FTA comment: COVID-19 and logistics


Natalie Chapman, Head of Urban Policy at FTA, explains the challenges the logistics sector faces during the COVID-19 crisis, and the support it needs

The lockdown of the UK to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has had a positive impact on air quality, with results showing large reductions in air pollution across cities nationwide. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and London have seen substantial improvements with levels of nitrogen dioxide declining at around 30-40% from the pre-UK outbreak period 1 January – 10 February to the mid-outbreak period of 15 February – 25 March. And while FTA supports the long term need to improve air quality, we are urging government at a national and local level to reconsider the impact they will have on industry in the wake of this unprecedented event.  

Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the logistics sector, like many other industries, is currently facing major challenges. Recognised by government as key workers, logistics staff are focusing their efforts on ensuring the supply chain continues to run efficiently and effectively to service the public, supermarkets and the NHS with the essential items needed during this pandemic. As a result, FTA’s Chief Executive, David Wells, recently wrote to MP George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to request a delay in the introduction of Clean Air Zones (CAZs); we were pleased to see that, following this communication, the introduction of these schemes has been delayed across the country.

With the industry focused on the immediate and urgent needs of the supply chain, the government – on the advice of FTA – recognised that it would be beneficial for other business disruptions to be kept to a minimum at this time. And with many companies experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the outbreak, it would have been unreasonable to expect businesses to bear the time-critical, costly implications of upgrading their fleets to meet the emission standards required of CAZs at this juncture.

FTA is now focusing its attention on recently issued government guidance which directs councils to reallocate road space for cyclists and pedestrians. While FTA supports the government’s ambition to encourage active travel and social distancing, the guidance overlooks access for those who keep our cities supplied with everything they need: logistics operators and their vehicles. The plans do not provide the scope required to ensure the industry can continue to supply its customers safely and effectively. FTA has written to Transport Minister Baroness Vere to request urgent clarification on several areas including this one, all of which are key to safe and efficient logistics movements throughout our cities – more on this topic in FTA’s column next month.

While FTA recognises and supports the need to improve air quality, CAZs would have required change at a time when the industry is already facing much disruption. With air pollution already improving in our cities as a result of the nationwide shutdown, it would, in FTA’s opinion, be more beneficial to revisit these schemes at a time when industry can focus more attention and resources to enable more successful, longer-term outcomes. And, while FTA and its members also support the government’s ambition to boost cycling and walking, we must ensure any reallocation of road space considers the needs of logistics businesses to provide the greatest benefit to society, air quality and logistics alike.

For more information about FTA and its work, including its ground-breaking research into the impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain, please visit www.fta.co.uk.