Fears have been voiced about just what a new roads levy for lorries will mean for Northern Ireland.
Yesterday saw the introduction of a new charge on non-UK freight trucks coming into the country.
The fees can be £10 per day for every 24 hours that a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) is in the country, up to a maximum of £1,000 per year.
In Northern Ireland – which shares more than 200 miles of border with the Republic – concerns have been raised over what may happen to regular north-south trade.
One of those voicing their unease was Seamus McMahon of Linwoods, the giant bakery to the south of Armagh which employs more than 250 staff, who said it could affect southern hauliers bringing in packaging or ingredients.
Asked if, ultimately, it could spell pricier bread, he said: “It could result in that. We’d do everything to make sure it doesn’t happen, but we couldn’t rule it out.”
However, two roads are exempt from the scheme – the A3 (off which Linwoods stands) and the A37 (near Crossmaglen). Despite this, Mr McMahon said he said still has concerns if suppliers were coming via a different route.
He said: “I am sure that if they have a charge, that charge is going to be passed back. They have to recover it.”
The Freight Transport Association was generally supportive of the levy, saying that it created a more level playing field for UK hauliers, competing against those using cheaper non-UK fuel.
Sinn Fein yesterday reiterated its opposition to the levy, and said in a statement: “We’ve raised serious concerns about the deeply negative impact that it would have on cross-border and island-wide trade, which currently accounts for £2.3bn in economic activity per annum.”
Asked if Northern Ireland’s own particular circumstances had been taken into account when drawing up the law, the Department for Transport said: “Exempting hauliers from Ireland from the HGV levy would not be legal under European law and, given hauliers from Northern Ireland have to pay tolls when driving in Ireland, would not be fair.”
The levy applies to non-UK registered trucks of 12-tonnes or more. Penalty fines are up to £300.