Hollingbourne is at Junction 8 of the M20 which is the point at which the motorway is closed when Operation Stack is activated because of problems at the Channel ports and at Eurotunnel. In 2015 Operation Stack lasted for weeks and brought traffic to a standstill over larges parts of Kent including the access to Hollingbourne. After Brexit in March 2019 when the UK leaves the Single Market and Customs there is concern that Customs Checks at Dover and Calais will make Operation Stack a daily event. Mindful of this possibility Hollingbourne Parish Council asked for local KCC Councillor Shellina Prendergast to ask a question at the October 2017 KCC Monthly Council Meeting about KCC’s plans for dealing with motorway traffic after Brexit. It was agreed that KCC would write to the Secretary of State for Transport for details of the plans to keep traffic moving after Brexit. At the time of writing no response has been received.
A similar question has been recently asked by KCC Opposition Leader Councillor Rob Bird to Councillor Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for Transport, Highways and Highways and the question and answer are reproduced below.
Rob Bird’s question to Mike Whiting, Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport & Waste:
“Brexit is intended to take place in just over 12 months’ time. On 1st March the Secretary of State for Transport assured Parliament that ‘… it is absolutely the intent of this Government to maintain a free-flowing border …’ at Dover and that the Government ‘… will have a solution in place for next March which keeps the M20 flowing in both directions and provides a solution if there is congestion at the ports…’.
Will the Cabinet Member provide the same assurances to the residents and businesses of Kent? In so doing, will he advise this Council what the technological solutions for maintaining a free-flowing border at Dover and free-flowing traffic through Kent will be, and what steps the Cabinet Member is taking to hold the Secretary of State to account?”
Mike Whiting’s answer:
“I share your concerns Mr Bird. As you may know, Highways England has been tasked by Government to develop an interim solution to Operation Stack to be in place by March 2019 in time for Brexit. Highways England is developing a number of options that, while continuing to hold HGVs on the M20 in the event of delays at the ports, would also allow non-port traffic to continue to travel in both directions. Highways England is assessing different technologies ranging from steel barriers to moveable barrier systems, as well as the traffic management, including signing to get vehicles into the right lanes, that could be used to enable the safe separation of two-way flow from the queuing port traffic.
KCC is being consulted by Highways England on how these options could affect the local road network. I have already written to the Secretary of State insisting that the M20 must remain fully open for two-way traffic at all times enabling our residents and businesses to travel and there must be no impact on our local road network. I stressed to the Secretary of State that the County Council wants to avoid any repeat of the disruption in 2015 when Operation Stack was in place for 32 days at an estimated cost to the Kent economy of £1.45 million per day, and emphasised that maintaining traffic fluidity post-Brexit is a of paramount importance to Kent residents, businesses and the UK economy as a whole.
A final decision on which option to take forward will be made by Government early this year, with Highways England tasked to deliver by March 2019. The selected interim scheme could be announced alongside the public consultation on the options for a permanent solution to Operation Stack with a lorry park or parks, as the on-motorway scheme would only be temporary. KCC’s response to this forthcoming consultation will be brought to the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee at the appropriate time.
Currently the short-term contingency plan for Operation Stack is to use Manston Airport to park HGVs during severe disruption. Manston can hold approximately 4,000 lorries and would be implemented if Operation Stack Stages 1 and 2 (M20 junctions 8 to 11 coast-bound) becomes full, thus preventing the need to use the London-bound carriageway as was the case in the summer of 2015. Port of Dover lorries would be routed along the A249, M2 and A299 to Manston and then released along the A256 to Dover.
Thankfully Operation Stack has not been called since the summer of 2015, so Manston has yet to be used. The introduction of the Dover TAP scheme which queues HGVs along the inside lane of the A20 between Dover and Folkestone when there are delays at the Port of Dover has also helped prevent the need for Stack on several occasions.”
Unless this problem is resolved Hollingbourne and many other communities not just close to the M20 will face major disruption on a possible daily basis if a solution is not found to the traffic delays caused by Customs Checks at Dover and the Eurotunnel.
Similar problems are expected to occur in the Pas de Calais.
At a meeting earlier this month Kent Police and Crime Commissioner told representatives of local Parish Councils that the Government would only pick up the cost of policing Operation Stack if it cost more than £3 million in one year which is equivalent to about 7 months of Operation Stack at 2015 rates. Cost up to £3 million will be paid by Kent Council tax-payers.
According to an Imperial College study for BBC South East each minute of delay at Customs could lead to a 10 mile traffic jam within hours and the value of trade along the M20 is around £100 billion a year. Delays on the M20 are also expected to cause congestion up to 10 miles from the M20.
Pictured below are a few of the lorries stacked on the M20 near Hollingbourne in 2015.