Northern Ireland

Haulage firms voice concern at 'backlog' in inquiries

lorry - stock photo Image copyright Getty Images

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) in NI has said haulage firms flouting the rules could put others out of business.

The body represents 6,000 companies across the United Kingdom.

It claims there is a significant backlog in public inquiries which investigate operators and that is negatively impacting the industry.

The Department for Infrastructure, which is responsible for regulating the industry, said it has set up a short-term panel to address 62 inquiries.

The comments come after Christopher Hughes, 34, who is wanted by police in connection with the deaths of 39 people in a lorry in Essex, lost his heavy goods vehicles (HGV) licence.

Image caption John Martin from the RHA said the same issues are not faced elsewhere in the UK

John Martin from the RHA in Northern Ireland told Good Morning Ulster the industry is hugely frustrated.

"From my understanding, there is a considerable backlog of all public inquiries in association with heavy goods vehicles (HGV) licences," he said.

"If there's a public inquiry outstanding in relation to an operator who's been detected for committing serious infringements, they may not be held to account and may be allowed to continue to operate, therefore undermining and undercutting legitimate operators."

Threat to business

Mr Martin said margins were extremely tight in the industry.

"If there is an operator prepared to flout the rules, not maintaining their vehicles and the drivers are driving for excessive periods, then he is then able to undercut people who are doing the job right.

"If he is able to do that for any protracted period of time, then the person who is doing it legitimately may go out of business," he said.

In a statement, the Department for Infrastructure said following a review, it had recognised that presiding officers at public inquiries needed not just to have experience in the road transport sector, but also a specific understanding of the judicial responsibilities.

"This combination of skills and experience is necessary to ensure that hearings are held in a fair and open manner, and that regulatory action is proportionate and justified," the statement said.

The Department added that it had been working to appoint appropriately qualified people to the role and had recently set up a short-term panel to address the backlog of inquiries.

The RHA has told BBC News NI the same issues are not being faced elsewhere.

"There is no backlog of public inquiries in the rest of the UK because they are held regularly.

"The department [for Infrastructure] really needs to get its act together and get these inquiries back on stream again", Mr Martin said.

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