I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Operation Stack and lorry parking in Kent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am pleased to be joined by my county colleague, my hon. Friend Mrs Grant. It is great to see the Minister in his place. He is no stranger to this issue, and has been involved in it personally over the past couple of years.
For the benefit of hon. Members, I want to define Operation Stack and set out how the situation stands in Kent at the moment. The operational procedure has been in place for a number of years. When delays occur at the channel tunnel or the port of Dover, road freight has no way of exiting the country. Under the system designed by Highways England, lorries park on the M20—in the initial phase, between Maidstone and Ashford, and then between Ashford and junction 11 of the M20. Closing the coast-bound carriageway of the M20 causes major disruption and congestion on the A20 and other strategic roads in Kent, as the traffic has nowhere else to flow.
Operation Stack, in phases 1 and 2, holds more than 4,000 vehicles, and when it is fully implemented it can take up to five days for the management of traffic to return to its normal state. It can be triggered for a variety of reasons; all it requires is a delay. In recent years, it has been triggered by a fire in the channel tunnel, strike action in France and migrant activity in France, which disrupted services through the tunnel. Equally, it could be triggered by bad weather that prevents ships from crossing the channel.
The capacity of the route is strategically important to the country, as 90% of the country’s road freight trade with Europe runs through Kent and either across the Dover straits or underneath them through the channel tunnel. If there is a problem at either the tunnel or the port, there is not enough capacity for the other to compensate, which causes delays. Whether the delays are caused by the weather or human action, they can come suddenly and without warning, so a system of resilience is required.
Kent residents and businesses have lived with Operation Stack for a number of years, but the situation came to a head in 2015, when it was implemented for 31 days, mostly in June and July. It caused major disruptions and a major loss of revenue for businesses, and made life intolerable for many people in the county. As Kent Members of Parliament, we felt that the people of Kent should never again have to experience what they lived through that summer.