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Op Stack introduced on the M20

Around a thousand lorries are to be held at Ebbsfleet International Station in a bid to ease Operation Stack tailbacks, as parts of the M20 re-opened this morning.

Transport minister Andrew Jones made the announcement yesterday at a meeting at county hall in Maidstone.

He said the initiative could be brought in within days, and would see lorries taking up spaces in the car park at the station near Bluewater.

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Ebbsfleet international station.
Ebbsfleet international station.

Operation Stack has now been in place for 27 of the last 40 days. The M20 remains closed to traffic today between Junctions 8 to 9 coastbound but all other junctions have re-opened.

It has also emerged that the Department for Transport is to ask Highways England to look again at possible contraflows on the M20 to keep local traffic moving.

The developments come as the Prime Minister pledged to do all he could to help the county to deal with the consequences of Operation Stack.

The roads minister Mr Jones said there would be “some immediate actions” - the first of which would be to make Ebbsfleet International Station an emergency ‘holding area’ for HGVs.

“We need some kind of holding area off the highway. The key point here is to keep the M20 traffic flowing in two ways. We are looking at opening up Ebbsfleet station for immediate effect - within a couple of days.”

But he did not confirm reports that the government was considering the use of MoD land as another emergency holding area.

The plan will make Operation Stack a thing of the past. Stock picture
The plan will make Operation Stack a thing of the past. Stock picture

“No option has been ruled out, that is the key thing. We are looking to find ways of keeping the M20 on two-way flow.

"If we can find places where we can access hard-standing with immediate effect, then we have to consider that and if the MoD to provide that, then great.”

“But the immediate priority is to get Ebbsfleet up and running. It is a huge significant space and we can use some of that for off-highway holding.”

Asked if he felt the government and other authorities had dragged their feet on finding a solution, he said: “I don’t think that is really fair. We know that the people of Kent have been bearing the brunt of a big, big national problem.”

But prior to the latest continuous spell of Operation Stack, “it is something that has been used sparingly and only a couple of times for much of its life,” he said.

On the issue of who would pay for new schemes, he said the government had given an assurance that it would meet the costs.

Operation Stack: Police escort lorries through the London-bound M20 at junction 9. Picture: Andy Clark.
Operation Stack: Police escort lorries through the London-bound M20 at junction 9. Picture: Andy Clark.

“There is no doubt the impact on Kent is quite significant, that is why we have made financial resource available nationally to support. This is a partnership between national and local government.”

Cllr Matthew Balfour, KCC cabinet member for roads, said he was encouraged by the meeting but admitted that in terms of specific initiatives, there had not been much progress other than Ebbsfleet.

The announcement was made during Operation Stack's fourth day.

It is likely to remain in force into the weekend, but the London-bound stretch was reopened overnight.

The controversial measures were brought in again between junctions 8 and 11 on Tuesday - just two days after they were taken off.

Kent Police has asked for neighbouring forces in the South East to provide officers to help in the policing of Operation Stack under "mutual aid" arrangements.

Ann Barnes, police and crime commissioner in the county, said it was the first time the step had been taken to support the operation, which she said had cost "well in excess" of £1 million in just over five weeks.

Graham Stothard's in Calais reporting for KentOnline. Here's his first audio

She said: "Our officers and staff - working each day to keep our strategic road network safe -- are tired and exhausted after many weeks of long shifts in difficult conditions, so we are grateful to other forces for coming to help us.

"This is the first time Kent Police has ever taken this step to help with policing Operation Stack, which just goes to show the impact this prolonged period of disruption is having on the health and well-being of staff, as well as the adverse impact on many communities.

The system has been brought back in for the sixth time since June due to a high volume of freight traffic heading towards the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel and continued disruption in Calais.

But it is also affecting local roads.

Drivers faced long delays and heavy congestion in Ashford town centre on Wednesday.

The Drovers roundabout, off Simone Weil Avenue, was reportedly at a standstill, with one traveller claiming to have been stuck there for an hour.

Other roads in the town have also been heavily congested.

After they get through Op Stack, lorry drivers are facing a further waiting time of up to an hour at the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Non-freight traffic is being diverted onto the A20 from junction 8 for Hollingbourne.

Now a police crime commissioner says Gurkha soldiers based in Folkestone should be used to help keep the UK borders safe.

Kevin Hurley, the Surrey police and crime commissioner soldiers based at Shornecliffe barracks could help with the efforts to contain the Calais-based migrants who were trying to reach the UK.

His intervention comes as the Home Secretary Theresa May said she had asked Kent County Council, Kent Police and other agencies to urgently review Operation Stack.

Calls for a contraflow system to be set up during Operation Stack were controversially rejected by Highways England - to a flood of objections from MPs.

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The controversial Op Stack system allows backed-up freight traffic to park on the coast-bound carriageway of the M20.

Lorry drivers at the front of the queue will get a ticket to continue their journey to the continent.

Those who use the diversions for non-freight traffic in an attempt to get closer to the front, and who do not have a ticket, will be sent to the back of the Op Stack queue.

Motorists are advised to plan their journeys carefully and allow plenty of extra time if travelling towards the east of the county.

Operation Stack is where parts of the M20 are used to queue lorries travelling towards the continent, to avoid causing gridlock across Kent's road network.

Listen to kmfm for the latest traffic news.

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