Government needs to act now to prevent the Garden of England turning into the Lorry Park of England
Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat writes ahead of his Adjournment debate on the effect of M26 road closures, having recently discovered that works on the M26 had begun without consultation with the local community or Kent MPs.
I’m lucky enough to represent a beautiful community in West Kent. Tonbridge and Malling consists of wonderful, vibrant towns and villages in the Garden of England. We have the benefits of being close to London, yet have the countryside too. We’re also the closest neighbours of our European allies, which brings great connections, but these can also bring problems.
The summer of 2015 was memorable for me for many reasons. I had just been elected to Parliament for the first time, but it was also the summer of discontent across Kent. Operation Stack brought the county to a standstill. Ever since, all Kent MPs have worked to get a solution, so our motorways do not turn into lorry parks again.
But it seems we have been fighting a losing battle. At Transport Questions recently I reported my anger at discovering the M26 was being prepared to increase its lorry holding capacity. I discovered this by chance – as the works began. There was no consultation with anyone in the local community and neither I nor neighbouring MPs were made aware. What’s worse, local councils hadn’t been alerted, and residents and businesses hadn’t been told. How can they plan to mitigate the impact if they don’t know it’s happening?
Of course, the Government needs to make contingencies for every eventuality. That is what Governments should do. But, it should look to solve the problem too. In my adjournment debate on Thursday I’ll be looking for answers from government about why it is Kent which has to feel the impact of this national problem.
Most HGVs pass through Kent on route to Europe. They don’t start or end their journeys here. So why should we be responsible for storing them? I want to know why the Government isn’t looking to keep lorries at source, so they only take to the road when the routes are clear.
Being the Garden of England, we are blessed with natural beauty. But the beauty means we have less significant infrastructure than many would expect as a county bordering London. The secondary road network is poor and towns are congested. Shortcuts through local villages like Platt are ever more frequent. So we rely on our motorways, like the M20 and M26, not just to keep us connected with the rest of the country, but to relieve pressure on our smaller roads.
That’s why I’m so concerned about the effect of road closures on the M26. Traffic congestion that could build up, potentially for weeks or months, on the local road network has not been mitigated. Villages like Wrotham could almost be cut off as a result. Communities like Borough Green, which already has traffic and air quality problems, will become no-go areas. That’s not good for our economic growth, nor our environmental health.
Closing the M26 has profound consequences. Infrastructure isn’t suitable at the moment, let alone for managing traffic diverted off a local motorway. In my debate I want to know why the Government is pursuing this. I’ll be putting forward an alternative argument to keep lorries at source, as they do in France.
But the key public policy matter is that the community hasn’t been able to prepare. It’s had no notice to make alternative arrangements. It will threaten the economic prosperity of an area which contributes more than its fair share to the country’s economy. Storing HGVs is a national concern, not a local Kent matter. The Government needs to act now to prevent the Garden of England turning into the Lorry Park of England.
Tom Tugendhat is the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling. He is the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee