Friday 8 April 2022
Over the last week we have seen some of the most challenging road conditions in Kent in the past seven years. The M20 has been closed to coastbound traffic between junctions 8 and 11, and that section of the motorway is being used to hold nearly 2,000 queuing lorries. These queues are moving slowly, with nearly 300 lorries per hour leaving. We also have in place the Kent Permit for local hauliers so that they can wait in their depot to be called to Eurotunnel or the Port of Dover in order to make their crossing. There is close co-ordination with the local authorities, police and the ports through the Kent Resilience Forum, including providing welfare support for drivers being held on the motorway. Everything that can be done is being done, but the situation is expected to remain very difficult through the Easter period. That is no comfort for people caught up in the traffic either on the motorway or the congested A20 which is being used as the diversion route for passenger vehicles.
This crisis has come as a result of the callous actions of P&O Ferries to dismiss their entire workforce with the intention of replacing them with low paid agency workers. This decision has so far left the Marine and Coastguard Agency with no choice other than to declare that the P&O Ferries are not currently seaworthy as they do not have crews of experienced seafarers used to working in the world’s busiest shipping lane. No matter the consequences for us on land, we cannot compromise safety at sea. The weight of traffic that passes through the Dover straits each day is so great that any delay in processing departures can lead to lengthy delays. In this case the lack of operational ferries is causing the congestion at Dover.
Over the past few years there has been considerable planning looking at how we deal with situations like this. The moveable barrier was introduced to the M20 so that we could operate a contraflow to keep the motorway open in both directions, even when the coastbound carriageway is closed to accommodate queueing lorries. However, such has been the great number of vehicles waiting in Kent to leave the country, it has not been possible to use it for this purpose at the present time. However, the current situation cannot continue. If there is no substantial reduction in the number of queuing lorries, the Kent Resilience Forum should look at all of the options that have been considered before, including parking lorries at Manston Airport, at the inland border facility at Sevington near Ashford, using the M26 and restoring the contraflow on the M20.
This week the Government has also announced its long term plan for energy production in the UK with the aim of producing 95% of our electricity from low carbon sources by the end of the decade, and opening eight new nuclear power stations on existing nuclear sites by 2030. This is welcome news and I have long advocated Dungeness as a suitable location for new small modular nuclear reactors. I have met with Rolls Royce who are leading the consortium to deliver these, in order to make the case for Dungeness to be amongst these new stations to be built.