Published: 06:00, 23 January 2021
Parcels could soon be delivered to homes across a Kent district by a fleet of electric vans and bikes operating out of special hubs.
The pollution-reducing scheme would see packages dropped at new distribution centres, where they would be picked up by environmentally-friendly vehicles and taken to doorsteps in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable.
Such a system would cut the number of delivery vans - many of them diesel-powered - making journeys in and out of residential areas, often with very few parcels.
It would also reduce navigation issues for drivers, particularly in rural areas. Iconic Blockchain, the firm behind the ambitious idea, has been awarded a £75,000 government grant to research how the system could work in Canterbury.
One barrier could be getting big companies such as Amazon to sign up to the scheme, but Iconic Blockchain director Simon Herko thinks otherwise.
“Some people say it would be great if the government could regulate the couriers to do this, but we are confident we won’t need to,” he said.
“The core benefit we will be providing will be an environmentally friendly last-mile solution.”
Mr Herko dismisses fears that such a scheme would slow down deliveries, arguing it would in fact make them more efficient.
“We are not actually creating more touch points,” he said. “What happens at the moment is that, for example, a Hermes truck drives from a regional depot into Canterbury and delivers the parcels, so that’s about 30 touch points.
“Now it will go to our consolidation centre and dump everything there, then the couriers will come and collect them.
“We’ve not added an extra handover - you could argue we’ve reduced physical handovers.”
The Cabinet Office’s Geospatial Commission has chosen the Canterbury district to be at the heart of exploring whether such a scheme could work.
‘It means less traffic for our residents and less pollution, so we can hit our climate change goal...’
A pot of £2 million has been shared out between 28 firms - including Iconic Blockchain - who entered a competition looking at how location data can spark innovation and support future mobility across the country.
If its three-month research phase is successful, Iconic Blockchain will be able to apply for more government funding.
With the idea in its infancy, no locations for out-of-town hubs - known as consolidation centres - have yet been identified.
But Cllr Dan Watkins (Con), chair of the Climate Change Working Group, is confident delivery firms will back the scheme.
“Instead of taking parcels right to people’s doors, they would take them to a single hub on the edge of town,” he said.
“From their point of view, it makes things simpler than their current arrangements, which can involve driving down little residential lanes.
“The council is supporting it because it’ll stop us having lots of vans, which aren’t full, running on diesel tanks and on routes which aren’t as effective.
“Instead, every vehicle is electric, and chooses the best possible route.
“It means less traffic for our residents and less pollution, so we can hit our climate change goal.”
Canterbury City Council has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2030, and recently unveiled a £200 million climate change action plan.
Authority leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding (Con) says being at the heart of research into a new delivery system puts the area “in pole position” should it come to fruition.
“I think the objectives of the project accord perfectly with our desire to tackle congestion and air quality issues, particularly in the medieval city of Canterbury,” he said.
Mr Herko is looking for volunteers to discuss their online shopping habits as part of his research. If you are interested, email email@example.com.