The government has announced that a new 3,600-lorry parking area near Dover will go ahead after all, despite widespread controversy over the plan.
The announcement comes only weeks after the House of Commons Transport Committee said more should be done to demonstrate the benefits of such a scheme.
Committee chair, Louise Ellman MP, said:
“The Government has settled on a lorry park as the best solution but what they are proposing is on a vast scale and could cost up to a quarter of a billion pounds…We are not saying that the Government should not press ahead with its proposal, only that it has more work to do to persuade us of the business case for this investment.”
The Government had already set aside £250 million in last year’s autumn statement to build a permanent lorry park near the port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal which, at the equivalent of 90 football pitches, would be the largest in the world. However, the Transport Committee said that the decision to proceed at pace with the proposal “had left behind some of the usual best practice when spending such large sums of money.”
The speed at which the Government has made a decison that will be unpopular in some quarters suggests perhaps that it is keen to show to the world that the country is still open for business following the Brexit vote – or possibly that it is seriously worried about the effects of reintroduction of customs clearance on the smooth running of freight through Dover or the Eurotunnel.
Nevertheless, the plan was applauded by the Freight Transport Association, which has always been in favour of a large lorry park as an alternative to Operation Stack in which lanes of the M20 are pressed into service as temporary lorry parking, leading to widespread congestion on local roads in Kent. During last year’s summer of misery on the Channel, Stage 4 of Operation Stack was put in place for the first time, closing both the coast-bound and London-bound carriageways of the M20.
FTA head of policy for London and the South East, Natalie Chapman, said: “FTA has been pressing for a permanent solution to the problems caused by Operation Stack so we’re delighted that the new lorry area could be ready by next summer.
“This will end the misery for thousands of residents and businesses whose lives have been repeatedly disrupted by Operation Stack on the M20, especially last summer when it was implemented 32 times. However, the design of the lorry site is crucial to ensure that trucks can be quickly moved to the port and Eurotunnel as soon as capacity is available.”
She added that it would be a bonus if the site could also handle overnight lorry parking another serious problem in Kent, although this should not detract from the smooth-running of the site for Operation Stack.
At recent Transport committee hearings, Eurotunnel appeared to be cooler towards the idea than FTA, preferring solutions that would keep lorries on the motorway system, rather than a large off-highway park. Local opinion is also divided, with some residents favouring the idea, while others are strongly against it.
BIFA also criticised the plan, saying that the government had not clearly demonstrated what options have been evaluated and that the decision to proceed had ignored some of the usual best practice when planning the expenditure of such large sums of money.
Director general, Robert Keen, said that while BIFA members were keen for the government to seek a solution to Operation Stack disruption, they queried “whether a lorry park is the best approach, given the cost and scale involved.
“It seems a little odd that such a significant amount of money might be spent on a lorry park that might never get used and might not even solve the wider problems.”