Following more misery on Kent’s roads as a result of Operation Stack, I met with the Home Secretary, along with other MPs from the county on Tuesday this week, to discuss the impact it is having and what needs to be done.
The Home Secretary’s main responsibilities as far as Operation Stack is concerned are border security and policing. Last week she announced in parliament that the government will be funding the creation of a new secure check in zone for lorries at Calais, and that we are providing new high security fencing for the Tunnel entrance at Coquelles. In response to my question in the House of Commons, she also confirmed that she has met with the French Interior Minister to impress upon their government the importance of keeping the port and tunnel open. Improving security at the port and tunnel entrances are one of the key issues with regard to preventing Operation Stack coming into force.
Another is stopping striking French ferry workers disrupting all of the cross channel services from Calais and Coquelles.
Here there has been some progress, in that the strike action has now been restricted to two berths at the Calais port. Whilst this is better than the disruptions we have seen over the last few weeks, it is still having an impact because of the busy holiday season.
Calais is not operating at full capacity because of the dispute with the DFDS ferry workers and this is something that the French authorities need to get a grip of. The days of Operation Stack we have had in the last week, are due in part of the congestion that this dispute is still causing for the Dover to Calais route. The consequences of the disruption in services is not just being felt by Kent residents, and cross channel passengers, but also local businesses. Transport businesses in the coach and haulage sectors, have faced losses of revenue because of the closure of Calais and Coquelles over the last few weeks.
I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week asking whether businesses that have been impacted as a result of operation stack could apply to spread their PAYE, VAT and employers National insurance payments over the rest of the year to help with cash flow over the next few months. Please do get in touch with me if this has affected you. On Friday this week, I will also be meeting with Kent County Council to discuss alternatives to Stack.
These proposals will be sent on the Department for Transport, who stated in the House of Commons last week that they are actively looking at alternative solutions. This means, at short notice finding other places to park the lorries, or trying to devise a scheme that would still allow some traffic movement on the M20 during Stack.
Alternatives could include sites like Manston Airport or the county showground at Detling. I believe we should also look at using the M26 instead of the M20 for Stack. Closing the M26 might cause some congestion, but at least the traffic would still be moving on the motorway network, as this is just a shortcut link road, rather than an arterial route.