Friday, 14 November 2014

Northern Ireland to enforce HGV levy after six-month delay . . .


Northern Ireland to enforce HGV levy after six-month delay

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The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted to defeat attempts to annul the Road Traffic Offenders Order – a piece of secondary legislation whose effect is to facilitate enforcement of the UK-wide HGV road user levy in the province.

The levy is designed to bill operators of foreign-registered trucks, including those from the Republic of Ireland, for their use of UK roads. The Assembly’s decision of 4 November means the Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) – the local equivalent of Great Britain’s DVSA – will soon enforce the levy locally, and that non-payment will incur a £300 on-the-spot fine if detected.

The levy has applied across the UK since 1 April, including in Northern Ireland. But local enforcement, including the issue of fixed penalty notices by the DVA, had been blocked by the environment minister, Mark H Durkan, pending the result of ongoing negotiations with the British government over concessions for roads transiting the province.

Opinion on the road user levy in Northern Ireland had been divided along unionist/nationalist lines, with members of Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) expressing concerns earlier in the year of the impact on the island-wide economy, while the Democratic Unionist (DUP) and Ulster Unionist (UUP) parties called for the levy to be enforced.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) backed the MLAs’ vote, stating that it was the “right decision”. It pointed out that the levy was “a tax issue which is dictated from Westminster by the UK government” – and that, had the secondary legislation not been passed by Stormont and the environment minister, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) would have put in place its own procedures to enforce the levy, in order to avoid infraction fines from the European Union.

Seamus Leheny, FTA policy and membership relations manager for Northern Ireland, said: “The delay for NI in comparison to the rest of the UK was all down to this obstacle of the local Northern Ireland Assembly passing this secondary legislation. FTA believes that the decision of the NI Assembly was the right one and that it was not one that Minister Durkan could ignore.”

Minister Durkan said that the levy was “generally supported” by most hauliers in the North, and that levies had already been purchased for around 7,000 Irish vehicles since the law came into force.

Meanwhile, the autonomous FTA Ireland (FTAI) noted the decision, but stated that “a sensible transit concession between jurisdictions is still required,” having previously argued for an exemption from the levy for Irish hauliers transiting the North via the A5 in journeys to and from County Donegal.

Minister Durkan had also advocated such an exemption, but the UK government had failed to agree to the policy. Exemptions already apply to parts of the A3 and A37.

Neil McDonnell, general manager of FTAI, said the association was: “pleased to know that the MLAs held a sympathetic discussion around the issue of a transit concession for hauliers from the Republic transiting Northern Ireland.

“We are hoping [Republic of Ireland transport minister Paschal] Donohoe will continue to press for the same with his counterparts, environment minister Mark Durkan MLA in Belfast, and secretary of state for transport Patrick McLoughlin MP in London.”

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