Published: 10:30, 06 July 2016
The government has confirmed that a huge lorry park off the M20 is to be built to deal with Operation Stack.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said its preferred site would be the one at Stanford West and would hold 3,600 lorries. The decision follows a lengthy consultation on two possible sites.
Building work is due to start "as soon as possible" with places available from 2017.
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Mr McLoughlin said the park would be a long-term solution to the problems caused on the M20 and surrounding roads when Operation Stack is used.
It would help keep the M20 moving during disruption to cross-channel services, helping companies go about their business as normally as possible, he added.
Chancellor George Osborne has allocated £250m for the scheme which has divided opinion.
Villagers in Stanford will be dismayed by the news but it is likely to be welcomed by hauliers and MPs.
Matthew Webb, chairman of Stanford Parish Council, said: "We are very disappointed. It is quite extraordinary that that this announcement comes after the referendum when the government said a Brexit would mean less money for large projects.
"It shows a reckless disregard for public money. We will be reviewing our position with lawyers when the consultation begins."
VIDEO: Parish councillor slams Op Stack lorry park "monstrosity"
The announcement comes after a critical report by the cross-party transport select committee which said the case for the park had not been proven.
Mr Osborne said: “We are taking bold action to deal with the severe inconvenience suffered by people living and working in Kent when cross-channel services are affected.”
He added: "A long-term solution that will keep traffic moving has been talked about for decades, but now we are delivering it."
Mr McCloughlin said: “Operation Stack is only ever used as a last resort but we recognise the impact it has on roads in Kent and are determined to deliver an alternative solution.”
“The new lorry area by the M20 will improve journeys for drivers and will not only support the region’s economy but also businesses as far away as Scotland that rely on the M20 to access the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel.”
The government is also exploring using the site for overnight parking of lorries, relieving pressure caused by some drivers parking in unsuitable or illegal locations.
A Highways England consultation showed strong support for a permanent lorry area to reduce or remove the need to close the M20.
Nearly twice as many people thought it should be located at Stanford West rather than an alternative site to the north of junction 11.
New entry and exit slip roads will be built on the eastbound carriageway of the M20, providing direct access to the lorry park.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive said: “We will work closely with residents and others to ensure the design of the new lorry area minimises its social and environmental impact, while meeting the wider need to address this issue for Kent and the UK.”
Ashford MP Damian Green denied the scheme would prove to be a white elephant.
He said: “This is good news for everyone in Kent as it shows the determination by the government to move on as fast as possible and if all goes to plan, places will be available next summer.”
He added: “We have years when Operation Stack does not happen but this is a very necessary insurance policy.”
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins added: "I am pleased the park will start to be operational next year. It is a great relief for motorists.
"Kent should never have to go through that again and that is why I fought with other Kent MPs to get the funding."
Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott also welcomed the news.
He said: "Any measure which can help prevent Operation Stack or reduce the impact of any disruption in future is to be welcomed which is why I'm pleased that a decision has been made on where a relief lorry park should go and that construction on the project will be able to proceed."
Mr Scott added: "We also need to continue to look at any other options which could direct lorries away from Kent’s busy roads."
But the campaign group Kent CPRE said the park was the wrong choice and amounted to a sticking plaster solution.
In a statement, it said: "We have argued that this is not the right solution and we need to look at the whole transport strategy, not least for the devastating effects of air pollution on the crowded and congested south east. This is a costly sticking plaster – £250m is almost the entire UK cycling budget."
Most people who took part in a consultation supported the idea of a lorry park with less than a quarter thinking Operation Stack should continue in its current form.
The next stage of the project will involve consulting on the details and the environmental impact of the scheme. That consultation will open shortly.
More details on the plans for the lorry park are available here.
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