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Operation Stack: Highways England refuse to introduce contraflow on M20

By Paul Francis

A contraflow system will NOT be brought in to ease the misery of Operation Stack, it's been revealed.

Just days after it appeared to be agreed at a County Hall meeting involving MPs and agencies involved in Operation Stack, a contraflow for the M20 has been rejected by the body in charge of the county's main roads.

Highways England today issued a statement saying a contraflow would "present a significant and unacceptable risk" to road users and anyone working within Stack.

Operation Stack in effect on the M20
Operation Stack in effect on the M20

A spokesman said police and KCC backed the decision.

He added: "We are continuing our work with the task force to urgently review what other measures could be put in place to minimise disruption to local communities and allow safe, prompt and orderly movement of freight to the Port of Dover or Channel Tunnel.

However, in a statement Matthew Balfour, KCC cabinet member for environment and transport, expressed his frustration with the decision.

He said: “I am disappointed Highways England considers a contraflow system to be unworkable but it is for them to give the government a solution and they need to get on with it.”

MP Damian Collins also expressed his disappointment, accusing Highways England of being "too passive."

He said: "We have been working hard to find a solution and we have to find a way that keeps the M20 open and I hope we will see pressure on Highways England to come up with an alternative. It has been far too passive and inactive and that has to change."

Mr Collins also suggested alternatives to Operation Stack - including Manston - had not been fully explored.

"I do not believe that the options of Manston and the Detling Hill showground have been properly explored," he said.

"There is no solution that will be perfect but parking some traffic on the M26 would take some pressure off the M20."

Ashford MP Damian Green has pulled out of an EU referendum debate tonight at the University of Kent.
Ashford MP Damian Green has pulled out of an EU referendum debate tonight at the University of Kent.

The reasons given for discounting a contraflow system were:

* Using freestanding cones – the quickest way to set up a contraflow - to separate lanes of traffic for a long stretch of a motorway would expose drivers to the risk of crashing with oncoming traffic

* Any incident within the contraflow would be difficult for emergency services to access and could cause severe and unpredictable delays

* Because of the extent of the traffic management involved, a contraflow could not be easily switched on and off. This would delay the full re-opening of the motorway, or the contraflow would have to remain in place 24/7

* Congestion would be experienced at the entry to the contraflow section and at all adjoining junctions with local roads. A contraflow would cause disruption on the London-bound M20

* A contraflow would also reduce the flexibility of Operation Stack, reducing the space available for queuing HGVs

The statement added: "We continue to work closely with all involved to minimise traffic problems during periods when cross channel services are disrupted."

The contraflow would have been on the northbound carriageway of the M20 for traffic heading to Dover and Folkestone and other parts of east Kent.

Operation Stack on the M20
Operation Stack on the M20

Just days earlier, at Friday's county hall meeting, Highways England appeared to back the contraflow move.

Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins announced: “We have a new deal for Kent and a new plan that will mean the M20 can always be open in both directions - this will be done by creating a contraflow, giving great relief to Kent’s roads.

"It was also agreed that if there was extra demand for Operation Stack, as we have seen, where at some points the M20 was closed in both directions, instead of just using that, we would use the M26 to manage it so we can keep the traffic moving in both directions.”

Ashford MP Damian Green echoed: “For once, this was a useful meeting. I see no reason why a contraflow would not work - we have them all over the country all the time and it could be installed within a matter of days.”

He added: “That would be a very significant step forward. It has been considered before but the difference here is that this is such a state of emergency, that organisations which have been slow in the past have been encouraged to be rather faster moving.”

“This is very urgent issue for the people of Kent but it is an international problem because the M20 is one of our most significant freight routes.”

John Keefe of Eurotunnel said more action was needed in Calais to deal with the on-going security issue.

MP Damian Collins
MP Damian Collins

“More needs to be done. The French authorities were obviously overwhelmed by the growth in numbers. They simply don’t have the resources to deal with that many people.

"We have invested 150m euros in the last 15 years in security and fencing and patrols. This year, we have already invested 13m euros to repair fences to stop the migrants coming and trying again and again. So, we need more support from the governments.”

“This is a very frustrating situation. The costs we are incurring are unsustainable. It is a law and order issue, it is a migration issue and that is a government problem. It is for Europe to solve.”

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