Published: 09:58, 18 May 2018
| Updated: 16:05, 18 May 2018
Traffic will be able to travel both ways on the same carriageway under new plans to tackle delays caused by Operation Stack unveiled by the government.
The new system, dubbed Operation Brock by ministers, will install a contraflow system on the northbound carriageway of the M20 between junctions 8 and 9 while lorries queue for the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
The system, due to come into use early next year, is expected to reduce traffic diverted onto smaller local roads by giving access to these two junctions.
Kent was crippled with disruption during the summer of 2015 when strikes in France led to Operation Stack being brought into force for 32 days.
The Department for Transport is also setting out plans to improve overnight lorry parking, so that fewer lorries will be left parked on roads and lay-bys overnight.
Roads Minister Jesse Norman said: “We’ve seen the severe disruption that people in Kent had to face in 2015 when there were hold ups across the Channel.
“This interim plan will help to minimise that disruption and mean people will be able to go about their everyday lives, seeing friends and family or going to work, as well as businesses being able to get to their customers.”
Highways England will start work soon on improving the northbound hard shoulder of the M20, to allow for two-way traffic to be contained within one carriageway, enabling the road to remain open.
“This interim plan will help to minimise that disruption and mean people will be able to go about their everyday lives, seeing friends and family or going to work, as well as businesses being able to get to their customers...” - Jesse Norman, roads minister
The contraflow system is designed to be a temporary measure to avoid chaos caused by Operation Stack.
A public consultation to find a permanent solution will be launched by Highways England in the near future.
The Freight Transport Association, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, described the temporary solution as a "good compromise" until a permanent lorry parking area can be built.
Head of UK policy Christopher Snelling said: “It is vital both for the logistics industry, and for Kent as a whole, that traffic can continue to flow freely throughout the county, and the proposed solution could provide that for now."
He added members would be "keen to see that the plan has been carefully thought through" to make sure lorry drivers and motorists remain safe.
The public consultation launched by Highways England will also include questions on whether residents, businesses and the freight industry would rather see an on-road solution or an off-road lorry park.
It comes after plans to build a £250 million lorry park near the village of Stanford were shelved last year after a wave of opposition.
At present, the government has an agreement with the owners of the former Manston airport to use the site as a lorry park in the event of Operation Stack being required.
The Department for Transport has published its National Lorry Parking Survey today, highlighting areas around the country which need more overnight lorry parking.
The government has asked Highways England to review and identify sites which could provide an extra 1,500 spaces, which would help reduce the number of lorries parking overnight in lay-bys
Councils may also get further powers to take action against hauliers which park inappropriately.
The first six months of an 18-month trial on the A20 in Kent have seen the numbers of vehicles being clamped cut in half, and an increase in the number of lorry drivers staying in commercial parking sites.
Ex-Stanford Parish Council chairman Matthew Webb spent two years fighting Government plans for the £250 million lorry park in the village near Hythe.
“I stood down in January as the chairman, it was a lot of work fighting the lorry park and I wanted more time for my personal life.
“I think a contra-flow system could work as a temporary measure.
“I think it’s almost inevitable they will come to the conclusion that an off road solution is needed long term.
“But the answer is to have a small number of lorry parks rather than one gigantic one that maybe in the wrong place,” he said.
“I think it’s almost inevitable they will come to the conclusion that an off road solution is needed long term..." - Matthew Webb, former Stanford Parish Council chairman
He added once the new Thames Gateway is complete more freight will use the M2 rather than the M20, so scattering the parks would more effectively ease congestion.
Ashford MP Damian Green said he was treating the plan for a contra-flow along the M20 with scepticism and was frustrated by the prospect of another consultation over a lorry park.
“My initial thoughts are that if this is the interim solution, then fine but I am fed up with consultations and want to see something happen now.
"We have been round this road many times before - so I am treating this with a degree of scepticism.
“Kent MPs lobbied hard and got £250m for a permanent solution so it is disappointing that we are looking at an interim solution.
"In the long term, there has to be a permanent solution because the M20 is only going to get busier and we need other improvements to the M2 and there is the plan for the third Thames crossing.”
Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, said: “With Brexit just round the corner, we need investment in M20 lorry parking right now. Sadly this is a consultation that just kicks the can down the motorway.
“We cannot risk another summer of traffic chaos on Kent’s roads. That’s why I have been calling for investment in lorry parks, border technology, a dualled A2 and the new Lower Thames Crossing. We need to see the Government get a move on.”
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately welcomed the news, believing it would ease the congestion that was seen on village roads three years ago.
She said: "This shows they are getting a grip on the preparations for Brexit and making sure that traffic keeps flowing through Kent, which was a big problem in the summer of 2015.
"When we set out, the attitude from Highways England was 'we don't see the problem, we can fit the lorries on the motorway'.
"I had to explain it means all the traffic then diverts to Kent villages and lanes, and brings life here to a standstill. That message has clearly now been heard.
"Clearly the whole thing is a contingency, we don't want it to have to be used, but it's right for them to be prepared."
“My initial thoughts are that if this is the interim solution, then fine but I am fed up with consultations and want to see something happen now..." - Damian Green MP
Maidstone and the Weald MP Helen Grant added: "I am pleased and reassured that the government have brought forward these much needed plans to ensure that traffic can continue to flow across Kent in the event of disruption at the Port of Dover.
"I wrote to Highways England on a number of occasions last year asking them to introduce detailed contingency measures to mitigate the impact on traffic of further border delays and I am pleased that they have now done so.
"However, this is not a time for us to take our foot off of the pedal; the Summer of Stack will live long in the memory and I am determined to ensure that the people of Kent never have to experience that level of disruption again.
"I hope therefore that these plans can be made operational as soon as possible and I will continue to work with my Kent MP colleagues and the government to ensure that a permanent solution to Operation Stack is brought forward as soon as possible."
But Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins said smaller more numerous lorry parks would be fraught with "logistical difficulty" and the key to ease congestion is for freight to leave the country as soon as possible.
He explained: "What we still need to have is a long term solution.
"What the Government is doing is seeing what that long term solution will be.
"A contra-flow solution is helpful but that wouldn't be enough to solve the problem.
"The trouble is with smaller lorry parks, is that moving lorries from one site to another is going to be quite a difficult exercise. And obviously it's going to put further strain on police resources.
“We seem to be inching towards an ultimate resolution but at a speed perhaps not much greater than that seen on the roads when bad weather or industrial action hits Channel crossings..." - Philip Gomm, RAC
"You need holding areas for the lorries close to the crossings to get them out of the country as quickly as possible.
Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation added: “While today’s news is welcome, drivers and residents in Kent who have been waiting for years, if not decades, for a lasting solution to problems caused by cross-Channel travel disruption still don’t know where the journey is going to end.
“We seem to be inching towards an ultimate resolution but at a speed perhaps not much greater than that seen on the roads when bad weather or industrial action hits Channel crossings.
“The wider issue of lorry parking across the county is intertwined with Stack and hopefully solving one problem will help solve the other. While the growth in traffic volumes at both the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel is good for the economy and local employment, the negative impacts have to be factored in."