M20 contraflow system from Hollingbourne to Ashford may become permanent.

Kent Online is today reporting that the M20 contraflow system on the 13 mile long London bound section of the M20 between Junction 9 in Ashford and Junction 8 in Hollingbourne while Brexit is unresolved and is expected to continue indefinitely if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union on 31st October 2019 which currently seems possible. 

The closure is part of Operation Brock which is a scheme to store some 2000 lorries on the coastbound side of the M20 while they await Customs Clearance at Dover and Eurotunnel if and when the UK leaves the EU Customs Union after Brexit. Other lorries are to be stored at Manston Airport and on the M26 which should seriously affect traffic coming into and out of Kent. During a dress rehearsal for Operation Brock in March the Junction 8 coastbound slip road was closed which meant that coastbound traffic had to drive from Junction 8 to Junction 7 before doing a U turn at Junction 7 in order to drive down the Contraflow system to Junction 9.

Residents with properties alongside the M20 in Hollingbourne have complained to Hollingbourne Parish Council about the noise and rubbish from the contraflow system and the fact that Highways England have not resurfaced the M20 with a quieter surface as they promised to do earlier this year. It is understood that there will be no facilities for the 2000 lorry drivers stuck on the M20 whereas during Operation Stack in 2015 portaloos and free water were provided.

Hollingbourne is in the Channel transport corridor with the M20, A20, and HS1 all passing through the Parish. Today the “Sunday Times” is reporting that track access charges on HS1 are to increase dramatically from April 2020 which may force traffic off the railway and on the A20/M20. Track access charges are expected to increase by 25% for South Eastern,74% for freight, and 43% for Eurostar. The likely increase in commuter fares on South Eastern resulting from these changes in track access charges comes at a time when Kent is being asked to accept more commuter homes with in many cases insufficient infrastructure investment.

Today’s report on Kent Online is as follows:

When will the M20 contraflow between Ashford and Maidstone end?

By Paul Francis

Kent politicians have renewed their concerns that restrictions on the M20 are to stay in place at least until October.
The Brexit minister Stephen Barclay, who visited the county this week, said the contraflow London-bound between Ashford and Maidstone would remain until a Brexit deal has been agreed.
The news has dismayed both MPs and councillors who say the scheme – a key part of Operation Brock – is causing disruption for residents, commuters and businesses.

Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch said Kent MPs had raised the matter with ministers about the continuation of the contraflow on the M20 even though Operation Brock was not in place.

“Unfortunately while our views were considered they were not agreed to,” she said.
“It is a desperate shame for those who use the M20 every day as well as those who live in the A20 corridor that there will be disruption for some months to come.”
Speaking on the latest edition of Paul On Politics on KMTV, Ashford councillor Jo Gideon said: “There is a practical solution that could be considered.
“We are all frustrated that there are two lanes that you can drive along and there is a third lane sitting empty that could be used and it would be a relatively simple matter even if we still had to have the 50mph speed limit.”
Ashford Labour councillor Brendan Chilton echoed her comments, adding: “We are clearly not going to be leaving until at least October so why should people of Kent have to put up with traffic chaos until then?

Operation Brock is to remain in place until at least October 31
“There’s no reason why that middle lane can’t be temporarily opened.
Newly-elected Liberal Democrat MEP Anthony Hook, who is a Kent county councillor said: “It does seem very odd – it can feel very unsafe if you are in a car and a lorry passes by you.
“This is an example of a wider problem in the country where Whitehall makes these decisions rather than at a local level.”
Heidi Allen, of the Freight Transport Association which represents hauliers, said: “We are calling for the UK to leave the EU with an agreement in place, to allow for an orderly departure from the EU with the necessary transitions in place.
“The contraflow system brings into sharp focus the need for a permanent solution to Operation Brock, sooner rather than later.”

Pictured below is the M20 at Hollingbourne with the contraflow barrier is place (top) and (bottom) is the A20 sign during the Operation Brock rehearsal when the Junction 8 slip road was closed. In the event of the UK leaving the Customs Union the slip road copuld be closed permanently resulting in inconvenience to local traffic and additional travel for those who need to drive to Ashford and beyond.

The view towards Junction 8 with the Operation Brock lorry storage area on the right – March 2019. The contraflow has a 50mph speed limit and has no refuges. Almost 1000 drivers have been fined for speeding since the system was introduced earlier this year.  The lack of refuges mean that the road is potentially dangerous with poor access for rescue vehicles.
The Junction 8 warning sign on the A20 where there are regular rush hour queues. If the UK leaves the Customs Union then the sign could become permanent with traffic delays for drivers who need to drive to Ashford and beyond from Junction 8 in Hollingbourne as they will need to go back to Junction 7 before driving back to Junction 8 where the contraflow system starts.