacts we might see more effort to cut the massive ton mileages driving waste out and steel/concrete in and make the developers and contractors pause to consider shorter trips to rail or water, where up to 2000T can be moved with one barge (on the Thames) or train loaded directly or via a short, tightly managed and possibly dedicated lorry lane between sites and sidings or wharves.

This can actually be cheaper with the example of the 50-plus trucks driving 100km round-trips at least 150 times per day via Old Street for around two months of excavating the site for the Francis Crick building, which could have been replaced by perhaps 10 trucks shuttling 3-5km trips to the canal or a railhead for all or part (for the canal) of the work with a canal wharf site in Georgiana Street barely 1km away, but also the scandalous removal of two rail tracks accessible from York Way delivering a major blow to the opportunity of getting hundreds of tipper trips off the street.

It would cost £millions and take years to restore this as a key delivery/ export point for both bulk materials and container-loaded deliveries for city centre stores cutting millions of motorway ton-miles from the distribution centres where the trucks currently running in to central London begin their journeys. Yet it would have only costs thousands of pounds per year to maintain a “warm” connection, ready for immediate use.

This could be delivered but it needs a GLA-level commitment as the funding of a new connection, from scratch for just one project is a key reason so many default to the “known” and immediately available choice of big trucks on London’s crowded streets.

TfL needs to be a lead party in that plan to provide freight depots in the same way it provides bus stations and passenger rail interchanges, recovering the costs either by user fees when in operation, or through inviting tenders for the operating concessions.

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