Do you remember the Summer of Stack? For 32 days in 2015 Kent ground to a halt, with Operation Stack turning the M20 turned into a giant lorry park because of disruption at the Channel crossings. Journeys that usually took 5 or 10 minutes took hours, people couldn’t get to work or to important appointments, operations were delayed because hospital staff couldn’t get to work, teachers struggled to get to school and businesses couldn’t transport their goods. One ten-year-old girl had to wait an hour and a half for an ambulance after falling off a climbing frame.
It's unacceptable for Kent to be brought to a standstill because of Operation Stack. The Government tried to fast-track the planning process to get a lorry holding area at Stanford West approved as quickly as possible, but this was held up by a judicial review. The Government is no longer defending that review and the decision to site the lorry holding at Stanford West has been withdrawn. Work has now started on trying to get a lorry park approved through the normal planning process. As part of this it is broadening its scope and thinking of ways to address the broader problems of fly-parking and the potential impact of Brexit - as well as Operation Stack.
In the meantime Highways England are working on a new way of keeping the M20 open in both directions when there is disruption at the Channel crossings. One idea is to stack lorries in the middle of the motorway, and keeping a two-way flow, using mobile barriers. Another option is to strengthen the hard shoulder northbound to use as a contraflow while lorries are stacked on the coast-bound part. It is my understanding that Manston airfield will also remain available for use as a lorry holding area in the short-term.
I am disappointed that we don't yet have a permanent alternative to Operation Stack, but I have always said that the key to avoiding a repeat of the chaos of summer 2015 is to make sure traffic can continue to flow in both directions on the M20 when Operation Stack is in place.
In my previous meetings with Highways England I have found that they were reluctant to consider alternative solutions. The new proposals suggest to me they are being more innovative.