Baroness Randerson: The people of Kent are paying a high price for Brexit whatever happens, because their roads are already geared up to try to alleviate the worst impacts of a No Deal scenario
Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Baroness Randerson writes about Operation Brock on the M20 in Kent, to prod the Government into swift action before there is a serious accident. She has an oral question on this topic in the House of Lords on Monday afternoon.
Between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 in Kent, a contra-flow has been built as part of Operation Brock, the major logistical exercise required to prepare for the traffic delays expected in the event of a No Deal Brexit. Dover, our busiest port, has no spare space for the storage of lorries as they wait for customs clearance, expected to take much longer when we are no longer in the EU.
In expectation of major traffic delays the Department of Transport has taken over Manston Airport, as well as preparing the M20, as giant lorry parks. They expect the delays to be pretty lengthy, because they are laying on food, drink and portaloos as well. The cost of setting up Operation Brock is expected to be £30 million.
Not surprisingly all this has alarmed the people of Kent, and it should alarm all of us who use Eurotunnel or the ferries at Dover. Their alarm has been compounded by the number of accidents that have taken place since the contraflow came into operation on March 25th. There were four accidents in the first week of operation and more in the second week. One of these led to over 13 hours of traffic disruption. And this is at a time when traffic is very light, because Brexit has led to a 15% reduction in traffic going through Dover. There has already been a major impact on other local roads, as drivers seek to avoid congestion on the M20.
The causes of the problem seem pretty obvious. The lanes on the M20 are now narrower than normal and they are divided by steel barriers. Many of the HGVs that use this road are so wide they straddle two lanes. Add to this other vehicles trying to overtake and you have obvious danger. There are no hard shoulders, so vehicles on this section cannot escape to a safer place if they break down. My Question to the Minister on Monday was sparked by a fear that there is a real risk of a very serious accident if extra measures are not taken immediately to improve safety.
Operation Brock involves collaboration between all the Emergency Services, Kent County Council, Highways England and the Recovery Operators. The Professional Recovery Operators Federation, as well as Kent Police and the County Council have already raised safety concerns with Highways England. There are calls for better signage, more frequent motorway patrols and a ban on HGVs using the outside lane in the contra-flow. Safer driving could be encouraged by installing more surveillance cameras and enforcing an average 50 mph speed limit.
Improvements are not hard to suggest but urgent measures are needed before there is a really bad accident and my Question was designed to prod the Government into swift action. The people of Kent are paying a high price for Brexit, whatever happens in the end, because their roads are already geared up to try to alleviate the worst impacts of a No Deal scenario. The economic impact of motorway congestion is already being felt well beyond the M20 itself and the fear is that other local roads will regularly become clogged as motorists and HGV drivers seek to avoid the problem. They know what will happen from previous bitter experience, because Operation Brock is the offspring of Operation Stack – the emergency measures previously introduced when there is disruption on the Dover-Calais route. So when the local press predicts “highways hell” they probably know what they are talking about.
Baroness Randerson is the Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson