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M20 barrier to remain in place between Ashford and Maidstone even though Operation Brock lifted

Motorists will have to put up with a 50mph speed limit and just two narrow lanes on the M20 until at least the end of October - even though Operation Brock has been lifted.

Transport minister Jesse Norman told Ashford MP Damian Green there is no prospect of removing the steel barrier which is in place on the London-bound stretch between Ashford and Maidstone for six months.

It was installed between junctions 8 and 9 partly to deal with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and enable traffic to keep moving in the event of congestion and disruption at the Channel ports.

The barrier is to remain in place. Picture: Paul Amos
The barrier is to remain in place. Picture: Paul Amos

There have been calls for the barrier to be lifted after European Union leaders granted the UK a six-month extension to Brexit, pushing the deadline back to October 31.

But answering a question tabled by Mr Green, the minister said: “The steel barrier on the London-bound carriageway will remain in place until further notice, to allow for the option of deploying the contraflow at short notice during times of cross-Channel disruption, caused by bad weather or industrial action as in the past, for example.

"It will remain under regular review over the coming months, but is unlikely to be removed before the end of October.”

The barrier - which would take about a month to remove - is designed to enable it to be taken out and installed as circumstances change but putting it in place takes about two weeks.

The minister said any changes were a matter for Highways England but the overriding concern was the safety of motorists.

Operation Brock was lifted last month
Operation Brock was lifted last month

The issue of safety has been queried by Maidstone county councillor Rob Bird (Lib Dem) who said he remained concerned about the recovery times as there was no hard shoulder for vehicles and drivers while waiting for help.

Highways England says it met its target of clearing up in one hour 85% of incidents involving cars and in an hour and a quarter for any involving lorries.

But Cllr Bird said: “The target recovery times are truly shocking.

"It is quite unacceptable that vehicles could be left stranded in the middle of the motorway for an hour or more.

"This is extremely dangerous for all users of the M20 given the failure of Highways England to install any warning signs.”

Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation says he can understand why motorists are frustrated.

'This is a motorway more in name than reality...' - Philip Gomm

He said: "We have supported measures to reduce road chaos in Kent when there is cross-channel disruption but drivers could be forgiven for thinking what is supposed to be a temporary, emergency measure is looking increasingly permanent.

"Understandably removing the barriers will take time and trouble but surely making the system relatively easy to install and dismantle should be a key part of the design.

“Road users might be more sympathetic if there was nothing else going on along the M20 but throw in the disruption caused by upgrades near Maidstone and the building of Junction 10a at Ashford and at the moment, along many stretches, this is a motorway more in name than reality.”

Highways England said it was confident the scheme had worked effectively but acknowledged it had been assisted by 140 road traffic officers - including some from other forces - deployed to manage it, many deployed from other forces.

Drivers are facing a 50mph limit on the London-bound M20. Picture: Paul Amos
Drivers are facing a 50mph limit on the London-bound M20. Picture: Paul Amos

In a statement, it said: “Throughout the deployment of Operation Brock safety was Highways England’s top priority.

"A total of 140 traffic officers were drafted in to assist in the smooth running of Operation Brock, while the contraflow had 100% CCTV coverage allowing us to quickly identify any problems on the route.”

“Our aim for Operation Brock was to meet the standard of vehicle recovery set for the rest of Highways England’s motorway network and with the increased number of traffic officers and our free recovery service, it meant we were able to respond to these very quickly and well within these target times.”

Operation Brock had been in place for three weeks until it was removed last month.

The coastbound stretch was used only by HGVs heading to Dover, with all other traffic restricted to the contraflow system on the opposite carriageway.

Avoid getting stuck on Kent's roads by keeping up-to-date on all of the latest traffic and travel news here.

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