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Operation Brock queues remain on M20 as Kent travel chaos enters ninth day

Fed-up drivers say the traffic hell gripping Kent would never be allowed to happen on the M25 – as the huge delays enter a ninth day.

Cross-channel disruption has been causing gridlock on the M20 since March 31, having a huge knock-on effect on diversion routes across the county.

Operation Brock on the M20 at Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Operation Brock on the M20 at Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Today, Operation Brock Zero remains in place with the coastbound M20 closed between Junction 8 for Leeds Castle and Junction 11 for Hythe.

Drivers and truckers are being sent through Ashford – often causing bumper-to-bumper traffic which has been frustrating for residents trying to get by.

Despite obvious troubles, the county's senior highways manager Toby Howe defended Brock last week – stating the traffic management plan has "proved its worth".

But Philip Rickard, from Cheesemans Green Lane near Ashford, said: "What planet are Toby Howe and Simon Jones [of the Kent Resilience Forum] living on?

"They seem to think that it is acceptable for the M20 to be closed to all southbound traffic from Junction 8 through to Dover.

The loneliness of a long-distance lorry driver on the M20 at Harrietsham. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The loneliness of a long-distance lorry driver on the M20 at Harrietsham. Picture: Barry Goodwin

"If Brock has ‘proved its worth’ what exactly would be a failure?

"I always assumed that the whole point was to allow non-freight traffic to use at least one lane.

"I accept that the completely outrageous actions of P&O have contributed to the latest gridlock but cutting off everyone from Maidstone southwards from their normal routes cannot possibly be the solution.

"Just imagine what the reaction would be if a similar action was to be taken on the M25."

The diversion route has been taking drivers through Sellindge on the A20, one of the villages that bears the brunt of traffic whenever there are delays to Channel crossings.

Lorries are using the A20 through Sellindge
Lorries are using the A20 through Sellindge

Residents say they are used to the disruption now but it has not been this bad since Operation Stack.

Sophie Mort, who has lived there for 12 years, feels this time it is worse because of how long it is going on for.

The 57-year-old said: "On Thursday we couldn't get anywhere at all.

"I was out walking the dogs and drivers were stood out of their lorries while others had their hands on the horns, and sirens were going non-stop.

"Because of Brexit, it's going to be an ongoing problem so you can't just blame P&O."

Sophie Mort, 57, from Sellindge
Sophie Mort, 57, from Sellindge

Yesterday, police started standing at Junction 10a to divert freight traffic away from the A20 to stop truckers skipping the queue and driving through the village.

Resident John Pheby, 62, feels this should help ease the situation adding: "Now they are not allowed down here, it should make a big difference, they should have done that in the first place.

"Earlier in the week the traffic was continuous but it has improved slightly.

"You do get quite a few lorries coming through but until there are some extra lorry parks, this trouble will carry on because the M20 is not the answer."

Nick Taylor, 64 added: "We’re getting used to it, the village is just a highway now.

Police at Junction 10a on Friday turning lorries away from the A20, and onto the motorway
Police at Junction 10a on Friday turning lorries away from the A20, and onto the motorway

"The past few days have been dreadful, the slightest hiccup at any of the ports turns it into a car park.

"It has been a lot busier but it's not as bad as it was in December 2020 when there was complete chaos.

"Police at Junction 10a have helped massively, what we need is some enforcement up the side roads now."

Paige Sturgess moved into her new home in the village along the A20 in January.

The 26-year-old said the past few days have been a nightmare as her whole house shakes when HGVs drive past.

'It is not fair on people who live in Kent...'

She said: "We hadn't noticed it much before, but over the past week it has been constant and the noise is awful.

"I came out the other day and I was queuing for an hour just to get out of my car park because the whole road was blocked.

"It makes it dangerous because everyone starts rushing.

"Mersham has exactly the same problem but it shouldn't affect villages like this, people just want to get on with their lives."

Operation Brock on the M20 at Harrietsham. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Operation Brock on the M20 at Harrietsham. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Brian Clark, who has lived in Sellindge for 20 years fears what the traffic will be like next week as the Easter holidays continue.

"If the ferries don't get going, what it's going to be like next week I don’t know because there will be holiday traffic too," he said.

Alan Childs, 66, said: "There's no other way for them to go, I feel sorry for the lorry drivers because it’s not their fault the boats are out.

"Hopefully when they're sailing again it should clear up quickly."

KCC's Toby Howe has defended Operation Brock
KCC's Toby Howe has defended Operation Brock

The coastbound carriageway is closed from Maidstone to Hythe as Operation 'Brock Zero' is in place.

It's the name given to the operation which sees the head of the queue moved from just before Junction 9, down to Junction 11, near Hythe.

Traffic hell has been exacerbated after it emerged a major post-Brexit customs system had crashed - adding extra time for lorries heading to the continent.

As a result of the glitch, which HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) admits is likely to continue until after the weekend, it is adding to the "nightmare scenario" for freight heading to France.

There was better news this afternoon, with DFDS saying its services were all running on time.

Meanwhile, major tourist attractions further up the M20 face losing out on one of the biggest weekends of the year due to the chaos.

Leeds Castle has been severely affected by the delays, with Junction 8 of the motorway providing one of the castle's main arteries of traffic.

The trust's CEO Helen Bonser-Wilton said that it was losing roughly half of its business due to the queues.

"Over the past week we’ve been trading at about 50% of what we normally do, and that is extremely serious because Easter represents about 25% of income for most tourism businesses," she said.

"So if we only get 12.5% during that time… that is a massive hole and it starts sending you back into deficit."

Lorries at Junction 10a yesterday
Lorries at Junction 10a yesterday

Mrs Bonser-Wilton said that more needed to be done at a government level to ensure the situation does not happen again.

"It's shameful, this is a known problem and yet the infrastructure is not in place to solve it. It is not fair on people who live in Kent, it just needs to be tackled," she said.

"I’m not suggesting people are not trying their best, but there is a fundamental infrastructure problem here; there seems to be more freight coming into Kent than we can actually deal with.

"Clearly P&O Ferries not running is going to make things worse but I think a very long hard look needs to be taken to the infrastructure here, and the government needs to support investment so that we can get back to being the garden of England, rather than a massive car park."

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