This week marks the start of the Highways England consultation on the permanent solution to Operation Stack. Following the chaos caused in the summer of 2015, when Operation Stack was in force on 32 days, I along with the other Kent MPs secured from the government a commitment to fund a £250 million lorry park close to junction 11 of the M20 which could hold up to 4,000 lorries when they are waiting to depart to the continent. This is around the same number of lorries that are held when the Operation Stack restrictions are in place between junctions 8 and 9, and 10 and 11 of the M20 on the coast bound carriageway.
This scheme, which should have been operational by now, didn’t progress because Highways England failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies they should have conducted as part of the planning process. This does not mean that there was a problem with the site, and it is still possible that this location could be looked at again as part of this new consultation.
If we want a permanent solution to Operation Stack, then we need to find a location where we can put lorries that are waiting to leave the country, but are delayed from doing so. These hold ups could be caused by strike action, bad weather or any other disturbance which slows the movement of traffic through the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel. We need to prepare as well for after we leave the European Union, in case of any delays that might occur in processing lorries moving goods for export. Whatever solution is found, it needs to be integrated into the motorway network so that lorries can queue without disturbing the traffic on other roads.
You can have your say by responding to the consultation online through the Highways England website. The deadline for submissions is Sunday 22nd July 2018. As an interim measure, the government is also preparing a contraflow scheme to run on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9, which would allow both for lorry parking and two-way flow of traffic on the motorway should the Operation Stack provisions come into force again. This is better than nothing, but will still cause congestion and could require the closure of the motorway between other junctions, if delays persisted.
Last week the Department for the Environment announced its final consultation on a further 41 locations to be designated as Marine Conservation Zones. These zones help to protect marine habitats that are considered to be vulnerable. I am pleased that Hythe Bay was not included on this list. Following meetings I have held with Ministers from that department and representatives of the local fishing industry, we were able to make the case that there are no current conservation issues in the Bay, and that putting big restrictions in place there would cause considerable financial burden to our local fishing businesses. Hythe Bay is a success story for sustainable fishing and conservation, and I am pleased that it will be able to stay that way.