Published: 16:42, 03 August 2020
| Updated: 17:39, 03 August 2020
A dreaded contraflow system on the M20 is set to return in December as the government aims to minimise disruption once the Brexit transition period ends.
Drivers have been able to travel at 70mph and use all three lanes of the motorway since the hated steelwork was removed in January, but the Department for Transport (DfT) is now preparing to reinstall the system at the end of the year.
Moveable concrete blocks will be used instead of the previous metal barrier that took a month to put in and remove.
Bosses say the concrete - which will be stored at the side of the hard shoulder until needed - can be installed within hours thanks to a specialist ‘zipper’ machine.
When active, Operation Brock sees one side of the motorway used by HGVs heading to cross-Channel ports, with all other traffic restricted to a 50mph contraflow on the opposite carriageway.
Today, the government launched a consultation on the scheme, which aims to limit disruption on Kent's roads if there are problems at the Channel ports once the Brexit transition period ends in December.
The DfT is asking for views on changes to the legislation which will allow Operation Brock to continue in 2021.
Ashford MP Damian Green says the scheme is better than Operation Stack, which closed sections of the M20 completely, causing significant issues on the surrounding roads.
"Operation Brock will be a nuisance, but it is better than having lorries going all over the roads of Kent when the motorway is closed altogether," he said.
"Now, instead of taking a month to assemble or take down the barrier, it could take a few hours.
"I would urge anyone to respond to the consultation - it is important the people of Kent have their say."
Mr Green welcomed the proposed introduction of £300 fines for truckers found not to be using the mandatory 'Smart Freight Service' - an app which bosses say will help to "simplify and automate" the border checks process.
It is hoped the service will ensure HGV drivers have the necessary documents before they travel.
The government is also looking to fine drivers caught using rat runs to get to the ports and avoid the Operation Brock system, which was introduced last year in preparation for traffic caused by a no-deal Brexit.
Bosses were issuing £300 penalties when the contraflow was last implemented, but the legislation expires on December 31.
The DfT now wants to extend it by a further 10 months to the end of October 2021.
In a statement detailing its consultation, the DfT said disruption at the cross-Channel ports at the end of the transition period "is not inevitable, but it is clearly a possibility for which a responsible government needs to prepare".
"It is not just a response to any cross-Channel disruption at the end of the transition period"
It added: "If there is significant congestion at the border following the end of the transition period, it is likely the situation will improve substantially over the first half of 2021.
"Any delays will be due in part to low levels of border readiness among traders and the haulage industry, leading to significant numbers of trucks being stopped by the French authorities.
"That experience should act as a meaningful incentive for those who were not border-ready to ensure they are ready next time.
"We therefore anticipate that significant levels of disruption to outbound traffic are unlikely to extend much beyond the middle of 2021.
"Given the potential need for a strong HGV traffic management system in Kent at the end of the transition period, it is essential to amend the legislation that underpins Operation Brock."
The DfT confirmed the moveable barrier "will be ready to use in December".
It added: "It will enable about 2,000 HGVs to be held - the same capacity as the previous contraflow.
"This will be available for long-term traffic management plans and is not just a response to any cross-Channel disruption at the end of the transition period."
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says the government is working closely with the Kent Resilience Forum, which is responsible for drawing together a risk register that identifies critical issues and offers advice on how to deal with civil emergencies.
He said: "We are confident the negotiations with the European Union can be successfully completed before the expiry of the transition period at the end of December 2020.
"But the agreement we seek is one that will, of course, provide for a very different trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
"And, if the negotiations do not lead to an agreement, the Prime Minister has made clear that we will not be seeking any extension of this transitional phase.
"This will be an important moment of change"
"Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, there will therefore be changes for which UK businesses trading with the EU need to prepare.
"One key area of change relates to the new controls that will be placed on the movement of goods between Great Britain and the EU from January 1 2021.
"In July, we published our new border operating model, setting out for the first time in full the processes that will apply to the movement of goods between GB and the EU.
"We have also launched a major communications campaign on the coming changes, and we will be bringing forward a range of advice and support to help UK businesses to prepare.
"Our underlying objective in all this work will be to enable trade in goods to continue to flow smoothly between the UK and the EU.
"But this will be an important moment of change, and there is at least initially a risk of some additional friction at the border – notably if goods arrive without having completed the necessary customs and other processes.
"It is thus important that we put in place plans both to minimise the risk of disruption and to mitigate its impact should it occur."
The consultation period began today and will run until midnight on Sunday, August 23.
Visit www.gov.uk to take part in an online survey or email OperationBrockSIs@dft.gov.uk