Published: 07:26, 07 January 2019
| Updated: 10:10, 07 January 2019
The government is using the former Manston airport site to hold lorries this morning to test plans to avoid travel problems at the ports after Brexit.
At 8am this morning 89 lorries began the first run, carried out by the Department for Transport ahead of the UK's exit from the European Union in March.
The DfT believes the use of Manston will be crucial in the event of disruption, but fears have grown locally that it would take several hours for lorries held at the site to leave, causing congestion elsewhere in the area.
The plan will be used post-Brexit once capacity is reached to hold HGVs on the M20 under its so-called Operation Brock plan, a modification of Operation Stack.
Cliffsend Parish Council was told of the trial - which involves lorries assembling at Manston at 8am and then following the route to Dover - only last week.
Parish council chairman Cllr Andrew Blaydes said before it started: “The trial is essential and we have always said it needs to be tested to show the impact on local traffic.
"The first run at 8am will run straight into the school-run traffic.”
In an email, the DfT said: “The use of Manston airfield as an HGV holding facility is one of the traffic management measures as part of the current draft plan to alleviate congestion on Kent roads in the event of any disruption at the border.
"This also now includes if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, should there be any disruption.
Lorries departing Manston
“To ensure the route from Manston to Dover can safely withstand an increase in HGV traffic, we are conducting a live test on Monday, January 7.
"This test will establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs from Manston airfield along the proposed route on the A256 to the Port of Dover, and how any impact could be managed.
“The DfT has sought participation of up to 150 HGVs from hauliers, via contacts through the Road Haulage Association and Freight Transport Association, to carry out the test.
"The intention is for two test runs to take place, one in the morning peak time departing around 8am, and another departing at around 11am, to assess times taken from Manston airfield along the A256, and from the bottom of the A256 to the Eastern Docks roundabout at the entry of the port.
“The A299 from Minster Roundabout to Cliffsend Roundabout will have lane one coned off to allow HGVs to safely join the Thanet Way.
"They will then travel South along A299 and A256 to a temporary holding point before joining the A2 to the Eastern Docks Roundabout.
"Staff will be positioned along the whole route throughout the trial to monitor flows. If required at any time, flows from Manston can be halted as needed.”
The use of Manston would be triggered once the Operation Brock contra-flow system on the M20 is used up.
HGVs would be diverted from the Port of Dover to Manston and the A256. The long-term plan outlines capacity at Manston for up to 6,000 lorries.
The DfT added that while it does not want or expect a 'no deal' scenario, it has a duty to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies.