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The future of last-mile deliveries: Understanding the local perspective

Last-mile deliveries: how councils can encourage more sustainable local logistics
The LGA has commissioned Dr Daniela Paddeu of the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England, to carry out independent research to explore the role of local authorities in co-designing and implementing sustainable local freight solutions for the ‘last mile’ of parcel deliveries.

Executive summary

Introduction and background

Freight transport is responsible for one third of the overall emissions from transport in the UK, and road freight accounts for 77 per cent of that. For this reason, the Department for Transport (DfT) has recently included specific interventions to address freight carbon emissions within the broader UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan. These mainly include interventions on the technology, providing for cleaner fuels and propulsion (e.g. hydrogen and electrification), but also specific operational solutions for local freight, such as compulsory consolidation centres and the use of e-cargo bikes.

To support this transition to a cleaner and more efficient freight system, local authorities need to understand what their role is and what kind of opportunities might arise from the overall national strategy. For this reason, the Local Government Association (LGA) has commissioned Dr Daniela Paddeu of the Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England, to carry out this research project to explore the role of local authorities in co-designing and implementing sustainable local freight solutions for the ‘last mile’ of parcel deliveries. A range of local authorities from different areas of England took part in a series of workshops to identify the perceived challenges and co-design sustainable solutions for last-mile deliveries[1]. The results of this work will help inform future LGA discussions with DfT and other stakeholders towards the UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan, as well as raising awareness and sharing learning across local authorities.


Last-mile deliveries are a new issue to most of the local authorities involved in the project, and they feel they need a clearer sense of direction from central government and industry in terms of what kind of policies and governance will be needed to manage local freight and reduce carbon emissions from the goods transport.

Main challenges

Participants identified five key challenges related to last-mile deliveries they wished to explore in more detail:

  • Increased traffic congestion – Growing numbers of vans and cars, mostly diesels, driving and parking intensively on local road networks, increasing congestion, air pollution.
  • Financial viability of alternative models (e.g. freight consolidation centres) – financial support from local and central government is usually needed to cover the initial costs of changes to parts of the logistics network, such as cleaner vehicles or freight consolidation centres.
  • Rural/Urban divide – rural last-mile deliveries have different needs and therefore require different solutions.
  • Significant scale – the UK is ranked third for online shopping worldwide, with 25 per cent of products bought and returned online. Around 3 billion parcels are sent per year.
  • Ingrained behaviours – including willingness of stakeholders to join collaborative schemes (e.g. consolidation centres), and educating/training end-consumers towards a more sustainable consumerism (e.g. reduced consumption, willingness to wait for longer delivery times, willingness to pay more for more sustainable products/deliveries).

Potential solutions

Participants identified a wide number of potential policy responses, and picked five key solutions that could significantly contribute to the decarbonisation of last-mile deliveries:

  • E-cargo bikes and micro-consolidation – to reduce the number of large vans on the roads, and the related congestion, pollution and parking nuisance.
  • Compulsory consolidation centres – to be implemented in different locations in England, with the support of central government.
  • Smaller electric vehicles for rural areas – in combination with mobility hubs can represent an efficient and clean solution for last-mile rural deliveries.
  • Road pricing for last-mile deliveries – charging delivery vehicles for the use of the road infrastructure, dependent on time, place or day of the week to reduce congestion.
  • Pricing to disincentivise rapid delivery – to encourage end-consumers to opt for more sustainable options, including slower delivery times to enable consolidation of goods and vehicles to circulate in full load.

Local authorities have very limited powers in designing and implementing these solutions, and would require support from central government, especially if a change in regulations or funding are required.


Considering the results of the project, it is possible to define an initial series of recommendations to support the LGA in the discussion with DfT, and other stakeholders, on behalf of local authorities:

  • Provide a clearer direction in support of local leadership in ensuring that last-mile freight retains the benefits it brings but reduces its negative impacts on climate, congestion and communities.
  • Address the lack of national and local data on freight movements and the impact on carbon emissions by collecting data. This will enable evaluation and monitoring of freight movements at the local level to inform and design more localised freight strategies. This data may be commercially sensitive but is vital for local transport plans, and its release should be required if requested by local authorities in a similar way that bus operators had to release commercially sensitive data through the Bus Services Act 2017
  • Provide capacity funding for local authorities to develop effective Local Transport Plans including comprehensive coverage of freight and last-mile deliveries commensurate to their share of local transport’s carbon ‘budget’
  • Work with councils to co-design a toolkit of key policy solutions for getting the most out of last-mile deliveries, including the funding and any new powers through legislation required.
    • Policies such as micro-consolidation centres or mandating all delivery vehicles to become electric sooner than for other uses will require more funding especially for micro and small and medium-sized enterprises that would risk being excluded from the market due to the high costs of investment.
    • Policies such as compulsory consolidation, or franchising of local last mile deliveries, will require new legislation to give local authorities similar control over local transport of parcels as it has over local transport of passengers.
  • To clarify at which level of government any responsibilities and duties (e.g. to set up compulsory consolidation schemes) should exist and provide clear directions on what the requirements are.
  • Support local government with education and communication campaigns addressed to end-consumers in order to drive behaviour change.
  • To partner with other organisations, including the private sector, to create a shared movement for change.
  • Provide data on the scale of action needed for carbon emission reduction.

[1] Last-mile deliveries represent the very final leg of the supply chain and include the delivery of goods (or a parcel) that come from the final sorting office or fulfilment centre (e.g. local warehouse) to the customer (e.g. retailer or end-consumer in case of online shopping/home deliveries). Journeys on local roads in vehicles no bigger than small vans.


Transport is the biggest emitter of carbon in the UK, responsible for over a quarter of Greenhouse Gas emissions (BEIS, 2020). Freight transport is responsible for one third of emissions from transport, with 77 per cent of goods moved by road with Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) and Light Goods Vehicles (LGVs) (DfT, Dec 2021). In particular, the volumes of van movements have significantly increased recently, reaching a more than doubling in the last ten years (DfT, Apr 2021).

E-commerce and home deliveries play a key role in contributing to the growth of last-mile deliveries. The UK is the number one market in Europe and third in the world for online shopping. The breadth of retailers and goods available on the internet, and the convenient delivery and return policies offered by them has provided a huge benefit to tens of millions of people in every corner of the country, helping them find goods otherwise unavailable locally at a price level and convenience previously out of reach.

The rise of online shopping and last mile deliveries has amplified existing and created new inefficiencies and problems in local transport systems that residents and communities are only sometimes aware of as they shop online. Residents experience this as numerous light goods vehicles with non-optimised loads coming up and down their street every day, sometimes creating a nuisance when parking. In addition, the freight market is highly fragmented, with many stakeholders with different needs and expectations, who try to manage the pressures of very high costs and low margins of last-mile deliveries.

Given the knowledge of the places, people, and businesses they serve, local authorities are uniquely placed to play a role in the design and implementation of policies and measures to improve sustainability of last-mile deliveries to support the local economy and community well-being. The DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, published in 2021, includes interventions on last-mile deliveries. However, it is not clear what the expectations are in terms of local roles and responsibilities. There needs to be further consideration of the practicalities of the solutions proposed in the plan. Looking ahead, it will be important that the Government, in its consideration of future policies, is able to work with local government to identify and select the most effective local freight policy measures, and help councils ensure that they are properly integrated within a broader transport strategy to deliver make the steps required towards net zero.

This report presents the perception of local authorities towards local freight challenges and solutions at a relatively early stage of the national debate. It aims to provide a helpful summary of what councils’ awareness and understanding of last mile delivery challenges are, their preferences for policy solutions, and the practical and political issues these are likely to face.

UK Transport decarbonisation plan: Delivering a zero-emission freight and logistics sector

In July 2021 the DfT published its ambitious UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which presents the Government’s commitment to decarbonise the whole transport system in the UK by 2050. The document includes: (1) a pathway to a UK net zero transport system; (2) an analysis of the main benefits achievable though a net zero transport system; and (3) a set of actions that will be undertaken to deliver the net zero transport plan.

Most of the plan focuses on passenger transport decarbonisation, and limited space is given to freight. On freight, the key points of the plan are related to the modal shift (from road to rail), and the shift from diesel to zero-emission HGVs by 2040, with evident benefits in terms of air quality, noise, and job opportunities. The focus on HGVs reflects their significance. The contribution of HGVs to carbon emissions was 16 per cent of all domestic transport GHG emissions in 2019, as road freight represents more than three quarters of freight movements in the UK.

In terms of last mile deliveries, the plan includes four main actions:

  • The review of the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) legislative framework to reduce the number of vehicle movements. This includes new technology and smarter regulation (e.g. dynamic kerb-space and delivery management, road/non-road based zero emission logistics solutions).
  • Gather a better understanding of legal and practical issues related to compulsory consolidation centres. DfT would like to support some future pilots to ensure that the majority of urban deliveries are consolidated and transferred to zero emission vehicles for the last mile.
  • Understanding how to reduce the number of suppliers to reduce the number of trips and vehicles, including pilots to allow some local authorities to franchise certain delivery and waste management services.
  • Finally, DfT supports measures to improve air quality and accelerate the transition to a low emission economy (e.g. £880 million NO2 Programme), including Clean Air Zones to accelerate less polluting and zero emission vehicles, reducing vehicle mileage by consolidating deliveries or using e-cargo bikes.

Despite the ambitious targets, the plan is quite vague in terms of practicalities and does not provide any steer to local authorities in terms of what measures and policies they should design and how these should be implemented to address last-mile delivery issues locally. It is also not clear what capacity, capability and power local authorities have or need to address the net zero freight target and align to the national plan.

In general, there are significant gaps in knowledge about freight in central and local government. Central government has very recently established the Freight Council, a freight forum to drive collaboration between government and the freight sector. However, there is no local government representation and, in general, there is still a long way to go to understand challenges and solutions and clarify the roles of central and local government in designing and implementing a freight strategy.

Project aim and methodology

In December 2021, the Local Government Association commissioned Dr Daniela Paddeu at the Centre for Transport and Society (UWE, Bristol) to undertake a research project to understand capabilities and capacities of local authorities towards last-mile deliveries, in order to understand what their knowledge and awareness is, and what they expect their contribution can be and what kind of support they would require from central government. The main focus was therefore towards local authorities’ perspective on the main challenges and solutions to reduce the negative externalities due to local freight movements, including congestion, pollution, carbon emissions, and road safety.

The methodological approach was based on “co-design” and “co-creation”, a deep and broad participatory process to identify, scope and undertake an initial assessment of future sustainable and innovative urban freight solutions. A range of representatives from different local authorities in England took part in a series of co-design workshops and co-created a series of solutions, with related plans of action, highlighting drivers and barriers to their implementation, including limitations of knowledge, experience or capability and capacity.

The results of this work will support the LGA to understand what the main challenges and opportunities for local authorities and council leaders and help inform future discussions with DfT and other stakeholders towards the UK Decarbonisation Plan, as well as raising awareness and learning across local authorities. It will also help the LGA in any future discussions with Government on the support that local authorities may need with any new policy interventions.

Last-mile logistics - Figure 1 Methodological approach
Figure 1. Methodological approach

Five main challenges with last-mile deliveries identified by local authority participants

The knowledge and capabilities of local authorities regarding freight in general and last mile deliveries in particular are varied but often limited. They find it difficult to understand what their role is or powers are when it comes to local freight policy design and implementation. Across the workshop series, participants identified a range of different challenges and the selected five as the most important to explore further:

Increased traffic congestion

The increasing trend in online shopping has generated an increase in van movements of +106 per cent in the last ten years (DfT, 2021). Deliveries are usually not optimised for a vehicle’s load factor and delivery schedule, so they often generate an increased number of larger commercial vehicles (e.g. HGVs and LGVs) and more miles travelled, thereby significantly contributing to congestion (Paddeu, 2017).

Financial viability of alternative models (e.g. freight consolidation centres)

Some solutions to improve the sustainability of last-mile deliveries are not financially viable. Zero emissions vehicles, such as electric or hydrogen-fuelled vans are one such example. Freight consolidation centres, especially in case of voluntary schemes, also struggle for financial viability [2]. The financial and operational viability of freight consolidation centres was included among the top challenges identified by local authorities. The main challenge in this case is to reach the critical demand of users in order to make the centre financially sustainable. Other important challenges include (1) the identification of the right location; (2) stakeholder management to ensure fairness within the collaborative scheme[3].

Rural/Urban divide

Some last-mile freight solutions might be suitable for urban areas but not rural areas, where 9.7 million people (17 per cent of England’s population) live (DEFRA, 2021). Generally, people living in rural areas have lower overall levels of accessibility to key services locations compared with people living in urban areas, and those living in a sparse setting have the lowest overall accessibility. High levels of car ownership and low levels of congestion reduce the impact on most travel times, but public transport accessibility can be much worse than people moving in urban areas (DEFRA, 2022). The very dispersed demand across a large geographic area also implies a series of extra challenges related to home deliveries to these destinations.

Identifying the best solution or set of solutions for rural last-mile deliveries is a major challenge for many local authorities.

Significant scale

The UK ranks first in Europe for online shopping and home deliveries, and third in the global online retail market, just behind China and the US (TCB, 2021). In early 2021, the UK experienced an astounding 121 per cent growth in online grocery sales compared to the previous year (TBC, 2021). Online retailers offer convenient delivery (e.g. same/next-day delivery) and return (e.g. free of charge) policies, which significantly contribute to unsustainable local freight movements. For example, the rate of returned products to physical shops is around 10 per cent, whereas online returns reach 25 per cent (BBC, March 2021). This has a significant negative impact on operations and costs from a logistics perspective, but also on the overall efficiency of the transport network (e.g. congestion, pollution, road safety, noise, highways wear and tear etc.). In addition, online shopping generates competition for local high streets facing more mature and heavier regulatory and tax burdens, and which play and important role for local communities.

Ingrained behaviours

This includes the willingness of stakeholders to join collaborative schemes (e.g. consolidation centres), and educating/training end-consumers towards a more sustainable consumerism (e.g. reduced consumption, willingness to wait for longer delivery times, willingness to pay more for more sustainable products/deliveries).

[2] Mandatory scheme: all the deliveries to the receivers (e.g. retailers, end-consumers) of a target area HAVE to be managed (e.g. consolidated, handled, delivered) by the consolidation centre; this is for example the case of Heathrow Airport. Voluntary scheme: the deliveries to the receivers (e.g. retailers, end-consumers) of a target area CAN be managed (e.g. consolidated, handled, delivered) by the consolidation centre, but receiver can decide to use other alternative solutions; this is for example the case of the city of Bristol.

[3] Collaborative scheme: competitors share resources, including facilities, vehicles, and sometimes information. Understanding how to establish collaborative schemes with stakeholders who have different needs and expectations is one of the main challenges with the design and establishment of collaborative schemes.

Potential solutions, including drivers/barriers to implementation

E-cargo bikes

A cargo bike is a specialised adapted bicycle designed to carry heavy loads in a box, usually set at the front or back of the bike (Blazejewski et al., 2020). When assisted by an electric motor to facilitate riders to cycle further distances and transport larger loads, it is called “e-cargo-bike” (Narayanan and Antoniou, 2021). E-cargo bikes are increasingly popular for last mile deliveries, as they can reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and noise, whilst providing good quality of service to customers (Caggiani et al., 2021). Many companies provide last-mile deliveries services in the UK using e-cargo bikes, and this is becoming an increasingly interesting topic for a range of stakeholders (e.g. national and local authorities, policy makers, citizens, logistics operators).

The first solution identified by local authorities was micro-consolidation to allow e-cargo bikes to deliver of goods the very last-mile. They believed this can be the most impactful solution to reduce traffic congestion and local freight decarbonisation, especially if combined with (micro)consolidation schemes and specific traffic and access restrictions to LGVs. However, they believe this solution might be less viable for rural deliveries (e.g. lack of proper infrastructure, financial viability due to limited capacity). In addition, they think strong political appetite will be needed to change regulations (e.g. traffic restrictions or road pricing for other delivery options).

In terms of an action plan, local authorities think that it would be helpful to trial e-cargo bikes in different areas across England in order to understand what the best design is for this kind of solutions. The results of these trials could then be used to inform national and local authorities who can design grant schemes to encourage companies to invest in e-cargo bikes. This will require investment in infrastructures and interventions in land use and urban planning to make them an operationally viable option. It would be important to learn from the best practices of locations and companies who have successfully implemented e-cargo bike solutions.

Compulsory consolidation centres

Urban freight consolidation centres aim to reduce the negative impacts of last-mile deliveries, whilst at the same time providing a more seamless, higher-value logistics experience for their users (Paddeu, 2017). By collecting the goods destined for the target area and consolidating deliveries into one large delivery made by high-load vehicles, urban consolidation centres can significantly reduce the number of delivery vehicles (e.g. HGVs and LGVs) and therefore reduce congestion and improve air quality (Paddeu et al., 2018). They can be based upon voluntary or mandatory schemes. The former usually face big challenges in reaching a financial sustainability and therefore need financial support from central or local government (Paddeu, 2017).

This was a popular solution among local authorities due to their high potential to reduce the number of commercial vehicles in targeted areas, and the congestion and pollution this generates. They acknowledged that one of the main challenges with these schemes is to understand the feasibility and viability in operational and financial terms, mainly due to resistance from retailers and logistics operators towards the scheme (e.g. it is often perceived as an added node to the supply chain, with additional costs and times and therefore inefficiencies to their delivery service). For this reason, they believe compulsory consolidation centres might actually be the way forward to implement this solution.

Compulsory consolidation centres, require all the deliveries to the “receivers” of a specific area, including retailers and end-consumers with home deliveries, to go through the consolidation centre. No other delivery options are allowed in the area. This can significantly reduce the number of motorised delivery vehicles in a targeted area, and for this reason has been included in the measures supported by DfT to decarbonise last-mile deliveries. This underlines a political will (or vision) at national level to explore this option as a potential solution. However, this might not be popular among retailers and end-consumers, who will potentially see the cost of their deliveries increased due to the extra cost of the consolidation centre. Another uncertainty is related to the powers given to local authorities to independently make decisions towards the establishment of a compulsory consolidation scheme.

In terms of an action plan, local authorities believe early engagement with the freight sector would be needed with a view to better understanding their needs and expectations and to co-design with them a suitable compulsory consolidation centre scheme. Not doing so leaves a risk that operators would not accept this kind of scheme.

Smaller (e)vehicles for rural areas

Electric vans represent a clean option for last-mile deliveries, especially when the electricity is produced in a sustainable way (Quak, Nesterova, & van Rooijen, 2016). However, despite their advantages, the number of electric vans in commercial fleets is still much lower than its potential (Iwan et al., 2019), representing only 0.4 per cent of all road vehicles worldwide (Fergusson, 2016) and 0.3 per cent of all vans in the UK (DfT, April 2021). Local authorities acknowledged that local freight for rural areas might require solutions that are different from the ones available for urban areas. This is mainly due to a lack of proper infrastructure, characterised by narrow roads, weak structures and bridges that are unsuitable for larger vehicles such as HGVs and also some bigger and heavier LGVs. Also, residents in rural areas were believed do not like large vehicles to circulate in their areas and would like to preserve peace and quiet.

For these reasons, local authorities believed there should be a combination of specific solutions to address last-mile deliveries in rural areas. This set of integrated solutions might include, for example, mobility hubs, micro-consolidation, or pick-up points. They suggested that to reduce costs and maximise benefits, these pick-up points could be in pubs and businesses located where people can collect their parcels and patronise the business with a positive impact on the local economy. This is the case of the network of convenience stores that signed up as parcel drop off and pick up points within Yodel, and of a village pub in North Cornelly (Wales), which, thanks to the financial support of the local authority, offers its patrons the opportunity to pick up parcels, with a significant positive impact on the business economy (Wales Online, 2014).

When it came to prioritising solutions for rural areas, local authorities believed that smaller delivery vehicles should be the one to prioritise, due to the current characteristics of the rural infrastructure. The idea would be to consolidate goods into smaller vehicles or other non-motorised modes (e.g. e-cargo bikes) depending on the suitability of the infrastructure. However, in order to decarbonise these deliveries, it would be better to use electric vehicles, and this would require interventions in the infrastructure in order to create a network of charging stations. Also, smaller operators might be excluded if these deliveries are managed by bigger operators (e.g. Evri – formerly Hermes), so there might be some issues related to fair competitiveness in the logistics sector.

In terms of an action plan, local authorities suggested starting with a feasibility study of this solution, in combination with local freight consolidation. In the meantime, they suggest education and communication campaigns to persuade logistics operators to switch to an electric fleet. However, they believe their power is limited and additional measures and actions from central government will be required to support them implement this solution. Within the UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan the government confirmed that no new diesel or petrol cars and vans would be sold from 2030, and all new cars and vans must be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035. It would be helpful if there was support for local authorities to understand how to accelerate electrification of vans before 2030.

Road pricing for last-mile deliveries

Road pricing is an effective measure to reduce congestion and includes specific measures such as road tolls, distance or time-based fees, congestion charges and charges designed to discourage use of certain classes of vehicle, fuel sources or more polluting vehicles. (Olszewski and Xie, 2005; Eliasson, 2008; Santos, 2008; Givoni, 2012; Beria, 2015; Ramos et al., 2017).. Participating local authorities believe that road pricing for all vehicles including vans could have a positive impact on congestion and air quality, and therefore on the liveability of an area. However, they believe this requires a strong local political support for any local scheme to be implemented. Road pricing is perhaps one of the most challenging policies to introduce politically, but also one with clear evidence of impact.

In terms of an action plan, local authorities believe this solution should be led by central government, especially in terms of regulations and guidelines. This can for example align to the UK Report on Road pricing (UK Transport Committee, 2022), including specific requirements and actions at local level.

Pricing shoppers to away from express delivery

Like the previous solution, some local authorities believe that a “monetary penalty” should be given to increase the load factor of delivery vehicles. They suggested pricing orders to discourage delivery until vans circulate in full(er) load, in order to solve some of the externalities of online shopping - increased congestion, polluting emissions, higher social costs and also negative economic impact on local businesses.

This solution focuses on penalising all those end-consumers who are not willing to wait longer for their deliveries and charging them for a non-optimised (demanding) delivery. This solution would be simple and effective for consumers, who would be provided with clear information on the impact of their shopping activities. However, it might be unpopular among end-consumers and there might be some potential risks related to fairness in the market.

In terms of plan of actions, local authorities believe that the implementation of this solution would require the design of a very clear place vision on Net Zero 2030/2040. Local authorities would need to collect, monitor, publish and communicate data on the impact of last-mile deliveries on the road network. They should include this into their local Climate Strategy actions, but as with the previous solution, this would require strong directions and support from central government.

The role of central government

Local authorities believe they have limited powers and funding to implement policies and measures to improve last-mile deliveries. Local authorities believe central government is key to help them understand what direction to take and also what kind of measures they can independently design and put into action.

For example, local authorities believe they lack sufficient resources to incentivise the implementation of e-cargo bikes and would need central government to provide more financial support beyond the existing grant programme. On the other hand, they believe that central government should penalise through the tax system other less sustainable delivery options (e.g., diesel HGVs and LGVs) and at the same time design traffic codes and regulations to ensure e-cargo bikes can safely circulate on public roads.

A change in primary legislation would be required also for any local regulation of the business models of freight firms providing last mile deliveries. The establishment of compulsory consolidation centre schemes, or franchising as set out in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, will require regulatory powers similar to the Bus Services Act 2017. Local authorities would expect central government to financially support feasibility studies and trials, in particular to identify the best locations and most appropriate business models to set out in legislation that ensure all local authorities have the tools appropriate to respond to their circumstances.

In terms of sustainable local freight solutions for rural areas, local authorities believe that central government can provide policy carrots and sticks: on the one hand, it can establish a carbon tax to penalise vehicles that produce carbon emissions; on the other, it could financially support companies to switch to a more sustainable (e.g. electric) fleet. In addition, the government should provide local authorities with the appropriate financial support to build the necessary infrastructure (e.g. EV chargepoints) across England. These would require primary legislation and specific national guidance for local authorities. In particular, in the case of road pricing, local authorities think they should be allowed to collect and monitor local freight data and evaluate its impact on congestion and air quality. Local authorities could use this data to make the public case for road pricing locally but would also expect central government to allow them to retain some of the national scheme revenues locally. They believe this intervention will need to be trialled, in order to examine the best approach, and this will require central government to provide powers to local authorities for targeting different vehicles, and also to provide incentives for places to pilot.

Finally, perhaps the most significant intervention from central government would be for the last set of solutions that increase of the price of unsustainable deliveries for end-consumers and companies. For example, it would be worth considering specific legislation to require all online retailers to impose a levy on same/next day delivery and returned products, to be collected by central government. This would discourage end-consumers demand for un-optimised deliveries, consolidating deliveries to reduce o congestion and emissions. However, this would require significant research and modelling to understand what the best approach and way forward would be.

The councillors’ perspective

The results from the workshop series with local authority officers were presented to a group of LGA councillors to understand their perception on whether the solutions identified could be realistically implemented.

In general, councillors acknowledged that local freight is not among their top transport decarbonisation priorities, with specific sustainable mobility measures such as, promotion of active travel and public transport and car-ownership reduction being more pressing transport decarbonisation policies.

Some councillors recognised that the freight market is very fragmented, with plenty of competing businesses that are unlikely to be willing to collaborate. This represents a big challenge for the implementation of consolidation schemes. They also think that local authorities lack the powers to influence behaviour change by logistics firms locally but can implement other measures that can have an indirect impact on their operations, such as traffic/access restrictions (e.g. clean air/ low emission zones). These measures can support the implementation of consolidation centre schemes. Councillors in general believe that it would be up to central government to give local authorities the power to introduce local consolidation hubs. However, they believe compulsory schemes would not be popular among residents and local businesses, and they would prefer introducing strict traffic/access restrictions so companies will have to use the consolidation scheme to avoid expensive and difficult to access the targeted areas.

They would like to see fewer diesel vans and trucks and more e-cargo bikes to improve the liveability of neighbourhoods and urban areas, improve road safety and reduce the usage (and associated wear and tear) of the road infrastructure. However, appropriate regulations would be required to enable cargo bikes to safely circulate on public roads, especially in those areas where there is a high number of HGVs (e.g. ports).

Councillors acknowledged that most local transport strategies have not yet looked at local freight issues and sustainability measures. Local freight has been identified as an issue only very recently, probably due to the increased online shopping volumes during the pandemic, raising the visibility and salience of the issue.

Another point raised by the councillors was related to jobs and working arrangements in last-mile deliveries, and the poor contractual conditions some workers operate under. Councillors believe that with better working/contractual conditions, the workforce would work more efficiently and therefore some negative impact of last-mile deliveries such as illegal and obstructive parking would be reduced.

Some councillors believe pricing schemes such as road pricing and pricing end-consumers for un-sustainable shopping/deliveries are not realistically achievable options, as these would be too unpopular among end-consumers and would fail politically. These councillors think that reducing consumption will not be possible and would therefore encourage people to buy local products from local shops rather than big-chain retailers. They also believed that central government should tax bigger companies who generate unsustainable deliveries and challenge the economy of local businesses.


The local freight problem

The increasing rate of online shopping (the UK’s ecommerce industry ranks third in the global online retail market, just behind China and the US – TCB, 2021) has increased interest in last-mile deliveries and the local challenges they generate. This is the case with central government, which has included specific actions to decarbonise local freight in its Transport Decarbonisation Plan. However, perhaps due to this being a recent area interest from the government itself and policy development is at a very early stage, it is difficult for local authorities to consider the design and implementation of local freight policies without a national steer or support.

Capacities and capabilities of local government

Unsurprisingly, the results of this project highlighted a still emerging awareness and lack of experience among local authorities about last mile deliveries and local freight policies. This is likely related to the very limited attention paid to freight until now. Local transport plans have prioritised the mobility of people over the mobility of goods. This prioritisation also reflects the significant powers and funding local authorities have over passenger transport compared to the lack of powers or funding for regulation of local parcel delivery.

The role of sustainable last-mile deliveries in transport decarbonisation

In terms of local freight, the priority for local authorities and councillors at this point is focused on tackling climate change and delivering local decarbonisation strategies. Some technological solutions can be used to reduce the negative externalities due to last-mile deliveries, including clean fuels (e.g. hydrogen, electrification). However, despite the significant contribution that cleaner technologies can provide to local freight decarbonisation, behaviour change could potentially be the major contribution to last-mile carbon and congestion reduction. However, measures to drive behaviour change seem to be the most difficult to implement. In order to educate local communities towards a more sustainable behaviour, local authorities and the freight industry (e.g. retailers, logistics operators) will need to consider organising communication campaigns. These campaigns will need to be supported by data on the impacts of last-mile deliveries to make the case for local intervention.

The need for national and local freight data

The lack of national and local freight data represents a major barrier to understanding the challenge and developing potential measures that can win support from the general public. Freight movements data is key to giving local authorities a better understanding of local freight systems but is also commercially sensitive information so that businesses are reluctant to share. For all these reasons, directions from central government towards how to encourage or compel companies to share such data will be needed by local authorities if they want to evaluate and monitor local freight flows and therefore implement a strategy, in a way that the Bus Services Act 2017 made possible for commercially sensitive local bus market data.

Who owns the power to drive the change?

In terms of powers, local authorities would have limited power for the implementation of specific local freight measures, especially when these require a change in regulations or legislation. Central government has designed a strategy to reach Net Zero by 2050. However, several local authorities have set up more ambitious targets, and aim at achieving net zero earlier than the rest of the country (e.g. by 2030). For this reason, many councils are keen to discuss with central government whether it can support them to achieve their more advanced local targets. This can, for example, include a clearer and more specific strategy on local freight decarbonisation, and a decentralisation of powers to introduce specific local freight measures to accelerate implementation of sustainable solutions.

Next steps

This is the first time LGA has explored the issue of last-mile freight with members, but this report makes it clear that local authorities will have an important role to play. It also shows the sorts of challenges and barriers that will need to be overcome to retain and extend the benefits of online shopping while limiting the downsides. To that end, the LGA should find this report a helpful basis by which to further engage with other local authorities, central government and other stakeholders, including the freight industry.