On Monday evening I spoke with the Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP, to express to him the huge frustration that everyone in Kent feels at the ongoing gridlock caused by Operation Stack. He agreed with me that the current situation is completely unacceptable, and that new methods for managing the traffic to and from the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel need to be found that allow the M20 motorway to remain open and take pressure off of Kent’s roads.
The responsibility for finding this solution ultimately rests on Highways England, who are responsible for the motorway network. They need to be working flat out now to provide some alternative solutions. They have been too inactive throughout this crisis, ready to listen and disagree with proposals put forward by other people, but contributing very few ideas of their own.
The last few days have proven to be extremely frustrating in this regard. Last Friday I attended a special Stack summit in Maidstone which brought together the County Council, Kent Police, Highways England and representatives of the local district and borough councils. The meeting agreed a series of proposals for alternative ways of managing the Stack crisis, both in the short and long term. This document will now be presented to Ministers at the Department of Transport this week, instead of in September as had originally been intended. However, one of the suggestions deserved more urgent consideration, namely the introduction of a contraflow system on the London bound carriageway of the M20 motorway, to allow a constant stream of traffic in both directions, even when Stack is in force. This solution would have taken pressure off of Kent’s roads and Highways England said that it could be possible to have the scheme up and running this week. However, further work carried out by them into the proposal over last weekend, has led them to conclude that this is now not a viable solution. I find the way in which they have handled this completely unacceptable.
Firstly, they should have carried out this study months ago, and if we hadn’t pressed them in the meeting last Friday to look at it straight away, no analysis would have yet been carried out into it. Furthermore, contraflow systems operate safely in other areas of the motorway network, and such has been the frequency and severity of the delays in Kent this summer, I believe that it would be justified to introduce such a scheme. Kent County Council and Kent Police will be looking in detail this week at Highways England’s objections and I hope something can be salvaged from the contraflow proposal. If not, then Highways England need to propose alternative ideas. Further work should also be carried out into the viability of using the M26 to take some of the pressure of Operation Stack.
Off road lorry parking will be an important part of managing Operation Stack in the future, and the summit meeting in Maidstone last Friday agreed that the best way to deliver these spaces would be by extending the Stop 24 services at junction 11 of the M20. It is possible to create a park there for around 1,300 lorries, in addition to the 300 new spaces that will be available at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Cheriton this September.