The government’s contingency planning in case of a no deal Brexit will start to take physical form this week, as roadworks begin between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 to install a steel barrier that will divide the London bound carriageway. This barrier will allow the deployment of a contraflow system with two lanes of traffic moving in both directions, should the coast bound carriageway need to be closed in order to provide queueing space for lorries waiting to leave the country, from either the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover.
These roadworks will involve overnight closures of the motorway from Ashford to Maidstone and will take about one month to complete. Once the barrier is installed, the motorway will continue to operate as usual, but there will be 50 mile per hour speed restrictions on the section containing the barrier. None of this is ideal, but these are decisions that need to be made now so that we have contingency plans in place and operational in case there are delays at the ports, after we leave the European Union on 29th March. During the Operation Stack crisis in the summer of 2015 one of the main complaints was that the complete closure of the coastbound M20 to non-freight traffic caused major congestion on some of Kent’s other major roads; in particular the A20. This scheme avoids that problem by keeping the motorway open in both directions. Should additional capacity be imediately required to park lorries, it is planned that land at Manston Airport will be used, and then if necessary, lorries could queue on the M26.
As well as finding space for lorries to queue, the Department for Transport is also looking to provide additional capacity for ferries to take more lorries out of the country if needed. This has seen more than £80million committed in deals with ferry operators DFDS and Brittany Ferries. I’ve also asked the government to discuss with Eurotunnel whether they have capacity to run additional services through the Channel Tunnel and have been told that they are in talks about delivering this. This route operates well below its capacity at the moment and could provide an efficient means for transporting more freight out of the country. The Port of Dover also believes that it has the capacity to run more services if required and stands ready to assist if asked to by the government.
It was announced at the weekend that the Department for Transport has cancelled a contract for a company called Seaborne Freight to run ferries from Ramsgate to Ostend. This deal was worth £13.8million, a much smaller contract than those placed with the other companies, but no public money has been spent as it has now been withdrawn. There may be other more deliverable options available to increase services across the Channel and other providers who could restore the ferry links out of Ramsgate. We should certainly keep this option open.