UK supermarkets should be granted “flexibility” over late-night deliveries to ensure shelves remain stocked in the face of the ongoing driver shortage crisis.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has called on local councils to disregard rules which “restrict the time and number of deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles” stores can receive over the next six months.
Jenrick urged councils to ensure these rules, designed to protect local residents’ sleep, do not become a “barrier to deliveries”.
It comes as the “acute shortage” of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers begins to impact supermarket stock, leaving shelves empty in many regions.
According to Nationwide Produce managing director Tim O’Malley “perfectly good, graded and packed fresh produce (is) being dumped or left rotting in cold stores, waiting for wheels to go under it”.
In a written ministerial statement, 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.”
A number of proposals have been made in efforts to solve the crisis, with reports suggesting the government could be considering giving EU drivers short-term visas.
Despite this strategy being promoted by industry leaders, the government is understood to be strongly opposed to these proposals, pushing instead for the industry to employ British drivers.
The issue is that drivers take between six and nine months to train, and the pandemic has caused a significant backlog in both training and testing meaning British drivers are simply not available.
Their alternative strategy has been to extend the number of hours British hauliers are allowed to work by law, a controversial plan which has drawn criticism from many workers unions.