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Costs for Operation Stack mounting up

OPERATION Stack has cost Kent Police more than £123,000 in overtime pay this year, the Kent Messenger Group can reveal.

Details of the costs of managing the controversial scheme involving the closure of stretches of the M20 have been disclosed by the force for the first time, following a request made by the Kent Messenger Group under the Freedom of Information Act.

We can reveal that Operation Stack is taking an increasingly heavy financial toll on Kent Police. It is also stretching its ability to patrol roads elsewhere in the county.

While the police allocated £6,000 in a contingency fund to cover the costs of Operation Stack in 2004-2005, it has already spent £123,775 on overtime alone, the equivalent of more than 5,000 extra hours. As a result, its budget is more than £120,000 in the red.

In 2003-2004, Operation Stack cost Kent Police about £3,600 in overtime, the equivalent of about 170 hours work and well within its emergency fund of £4,400.

But the costs are only part of the problems created when the M20 is converted into a lorry park for thousands of vehicles.

In a letter also released under the Freedom of Information Act, assistant chief constable David Ainsworth says Operation Stack can "completely denude the county of its major road patrol capability, with the burden falling back on locally based patrol vehicles." The comment was made in correspondence with local Dover district councillor Nigel Collor in February this year after several days of disruption and road congestion.

In a statement, assistant chief constable Dave Ainsworth blamed a combination of factors for the increased costs, including a switch to a new contra-flow system.

"This has been an exceptional year for disruption to cross channel services caused by berthing problems, bad weather and industrial action in Calais. The implementation of Operation Stack uses the resources of many different agencies and there were further costs over Easter for us and the Highways Agency when we tested different a different way to manage the traffic," he said.

He added that Kent Police was "actively seeking additional funding from government sources here and in the European Union" to try and plug the shortfall.

Kent Police and other agencies are now discussing alternatives to using the M20 and one option that has been floated is to use the Kent County Showground at Detling as a temporary park.

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