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The government is looking at plans to increase the transportation of construction freight via waterways and canals.
Rebecca Pow, MP, parliamentary under secretary at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, suggested “starting to get freight back on to the waterways”, during on adjournment debate last Thursday about canals and their restoration.
She added: “With the move to net zero and to cleaner air, this is actually a huge asset, and we are starting to realise that canals can have a rebirth as transport links.”
Barges have been used on the Thames in London to remove spoil from the Elizabeth Line, the Northern Line extension, and the Thames Tideway Tunnel. They were also used to bring in concrete tunnel segments. Those works showed a reduction of 7,200 tonnes of carbon production compared to normal lorry movements. A total of 158,000 lorry movements were replaced by 3,900 barge movements.
The minister’s comments were welcomed by the Commercial Boat Operators’ Association (CBOA) which highlighted research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change (Manchester University), indicating that CO2 from barges can be 25% of that produced by lorries.
The CBOA also claimed that other emissions such as nitrous
oxide are lower and that even if lorry engines improve and were to be wholly
electric-based, there would still be dangerous particulates from brake pads and
tyre wear and road surface wear, which do not arise from using barges.
David Lowe, CBOA’s chairman, said: “I am very pleased that a Defra minister is now realising that water freight can enable cleaner air and that the inland waterways are a huge asset in making this to happen. We call on the minister to work with navigation authorities in improving relevant waterways to enable waterborne tonnages to increase. It is noteworthy that last month global figures from the Carbon Disclosure Project showed a 24% increase in business demanding that their suppliers publish environmental date about how their goods were transported.”