I called a debate about lorry parking in the House of Commons, to urge the Government to build more lorry parks and introduce tougher rules to make sure drivers use them.
I said: "
A few weeks ago, in the early hours of the morning, a car carrying four men crashed into a parked lorry on the edge of the A2 just south of Faversham. Three of the men were killed; the other was seriously injured. We might never know exactly what happened, and I am absolutely not blaming the lorry driver, but that stretch of the A2 is a well-known spot for what we call lorry fly-parking. Fly-parking is when lorries park in lay-bys or on slip roads, hard shoulders, pavements or verges, often at the edge of busy roads such as the A2, the A20and the A249 in my constituency. Sometimes they also park up quiet country lanes or in industrial estates and housing estates. In general, these are places where lorries should not be parked for more than the few minutes that might be needed for a delivery or an unexpected stop. Sometimes they park legally, and sometimes illegally. Sometimes they park perfectly safely, albeit inconveniently, but at other times, unfortunately, they park dangerously.
This was not the first fatality in my constituency involving a parked lorry. A 74-year-old woman died after crashing into a lorry parked on the hard shoulder at junction 7 of the M20 a couple of years ago. Whatever the cause of the latest crash, this horrific accident should focus our minds on the problem, focus our attention on the need for more lorry parking spaces, and focus our energies on ending lorry fly-parking. Lorry fly-parking is dangerous. There is a danger to other motorists from lorries lined up, bumper to bumper, in lay-bys, sometimes jutting precariously out into the road. There is a danger to the police officers who risk their lives walking along the hard shoulder at night with hundreds of cars speeding by as they move alongside illegally parked trucks. There is also a danger to the lorry drivers themselves when they are in charge of a heavy goods vehicle but have not had a proper rest. A busy roadside with traffic thundering past is hardly a good place to get a proper night’s sleep.
The haulage industry is, rightly, tightly regulated. Drivers must record their hours on a tachograph and take breaks every four and a half hours. When the time comes to stop, they have to stop, but the roadside is not only a bad place to sleep, but a pretty bad place to stop off in general for a driver, as it has no security, no facilities, no showers and not even toilets. That is hardly helpful for an industry that would like to attract more women. From the point of view of most of my constituents —those who are not lorry drivers—they see extra litter and pretty disgusting other stuff on the roadside, and anyone who needs to pull into a lay-by on a main road can forget it, because they are already full.
Lorry parking is not a new problem, but it is growing worse and it is time to fix it. So what is the answer? Everyone we speak to, including the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, Highways England, local councillors and our constituents, will give the same common-sense answer: we must build more lorry parks. That seems deceptively simple. We know that there is demand for more truck stops. For instance, Kent County Council’s surveys show that we have around 900 lorries a night parking inappropriately. Lorry parks in Kent are turning lorries away. Ashford lorry park turned away 252 trucks in a single night last year, so the demand is clearly there. Kent County Council has been taking action by identifying possible locations for new truck stops and talking to lorry park operators to gauge their interest. Indeed, the Ashford lorry park just yesterday submitted a planning application to expand from 390 to 600 places. Those extra places will be helpful, but the number still falls far short of the 900 extra places needed in Kent. As freight volumes continue to grow with the growing economy, one can predict that that shortfall will only increase.
However, that prompts a question: given that commercial operators run service stations and lorry parks in the UK, why have more truck stops not stepped up to serve the demand? What can we do to ensure that the shortfall in parking places is met, and quickly? What conversations has the Minister had with lorry park operators about what is stopping them expanding? What investigations has he made to determine how we can encourage planning applications for truck stops that can make their way successfully and speedily through the planning system? I recognise that fast-forwarding planning for lorry parks is difficult, given the experience in Kent with the Operation Stack holding area, but when we get that vital lorry holding area, will the Government ensure that it can also be used for overnight lorry parking? I want lorry parking to be included in all major road improvements—specifically the lower Thames crossing—not just in Kent, but across the country.
As we provide more parking places, we must ensure that drivers use them, and I welcome the signals the Government have been sending about effective enforcement. For example, they have supported the enforcement pilot that is currently under way in Ashford, where lorries are being clamped the first time they park illegally. The pilot has successfully reduced reoffending and the message is getting through, because only one lorry has been clamped twice and all fines have been paid. My hon. Friend the Minister has kindly contributed to that success by allowing the local authority to increase the fines that it can charge, meaning that the council is no longer left out of pocket when lorries are clamped, and I thank him for that. If the clamping pilot continues to get results, I hope that it can be rolled out across Kent and then throughout the country. Eventually, we should have a complete ban on lorries parking for long breaks outside truck stops. However, as drivers have told me many times, it is only reasonable to enforce a ban on lorry fly-parking if there are enough legitimate places for lorries to park.
As I have said, Kent is disproportionately affected by lorry fly-parking because most of the UK’s road freight travels along the M20 and then across the channel or, alternatively, down the M2 and A2 and then down to the channel crossings in Kent. The Port of Dover handles 10,000 HGVs a day. Although we feel the problem so particularly in Kent, it is a national one, and I know from colleagues that there are lorries lining up on many trunk roads across the country. Perhaps at some point in the future we will have self-driving lorries, which I assume will not need to stop to sleep, but that is not going to happen for some years—probably some decades—so we must do something about the issue in the meantime. My hon. Friend the Minister gets that, as did his predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, and I thank them for the hard work that they have put in so far.
To conclude, may I just say to the Minister that if we are to achieve the vision of a dynamic country that is fit for the future, we need the right infrastructure to keep the economy moving? The current situation is unacceptable for lorry drivers, for other motorists, and for residents who live in the places that have become improvised truck stops. It is also dangerous. We need more lorry parks, better facilities for drivers and effective enforcement. In that way, we can end lorry fly-parking and make our roads safer.
The Minister, Jesse Norman, replied: "
I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Whately on securing this debate about lorry parking, a subject we know from previous debates, including the one last October, is of great importance to Members who represent parts of the country and communities adversely affected by lorry fly-parking. She has been a vigorous and doughty campaigner on this issue. As I recently heard at a roundtable of road freight stakeholders— I hasten to reassure her that that was one of many regular meetings I have with the industry and its stakeholders—it is just as much a concern for trade bodies and driver unions.
My Department is, as one would expect, considering the issue not merely in relation to Kent, although that is of central importance, for reasons I will outline, but on a national basis. But it does have particular salience in Kent and we should be clear about that. The Dover strait ports handle a considerable majority of the entire country’s international road freight, thus creating a particular challenge in relation to HGV traffic in that county. Road freight plays an indispensable role in keeping our economy moving, and we must not lose sight of that fact, but we must also be mindful of the adverse effects it can have on communities, which my hon. Friend has well delineated, and do our best to mitigate them.
I understand that fly-parking can blight localities such as lay-bys, which are not intended for overnight parking and do not generally have even the most basic facilities. I want my hon. Friend to know that colleagues across the Department share that view. In addition to the environmental consequences of fly-parking, she has drawn attention to the potential road safety risks it can pose. Of course, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the particular causes of the tragic incident she referred to, but, speaking generically, I am grateful to her for highlighting, through it, the potentially devastating consequences of unsafe parking. We must be quite clear: dangerous parking is never acceptable. As is set out in the Highway Code, it is an offence to park in a dangerous position, and such behaviour is rightly the subject of active enforcement by the police. As she has noted, there are provisions in the drivers’ hours rules to enable drivers to depart from the standard limits in order to reach a safe stopping place, so these requirements are no excuse for unsafe parking. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there is a shortage of overnight lorry parking in Kent and more widely. As my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer noted, facilities to enable HGV drivers to take a proper break, in a safe and secure environment and with access to welfare amenities, should be seen as a key part of our national infrastructure.
However, the situation, although complex, is far from hopeless. A number of initiatives are under way which should help to make a real difference and to address the current supply and demand mismatch. I am encouraged by plans in the private sector to bring additional parking provision to the market. In particular, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kentmentioned, the plans by Ashford International Truck Stop to double in size are highly encouraging. Other market-led developments, for example in relation to the online booking of parking spaces, should help to maximise the efficient use of existing sites. But government clearly can play a role in facilitating greater provision. Kent County Council is, with the support of Highways England, identifying where additional parking provision is most needed, and that council is working closely with private sector providers to identify what funding options exist to bring those sites into being.
As Kent Members will be well aware, we have been obliged to rethink our previous plans for a lorry park in east Kent for use as part of Operation Stack. However, we remain committed to developing a permanent solution to the issue of lorry parking in the county. I can confirm that the initial public consultation on this, which Highways England expects to launch in the spring, will also seek views on the use of the lorry park for “business-as-usual” overnight parking, precisely as my hon. Friend has suggested.
Nationally, we are looking carefully at the evidence as to gaps between demand and supply throughout the country and the potential role that the Government could play in facilitating development at specific sites. The different measures I have described will not lead overnight to more lorry parking, but they demonstrate that central and local government and private providers are seeking to pull together in the same direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent asked what is currently preventing further expansion by operators. She touched on many of the relevant factors in her speech. Ministers and officials have discussed the shortage of lorry parking spaces with a number of providers and potential providers, with a view to understanding what is preventing expansion and how policy measures might make a difference.
As my hon. Friend suggested, planning is a major concern. Motorway service areas are also an important part of the picture, as they provide around half the 15,000 lorry parking spaces throughout the country. The Department for Transport circular that covers planning and roadside facilities on the strategic road network was changed in 2013 to help to enable applications to be considered more efficiently. Nevertheless, developers still take a significant financial risk that, at the planning stage, proposals will be turned down or suffer lengthy delays, even when those developers can be rationally certain that there is significant demand.
Some providers are keen to bring forward innovative business models—for example, by combining truck parks with other services, such as refuelling and services for general motorists. Such models can pose some challenges for planning decisions, including in respect of the need to ensure that different business models are treated fairly in the planning system and in relation to providers’ obligations to pay for the necessary highway access.
Planning permission can, then, be one of the key obstacles to development. In this context, we are examining how best to ensure that the strategic importance of adequate lorry parking is given due weight in planning decisions. However, we should acknowledge that some of the planning challenges reflect the legitimate concerns of local residents and other stakeholders, as one would expect, and each application must be considered on its merits.
This is not just a question of planning risk; it goes to the nature of the business itself. Truck parks are often low-margin businesses, and they require significant space. In that context, the commercial viability of potential truck parks can be limited by the preference of some drivers to park for free by the roadside. Enforcement against inappropriate parking must go alongside the provision of truck parks. It is an important part of the overall solution. By cracking down on the ability to park up for free in inappropriate locations, we should help to provide the market with confidence that demand for proper parking facilities will be there.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend has been so supportive of the enforcement measures that are being piloted on a stretch of the A20, including our “clamp first time” approach. Since I last addressed the House on this subject, that trial has got under way, and we are closely monitoring the results. As my hon. Friend has noticed, I recently authorised Ashford Borough Council to use a higher clamping-release fee, to ensure that the trial remains financially viable.
Early indications are that the trial is going well. In the first few weeks of the 18-month trial, there was no identified displacement into residential areas or other industrial estates in Ashford. The initial signs are that there is a reduction in the level of illegal parking and we are hopeful that over time it will further decrease to a significant extent. I am aware that other councils would be keen to implement similar measures; that could well be a long-term outcome if the trial proves successful, and I know that my hon. Friend gave that suggestion her support in her speech.
It is important to draw well-supported conclusions from the pilot before considering any wider roll-out that may have national implications. However, the local willingness to enforce this robustly should make it clear to potential developers that public authorities can play a part in ensuring that market demand is there if additional provision is forthcoming on the supply side.
Across the country, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has recently begun to issue £300 fixed penalties to drivers caught taking their 45-hour weekly rest in inappropriate locations such as lay-bys. Almost all of those caught so far have been non-GB drivers. Records of such offending will feed into cross-border intelligence sharing about problematic operators at the corporate level.
Before wrapping up, I should take this opportunity to make it clear that we have not lost sight of the importance of the driver welfare dimension to lorry parking. As my hon. Friend highlights, this is all the more pertinent in the context of the industry’s efforts to attract young people and women into driving. Although it should be noted that there are a wide range of jobs in the industry, many of those do not entail overnight stays. In that context, we have reviewed the health and safety regulations in relation to facilities for visiting drivers at distribution centres. I am pleased to say that, as a consequence, the Health and Safety Executive has clarified that drivers must have access to welfare facilities, including toilets, in the premises they visit as part of their work. My Department is working with stakeholders to draw up a statement of rights as to facilities to help improve the standard of facilities available to drivers at distribution centres.
In addition to the quality of driver facilities at distribution centres, there are of course issues relating to the quantity of on-site parking at some of these developments. It is important, too, to note that local planning authorities should challenge developers to ensure that there is sufficient on-site parking to avoid the displacement of waiting lorries to the surrounding area.
We know that the quality of facilities could be better at some overnight lorry parks, including some motorway service areas—of that there can be no doubt. In this context, I am encouraged by market initiatives to increase the transparency around the facilities available, which should help to drive up standards over time.
Let us be clear that the Government are considering the issue of lorry parking with the importance that it deserves. We will continue to seek out opportunities to facilitate more and better quality provision alongside our industry and local government partners.