Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Road Haulage Industry Incensed at Withdrawal of Parking Plans for Export and Import Freight Vehicles

Operation Axed not Operation Stack as Government Fails to Manage Environmental Assessment
Shipping News Feature
UK – The government has withdrawn its decision to site a lorry park in Kent as a permanent alternative to Operation Stack, news that has disappointed UK freight and road haulage industry interests, which argue that, with the current uncertainty of just how Brexit will affect trade on either side of the tunnel, a suitable solution must be in place as a substitute for Operation Stack, otherwise the UK could once again see a repeat of the situation in 2015 when lorries blocked the motorway hard shoulders for mile upon mile.

The impact of disruption at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel in Kent can lead to significant congestion in that county and further afield. In the event of such disruption, Operation Stack is deployed which queues lorries on the M20 until they can access their ferry or train, closing parts of the motorway to other traffic. However, it has been accepted that this is not an ideal contingency solution particularly given the impact it has on the M20, and the surrounding region.

Following that significant and long-running disruption in the summer of 2015, due to French ferry employee industrial action and migrant activity in France, Operation Stack was deployed for over 30 days that summer. The government determined to find a solution to the issue and announced that a new lorry holding park would be built at Stanford West in Kent. The lorry park was to be designed to mitigate the worst impacts of Operation Stack by taking lorries off the road until they could be released to Dover or Eurotunnel.

A judicial review was held regarding the development following protests from local interests and cynics at the time voiced concerns that the vast area in which the lorry park would be built could in fact be intended as an official migrant camp. For reasons best known to itself the government failed to order a full environmental impact assessment when the proposals were made, something the judges obviously found unacceptable and which caused them to reject the scheme out of hand.

Amongst those in the freight community which saw the scheme as a common sense answer to what has become a long term problem was the Road Haulage Association and commenting on the UK government's decision to scrap the scheme RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said:

“I find it beyond belief as to why the most basic of procedures, that of an environmental assessment was not undertaken simply on the assumption that it was not needed. This facility is of massive importance to hauliers and the people of Kent. We understand that the alternatives are to extend the truck park at Manston and to utilise 2 lanes of the M20.

“This red-tape debacle is a complete disaster for hauliers coming over from the Continent. Two years ago we saw the misery of operators who, for many days, were caught up in the gridlock of Operation Stack. Even the most basic requirements for HGV drivers such as toilet facilities and drinking water were non-existent. And for the people and economy of Kent, the cost was enormous.

“As Brexit approaches we are pushing hard for free-flowing customs border controls. If we cannot achieve the right Brexit deal, we could be looking at customs border queues which could potentially cause misery for hauliers and the residents and businesses of Kent. Can you imagine Operation Stack becoming a daily way of life? The Road Haulage Association is committed to working with DfT to find a workable solution.”

Highways England says that it will now develop new plans for a permanent solution, including an alternative lorry park, to cope with disruption on Kent roads caused by cross-channel disruption as well as providing daily parking for lorries. A consultation is set to take place next year, ahead of a planning application in 2019. An interim plan is also being developed by Highways England to allow motorists to carry on using the M20 when Operation Stack is implemented, to minimise the impact on the surrounding community.

This scheme could see a dual carriageway created on the M20 by using moveable or steel barriers to ‘safely store’ lorries in the centre of the motorway. This solution should be in place by March 2019 and more details will be confirmed early next year.

An arrangement with Manston Airfield and the Department for Transport is also being extended to allow it to continue to be used during severe cross-Channel disruption, helping to further reduce the impact on Kent. Another lobby group for the original scheme was the Freight Transport Association (FTA) whose Head of National and Regional Policy Christopher Snelling commented:

“Whatever the solution, everyone from the hauliers who keep Britain’s supply chain working to the residents of Kent all agree that a better solution for Operation Stack is needed. That this application has to be withdrawn is a major disappointment and means a proper management of a Stack situation may be many more years of.

“The DfT have said they will now look to implement an interim solution for use before any lorry area can be brought into existence. The FTA will want to see that this delivers real benefits in terms of safely and hygienically accommodating lorries and their drivers who get caught in up in Stack, keeping the roads safe for other users, and avoiding the need to restrict or close the motorway for non-Cross Chanel traffic.

“As always with Stack, the best solution would be not to need it. But with Brexit on the horizon and all the other issues that can occur on the Dover-Calais route, we simply won’t be able to guarantee that – if the solution doesn’t work this could be an increasing problem for Kent in the years to come.”

What must be particularly galling to any road haulage operator is the fact that, as from November 1, there has been a tightening of the restrictions for drivers taking rest breaks in their cabs (full details here). This has incensed many who point out that there are often problems with ‘safe’ parking areas, one operator told us he had had three break ins to import vehicles resting at the M25 Thurrock Services in Essex over the past three weeks (reportedly the security cameras had actually been stolen), whilst a driver parking in what is considered an unsuitable area by the authorities will be fined heavily.