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Operation Stack implemented amid fears of huge Kent traffic delays as France shuts border after coronavirus strain 'out of control'

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Thousands of lorries are stranded in Kent after France closed its border amid fears the new coronavirus strain is 'out of control'.

Operation Stack has been implemented following the news that all freight and passenger traffic has been banned from entering France.

The entrance to the Port of Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin
The entrance to the Port of Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin

Due to last for an initial 48 hours, the ban was announced on Sunday evening but just after 10am the French government announced freight would be able to begin moving between the countries again "in the next few hours".

No announcements have been made since but it has been suggested proposals could see France sending health workers to conduct testing at ports.

The ban came a day after Kent and much of the rest of the UK was plunged into Tier 4 restrictions.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said this morning 6,000 lorries will be stranded in Kent today but 32,000 unaccompanied containers will continue to flow.

He said: "Quite often you get disruption on this short route you just don't notice it.

"In the very short term, over the next day or two, this does not have a particularly big impact."

He was working with his French counterpart to get the issue sorted as soon as possible, he added, and guaranteed that vaccine delivery will not be impacted by the hold ups as it enters the country in unaccompanied containers.

But a logistics rep from Sittingbourne has disputed Mr Shapps' claim.

Graham Pask, south east area manager for the Road Haulage Association, told KentOnline: "I definitely question that. It's probably nearer 20%, because there was a time we had facilities in Dover for unaccompanied trailers, but the actual parking area for unaccompanied trailers is very small now.

"It certainly isn't the 80% they're talking about, we're talking upwards of 7,000 trucks per day coming across the Channel - there's no way that 80% of that is unaccompanied. I think those figures are flawed."

Mr Shapps added the government would "absolutely not" extend the Brexit transition period in response to the current situation - Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for a delay on the January 1 date.

MP for Dover Natalie Elphicke blasted the French for closing the port off.

She said: "The French Government’s decision to close the border at no notice was unnecessary, unhelpful and irresponsible.

"It has caused serious traffic congestion at a time when traffic flows were already high, with Christmas and over-stocking causing congestion at a number of ports ahead of the end of the Transition Period. The longer that this goes on, the longer it will take to unwind, meaning that there could be queues past Christmas unless the French re-open the border soon.

“The ferry and road haulage industries have worked hand-in-glove with the UK and French authorities over many months to ensure that goods and medicines can transit securely and safely during the pandemic. There was simply no need to close the border, a simple conversation about virus management would been the right way forward. The French Government should immediately reverse its decision and open up the border for trade again.

“Dover is no stranger to occasional traffic disruption, often caused by French actions. I would like to thank Kent County Council, the Highways Agency and Kent Police for working overnight to put in place Operation Stack, urgently standing up Operation Brock, and activating Manston and other facilities, to manage this situation. I will continue to work closely with them, and the Port of Dover, to minimise the traffic disruption to local residents."

Operation Stack has been activated between junctions 8 for Maidstone East and junction 11 for Westenhanger.

Lorries in operation Stack on the M20 Picture: Barry Goodwin
Lorries in operation Stack on the M20 Picture: Barry Goodwin

Stack is the name given to the operation to close parts of the M20 to queue lorries that are travelling towards the continent, to avoid causing gridlock across Kent’s road network.

All drivers have been urged to avoid Dover. Highways England said it was working closely with Kent Police and Kent County Council to minimise disruption.

Non-freight traffic is being filtered at the first junction that Operation Stack is implemented from and diverted onto the A20 to rejoin the M20 in front of the Operation Stack queue.

The diversion is A20 from Hollingbourne to Ashford. Drivers should follow the ‘S’ on road signs along Templar Way and Chart Road, Brookfield Road, Beaver Lane, Kingsnorth Road, Norman Road, A2042 Romney Marsh Road, A2070 Bad Munstereifel Road, A2070 Link Road to M20 J10A, then A20 through Sellindge to M20 J11.

MP for Folkestone and Hythe Damian Collins has suggested bringing forward the installation of the quick moveable barrier on the M20.

He said: "Operation Stack is in place and will cause severe delays to coastbound journeys using the M20 and A20.

"This is as a result of the French Government closing the border for 48 hours in response to Covid levels in the UK.

"I've been discussing with Transport Ministers bringing forward by a week the installation of the quick moveable barrier on the M20 to allow two way flow of traffic on the London bound carriageway of the motorway.

"Manston Airport will also be used to hold lorries off road."

The Department for Transport is preparing Manston for use to manage disruption. Manston can accommodate up to 4,000 lorries.

Operation Stack is in force
Operation Stack is in force

A special development order is in place allowing it to be used as part of Operation Fennel, put in place to deal with cross-border delays in Dover and Folkestone.

The order allows lorries to be held there for up to 48 hours.

The scheme also involves the use of the A299 and the A256 to manage HGVs if congestion builds up too much on the M20, when disruption stops crossings to the continent.

Thanet District Council has always been opposed to the Manston plan due to the "disproportionate burden" it would cause on the district.

At a recent meeting, councillors outlined their concerns which include roads becoming heavily congested, the blocking of major routes to the QEQM hospital and William Harvey, and also the overwhelming pressure on health services should there be a Covid-19 outbreak at the lorry park.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to hold an emergency COBRA meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government was working urgently with Kent County Council to address feared traffic disruption in the area.

The Port of Dover revealed at 11.15pm on Sunday that Operation Stack Phase 2 had been implemented.

Authorities in Paris announced the temporary pause on travel across the Channel - which it will put a halt to lorries as well as people - amid growing concern at the speed the new strain of the virus was spreading in the UK.

Lorries parked on the M20 as Operation Stack is implemented. Picture: UKNIP
Lorries parked on the M20 as Operation Stack is implemented. Picture: UKNIP

Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted: "Given the new health risk, and pending its assessment, all flows of people from the United Kingdom to France are suspended from midnight tonight, for 48 hours, and for all means of transport."

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria have also announced restrictions on UK travel.

The government's biggest fear is that supplies of food and even the COVID vaccine could be hit because French hauliers will not travel to the UK if they cannot return home.

A Number 10 spokesperson said this morning's talks are "to discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK", adding: "Further meetings are happening... to ensure robust plans are in place."

KentOnline will bring you breaking travel news as it happens along with regular traffic updates on kmfm.

Avoid getting stuck on Kent's roads by keeping up-to-date on all of the latest traffic and travel news here or by following our live blog.

Lorries queue on the M20

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