The Department for Transport has this week provided an update on its plans to create a long term solution to Operation Stack and address the need for more overnight lorry parking in Kent, and across the South East of England. The previous lorry parking scheme proposed for the M20 close to junction 11, was withdrawn following a judicial review against the way in which Highways England had managed the planning process. However the £250million budget that we secured from the Treasury to fund a long term solution to Operation Stack remains.
The challenge for the Department for Transport is to improve on the current Operation Stack arrangements and ensure that traffic can keep flowing on the M20 even in the event of serious disruption to cross-channel transport. In June, Highways England will start a consultation process on a permanent solution for holding lorries when the conditions exist that would normally necessitate the introduction to Operation Stack. This initial consultation will consider the broad solutions rather than specific sites. It will also seek views on the potential use of any future lorry park or parks for “business as usual” overnight lorry parking; while remaining sensitive to the Government’s desire not to deter any planned private investment. For example, we wouldn’t want the delivery of an Operation Stack lorry park to prevent other investment now in overnight parking at sites, like the Stop 24 services at junction 11 of the M20.
Whilst delivering a long term solution to Operation Stack has to remain our priority, we need to do more now to mitigate the potential impact of delays in road freight crossing the Channel. To this end the Department for Transport has now agreed that Highways England will put in place arrangements for a contraflow system which would see lorries for the port of Dover and Eurotunnel held on the coast-bound carriageway between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20, while other traffic will use a contraflow to continue their journey on the other side of the motorway. Highways England is starting the preparatory works for the scheme now, which includes the strengthening of the hard shoulders of the motorway, and it will be available from early 2019. I welcome the introduction of these measures, which whilst not providing the longer term solution, will at least give us more resilience against the impact of Operation Stack than we have had in the past.
The Department for Transport has also announced that it will consider further steps to make it easier for local authorities to take enforcement action against lorries which park inappropriately. In Kent the trial on a stretch of the A20 of innovative enforcement approaches has had considerable success in its first six months of operation, with a significant fall in the number of vehicles parked overnight, and increased use of commercial parking facilities in the area, especially at weekends. I look forward to hearing more about the practical assistance the government can provide to support this work.