Published: 06:00, 17 February 2020
| Updated: 13:02, 17 February 2020
The government is preparing a plan for a new version of Operation Brock to limit delays along the M20 caused by disruption at the channel ports.
KentOnline can reveal ministers have given the green light for a moveable concrete barrier that can be set up within hours and can be used flexibly on any stretch of the motorway.
The removable concrete barriers being installed
The government has at the same time announced it has abandoned the search for a permanent lorry park site in the county - saying the moveable barrier will enable it to keep traffic moving and there will be no need to divert lorries off motorways.
That could concern Kent MPs and council leaders who, in the wake of the controversy over the M20 contra-flow which was lifted last month, renewed their demand for a lorry park.
The barrier scheme involves specialist vehicles rolling out concrete sections to mark out where traffic will go.
It will be used if channel crossings are disrupted by weather or other events and will not be confined to a particular section of the motorway.
The Department for Transport said the barrier would be a marked improvement in comparison to Operation Brock.
That required a month of overnight closures to deploy the metal barrier needed for the contraflow system, which was widely criticised by motorists who who felt it was unsafe.
It is not the first time that a barrier has been used in Kent.
What was called a quick removeable barrier was trialled along the M20 back in 2008 but was withdrawn in 2012 after being used just once.
In a statement on the new scheme, the DfT said: “The new technology will be designed to ensure that the M20 is kept open at times of disruption, whilst also allowing the motorway to retain three lanes, a hard shoulder and 70mph speed limits in both directions during normal traffic conditions.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “After listening to frustrated residents and businesses affected by Operations Brock and Stack, we’ve invested in a new solution to boost Kent’s resilience and keep its vital road network moving, even at times of disruption.
“This state-of-the-art technology can be deployed quickly, simply and safely, ensuring motorists across the county can get to where they need to be with minimum fuss, whatever the circumstances."
Moveable barriers are already used in cities around the world, including Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver.
The technology has been chosen by the DfT and Highways England as a long-term solution to Operation Brock and Stack and is expected to be in place by the end of the year. The costs have not been disclosed but are likely to run into several million pounds.
The DfT confirmed the scheme meant the search for a permanent lorry park had now ended - five years after the government announced it was earmarking £250m to create one capable of holding several thousand HGVs in the event of prolonged disruption.
The search for a site was abruptly halted when the government withdrew its proposal for a site off the M20 at Stanford, near Folkestone before a legal challenge brought by campaigners.
The announcement may mean that Manston Airport could be stood down as an emergency holding area for HGVs. It has been placed on standby as part of contingency plans in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The DfT has a contract with the owners that has several months to run.
The Freight Transport Association’s policy manger for the south east, Heidi Skinner, said: “No operator wants to be stuck in slow moving or stationary traffic, and today’s announcement will come as a welcome respite for those concerned about the impact of potential delays on the UK’s supply chain from the Continent, as well as on businesses and residents in Kent.
“However, there is more to be done to ensure that the new system will work in the best way possible and manage the congestion any form of cross-Channel disruption can cause, and we look forward to working with Highways England and DfT on this.”
The Road Haulage Association was cautious, saying the priority for businesses was to know what customs arrangements would be.
RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett said: “Government must announce when industry can expect to see what customs operating procedures will look like so firms can get on with preparing for new trading realities. We need the guidance to be clear and we need it immediately.”