The Freight Transport Association welcomed the announcement today of measures to improve safety during Phase 1 of Operation Stack but mourned the lost opportunity to make a real difference on Kent's roads.
The Minister for Roads, Dr Ladyman, today (Monday 25 June) announced a £12.6 million scheme to deploy a Quick Moveable Barrier on the M20 during the first phase of Operation Stack. This will undoubtedly be safer than trying to manage fast moving traffic using plastic cones but no moves have yet been revealed to stop the backlog of traffic on the motorway in the first place.
Ideally there needs to be an off-road site where vehicles travelling to the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel can be effectively marshalled and managed. Although there are plans to designate and develop such a site there is inevitably a row brewing about funding.
Better still would be more intelligent use of the Highways Agency's network of variable message signs. Too often Operation Stack catches up vehicles whose port of destination remains open, with the absurd situation of ships to those ports sailing empty, because all vehicles, regardless of their destination, are lumped together on the hard shoulder. Local goods vehicles and residents are also snarled up like so many endangered species in the Highways Agency's drift net.
Gordon Telling, FTA's Head of Policy for London, South East and East of England said, 'For too long the Highways Agency has regarded the network in Kent as a dumping ground where trucks can be hidden away in time of crisis at the ports. Given the forecast growth at Dover over the next ten years it is high time the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency took a strategic look at Kent's roads, which are a vital artery for goods coming into the UK as well as for exports that are supporting the economy.
'That strategic approach would be considering the needs not just of Operation Stack but also of local development such as East Kent and the Thames Gateway. As traffic volumes grow the best solution is for the Highways Agency to dip into its budgets, swollen with revenue from the Dartford Crossing, and end the uncertainty about a fit-for-purpose lorry park that can service both Operation Stack and regular drivers' rest needs, thereby keeping Kent's roads free for Kent residents and businesses.
'The Highways Agency has the tools to disseminate information across the network and direct traffic intelligently onto the M2 or M20 as necessary. Arguments about cost, whilst valid, should be overcome rather than used as a reason for inaction.
'Today's announcement is welcome insofar as it will improve safety and have a beneficial impact on traffic flow on some occasions. However, it must not be a smokescreen to hide the issue of truck parking.'
Dr Ladyman today announced a £12.6 million investment in a Quick Moveable Barrier, comprising a set of concrete blocks and a machine for lifting them and deploying them onto the carriageway. The QMB will be used to manage traffic in Phase 1 of Operation Stack and will prevent drivers from manoeuvring illegally as they have done with plastic cones used previously.