This past weekend we have again seen major delays to passenger and freight traffic seeking to make their journeys to France across the Dover straits. This was caused by the combination of very high levels of holiday traffic, due to the end of the school year, and also the understaffing by the French authorities of their passport control checks. Both the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel process thousands of passengers a day and any delays to the checking in process can quickly cause lengthy tailbacks. It was the large volume of queuing traffic initially at Dover, and then for the Tunnel, which caused the general disruption over the weekend. In addition to this, a major accident on Friday morning on the M20, between junctions 11 and 12, resulted in the coastbound carriageway being closed, causing further delays.
As many readers will know, we operate a system of juxtaposed border controls with the French authorities, which mean that you clear French immigration checks in the UK, and UK border controls in France. This agreement is part of the Treaty of Le Touquet which was signed by the British and French governments in 2003 and has nothing to do with Brexit or our former membership of the European Union. Without this agreement, we would only be able to check whether someone has the legal papers necessary to enter the UK after they have arrived, rather than before they left France.
The disruption this weekend was as a result of a failure by the French authorities to ensure that they had enough people checking travel documents to ensure that the traffic into the ports could flow freely. Over the weekend I was in touch with the Roads Minister, as well as the Kent Resilience Forum which co-ordinates local agencies, and with Eurotunnel, and I am pleased to report that they all expect the situation to greatly improve this week. Operation Brock, which will resume this week, will make it easier to manage traffic flows when there are more minor delays. Operation Brock gives us something that we were never able to do in the past with Operation Stack. We can now hold 4000 lorries on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9 whilst keeping the motorway open in both directions. Without this the delays of the weekend would have lasted much longer. However, we also need to look at how technology can make more seamless the management of passengers and freight through the ports. We also need to look at how we can always keep open the M20 between junctions 11 and 12 so that passenger traffic can safely enter the Eurotunnel site without the need to use the access route on the A20; this was the cause of the lengthy delays at the Beachborough roundabout this weekend.
Last week, I joined the National Coastwatch Volunteers at Folkestone’s East Cliff for their afternoon watch. They form an important part of the local search and rescue family and are a vital community asset, saving lives at sea by monitoring the English Channel during peak hours. It was also Folkestone Pride this weekend; a time to celebrate diversity within our local community, promote our town as a safe and welcoming place to live, and showcase the town’s artistic talent. I hope everyone had a fantastic time. Happy Pride, Folkestone.