Supermarkets should be offered “flexibility” over late-night deliveries in order to keep shelves well stocked amid a shortage of lorry drivers, the Communities Secretary has said.
Robert Jenrick has urged councils in England to take a light-touch approach for the next six months when it comes to enforcing restrictions on shop and wholesaler delivery times.
He said planning officials should ensure enforcement does not become a “barrier to deliveries”, with any impact of late-night deliveries on nearby residents’ sleep weighed up against the need for food and other essentials.
It comes after reports of fresh food rotting in delivery depots due to a lack of haulage drivers to ship goods across the country, which has led to bare supermarket shelves in some regions.
The move, which the senior minister said would provide the industry “with much-needed logistical flexibility”, follows a decision by the Government to temporarily extend lorry drivers’ hours in a bid to relieve the issue.
In a written ministerial statement, Cabinet minister Mr Jenrick said: “Many supermarkets, food retailers and distribution centres in England are subject to controls which restrict the time and number of deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles, particularly at night.
“The purpose of this written ministerial statement, which comes into effect immediately, is to make clear that local planning authorities should take a positive approach to their engagement with food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry, to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential goods.
“Local planning authorities should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential goods during this period, having regard to their legal obligations.”
Mr Jenrick said the National Planning Policy Framework “already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity” and urged authorities to “act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control”.
Where late-night deliveries impact on the sleep of those living near supermarkets, the local planning authority should “consider any efforts made by retailers to manage and mitigate such disturbance, taking into account the degree and longevity of amenity impacts”.
Major distributors warned last month that fresh produce destined for UK supermarkets was being dumped due to a shortage of drivers.
Nationwide Produce managing director Tim O’Malley said the “acute shortage” of HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers was behind “perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce being dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it”.
Mr O’Malley said hauliers blamed the shortage on a large proportion of drivers being foreign nationals from European countries who had returned to the EU.
This was combined with truck drivers not being included on the Government’s list of skilled labour, leaving new arrivals needing immigration paperwork.
Covid-19 had seen no new British truck drivers trained within the past 12 months, while changes in the rules of self-employment had led to a 25% increase in agency driver charges.
In a bid to arrest the problem, the Department for Transport announced last week that, as of July 12, lorry drivers would be allowed to be on the road for more hours each day.
The decision was criticised by unions, with Unite complaining that “asking an already exhausted workforce to work even longer is likely to make an already difficult situation worse”.