Hugh Featherstone

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Hugh Featherstone, former director general of the Freight Transport Association has died at the age of 83.

Hugh Featherstone played an important role in shaping the modern road transport industry negotiating a route through the major structural upheavals of the sixties and seventies and ultimately winning the campaign for increased lorry weights in the early 1980s.

I first met Hugh in 1983 when he was leading the campaign for heavier lorries in the face of fierce opposition. At the time the maximum weight for an articulated vehicle was 32.5 tonnes.

However, a study by Sir Arthur Armitage, vice-chancellor of Manchester University, accepted the case for a 44 tonne weight limit for a six axle vehicle. This provoked outrage among Members of Parliament from the shires who painted lurid pictures of giant “Juggernauts” thundering through picturesque villages destroying rural life.

It says much for Hugh’s skill as a negotiator that he was able to counter this and win the argument. Initially, gross vehicle weight rose to 38 tonnes in 1983 but importantly, it also opened the way for further weight increases to the currently 44 tonne limit.

Hugh also had an important role in the restructuring of the road transport industry. When he joined the Traders Road Transport Association, the forerunner of FTA, in 1958, the industry was regulated using a quantity licensing system that effectively rationed access to the industry. The TRTA membership was made up of  manufacturers and traders who operated ‘C’ licensed vehicles.

It wasn’t until Barbara Castle’s Transport Act of 1968 that the quantity licensing system was overturned and replaced by the quality licensing system that we know today.

When Hugh joined the organisation it consisted of 13 virtually autonomous divisions which needed to be coordinated into a single body fit to meet the challenges which faced road transport operators.

Other challenges included the introduction of annual tests for commercial vehicles, coupled with a tightening of safety regulations which led to the launch of the Association’s vehicle inspection service in 1966.

There were also changes to drivers’ hours legislation to be dealt with and ultimately the introduction of the Association’s tachograph services.

Hugh Featherstone retired from the FTA in 1984, by which time it employed 330 staff, handing the organisation over to his deputy of many years, Garry Turvey. He was awarded the OBE in 1974 and the CBE in 1984.

Malory Davies

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