Operation Stack and its associated congestion should soon be a thing of the past, with the building of a new lorry park in Dover.
Operation Stack has long been a highly unpopular solution to a difficult problem, but it has persisted in the absence of any sort of viable alternative. Having to spend days parked on roads and travelling through congestion has long created less-than-ideal conditions for hauliers. The closure of a major road, along with near-paralysis on the surrounding routes, has made the protocol much reviled among other road-users – particularly those who live in Kent.
First introduced in 1988, Operation Stack has hitherto been the only response to problems of bottlenecking at the Dover-Calais crossing. In order to prevent total shutdown of the south-eastern road transport network, the M20 is closed to traffic and used instead to park HGVs. As the logistics industry has expanded and the crossing to Calais has become less reliable, Operation Stack has been implemented more and more frequently, having been used a stunning 32 times last summer. Not only are these unacceptable conditions for hauliers, who are forced to leave their vehicles parked for hours or days at a time mid-job, but this also causes widespread disruption as traffic is diverted through other nearby roads.
For a while now, the powers that be have been deliberating the construction of a parking area for lorries, allowing vehicles to be stored off the roads when needed. A £250 million budget for this lorry park had been announced in the Autumn Statement. The site has been confirmed: construction is due to begin at Stanford West, and it is hoped that the area, with a capacity of 3,600 HGVs, will be ready for use by next summer. The new parking area will give rise to much better conditions for hauliers and other road users alike.
Natalie Chapman, who is in charge of the FTA’s policy for London and the South East, emphasised the importance of treating the causes as well as the symptoms of Operation Stack, saying that the lorry park should not give rise to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Congestion could be relieved, for example, by successful negotiation with shipping workers at Calais, as well as by organising permanent accommodation for refugees currently stuck at the border. In the meantime, however, the lorry park should make great strides in preventing heavy congestion on Kent’s roads.
The lorry park is also being considered as a site for overnight parking for lorries when congestion is not an issue. As many hauliers will know, it is currently near-impossible to find somewhere to park legally in Kent, leaving hauliers with no choice but to park illegally. Whether this will ultimately be allowed remains to be seen, although chances are fairly good that it will be put to this purpose.