Photo credits @ Port of Dover (illustrative purposes only)

UK road freight to Europe fell by 19% in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels

New figures reveal a substantial drop in the number of road goods vehicles travelling from Great Britain to Europe in 2023. According to the National Statistics, overall trips fell by 9% compared to the previous year, and when compared to the pre-pandemic average (2015-2019), the decline is even steeper at 19%.

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The decrease is primarily driven by a decline in HGVs, which make up the majority of freight traffic. These vehicles saw an 11% drop in trips from 2022 and a 27% decrease compared to the 2015-2019 average, as reported by the National Statistics. On the other hand, unaccompanied trailers remained relatively stable, experiencing a 6% decrease from 2022 but staying slightly above the pre-pandemic average.

The report cites several potential factors contributing to the decline, including disruptions at P&O Ferries, ongoing global supply chain issues, and high inflation in recent years. However, the National Statistics cannot definitively isolate the impact of each individual factor.

The data also highlights a long-term trend in the types of vehicles used for freight. Since the early 2000s, trips by foreign-registered lorries have surpassed those by UK-registered ones, according to the National Statistics. This trend aligns with the eastward expansion of the European Union, with countries like Poland and Romania now seeing a significant share of haulage activity.

Despite the overall decline, the Dover Strait port group, which includes ferry routes and the Channel Tunnel, remains the most popular route for freight movement to Europe. Over half (53%) of all trips in 2023 used this route, with powered vehicles being the overwhelming majority (99%), as reported by the National Statistics. However, for unaccompanied trailers, the North Sea ports (31%) see significantly more activity, likely due to their longer routes catering to specific cargo needs.

When it comes to the final destination of the goods, France remains the most popular choice, accounting for over half (55%) of all trips, according to the National Statistics. However, the Netherlands is gaining ground, with 21% of trips disembarking there, primarily for unaccompanied trailers. The Republic of Ireland also remains a significant player, receiving 14% of all trips.