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An end in sight for Operation Stack?

By Paul Francis

According to transport minister Andrew Jones, we are finally edging closer to securing an alternative to Operation Stack.

And after years of false dawns and schemes that have ended up on the scrapheap, for once there could be light at the end of the tunnel. Or at the end of the M20.

Highways England has revealed two sites for possible lorry parks - or "lorry areas" - each capable of holding up to 3,600 HGVs.

For once, there seems to be political consensus that this is the time to grasp the nettle, particularly when the Chancellor George Osborne has allocated £250m to finding a solution.

Operation Stack in action last summer
Operation Stack in action last summer

Shepway council - which has not always found much to commend alternatives - has given what might be described as qualified approval. It rightly says the wider issue of HGVs parked in lay-bys and residential side streets needs to be addressed.

Kent County Council has also welcomed the news and is understood to be relieved that it is Highways England taking the lead.

Of course, not everyone has been cheering from the rafters - not least the villagers of Stanford, who are understandably anxious about the prospects of hundreds of HGVs trundling by to get to the sites that have been earmarked.

No scheme like this is likely to draw unanimous support. The idea that there would be no resistance to the idea of plonking 3,600 lorries on concreted fields is unrealistic.

And while it might be "least worst" option, the question of whether they should double up as an all-year-round lorry park must be considered in tandem.

Operation Stack is one thing but of arguably equal concern is the problem of stopping HGVs parking in lay-bys and residential side streets.

There is a certain irony that the key trigger for Operation Stack this summer was disturbances over at the Calais terminal of Eurotunnel caused by migrants trying to reach the UK.

That problem has not disappeared completely but, according to Eurotunnel itself, these incursions have fallen to virtually zero thanks to improved security.

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One of the interesting things to come out of the announcement is that Highways England says it will not need planning permission for its lorry parks - or "areas" as it terms them.

Instead, it will rely on the Highways Act 1990, which grants powers to Highways England to construct 'lorry areas' without the need for planning permission.

Highways England says it will still be required to carry out environmental impact assessments and additionally will carry out further consultation when it has formally identified a preferred site.

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