Operation Stack/Lorry Parking in Kent

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:02 pm on 25th October 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 4:02 pm, 25th October 2017

I completely concur with my hon. Friend’s remarks.

After the crisis in 2015, the Government agreed that a different solution to Operation Stack was needed to allow the motorway network to remain open, even when there are delays. It was agreed that an off-road solution was the only workable, long-term solution to Operation Stack. That means that the 4,000-plus lorries held in phases 1 and 2 of Operation Stack need to be held off road at a location that can serve both the channel tunnel and the port of Dover. It needs to be to the east of the channel tunnel and directly accessible from the motorway network in order not to disturb other roads, and it needs to be delivered at pace.

In the 2015 autumn statement, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, committed the Government to a £250 million investment that would deliver that solution. The idea was that it would be delivered at pace, and it should have been operational this year. Highways England embarked on a process of consultation to identify the correct site for the lorry park, and the site at Stanford West in my constituency was chosen. The choice of the site had the support of the district council, and it received majority support from the respondents to a consultation conducted by Highways England.

Nevertheless, the location of a piece of major infrastructure is not to be taken lightly. It clearly causes concern and disruption for the people who live close to it, so it is incumbent on the Government to work with the local community to try to put those concerns at rest. They should make clear their intention to carry through their plan to build the lorry park so we can end the blight of Operation Stack and give the country the national infrastructure and resilience it needs to protect that important strategic route. They must also reach a settlement with the people who live close to it and are most directly affected.

The Department for Transport started a compulsory purchase scheme on a discretionary basis for residents whose properties abutted the site. It also identified that Westenhanger Castle—a business run as a venue for events and weddings—would also be blighted by the building of the lorry park and therefore should qualify for compensation. Talks along those lines were progressing but were stopped when a judicial review application against the building of the lorry park was submitted by Westenhanger Castle and supported by two other entities—Stanford Parish Council and Henry Boot plc.

There has been considerable negotiation between the Department and the castle owner about their judicial review application. The consequence of the judicial review application, in addition to the general election and other delays, is that a year has been lost. Rather than waiting for the judicial review, will the Minister commit to having a last attempt at negotiating with the castle owner and the other applicants so a settlement can be reached and the judicial review application withdrawn? That would enable work to start on the lorry park, and the business owner will receive the compensation he is due and will be able to move on.

Given that the Prime Minister and Ministers have always stated that the Government intend to build the lorry park to give us the resilience we need, I see no reason why the discretionary purchase of properties in Stanford village cannot continue so that residents are not trapped in limbo but can reach a reasonable settlement with the Department and move on with their lives.

Highways England has completed the consultation with the local community to determine what they would like to see in mitigation, such as the design of the lorry park to reduce its visual impact or the creation of a buffer zone between the northern part of the site and the village of Stanford. The completed plans, updated by Highways England in response to the consultation, were secured by my constituent, the owner of Westenhanger Castle, under freedom of information. Given that those plans have already been published by the Department, they should be made publicly available so that people can see how the Government have responded to the consultation with their plans for the lorry park.

Will the Minister recommit to the commitment made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers that the Government intend to deliver the lorry park at pace, to contest the judicial review with the intent of winning it and, if unsuccessful, to make whatever adjustments are necessary to their plans in order to continue with them and to make the lorry park operational? As the Government prepare and negotiate for Britain’s exit from the European Union, investment in this sort of robust infrastructure is more important than ever.

We cannot say what the future will hold in terms of how frictionless trade will work if Britain is not a member of the single market, but it is possible that delays will be caused. I was looking at a speech made by Margaret Thatcher in 1988, launching the business case for the creation of the single market. She highlighted two things. First, she expressed the concern that the issue was about

“Not the classic barriers of tariffs, but the insidious ones of differing national standards, various restrictions on the provision of services, exclusion of foreign firms from public contracts”,

so what she wanted to ensure was

“Action to remove the customs barriers and formalities so that goods can circulate freely and without time-consuming delays.”

When the single market was being created, Margaret Thatcher understood that it was about removing not only tariffs but restrictions on and delays to trade.

Any time delay in the processing of freight in and out of the country will cause massive traffic congestion in Kent. If we want the country to be ready for Brexit on day one, that includes being ready with the infrastructure in place to support it. If there were customs delays, it is possible that Operation Stack would once again become a frequent and unwelcome visitor to the county, causing massive congestion and making life intolerable for residents and businesses. It is therefore even more important that the investment that the Government promised two years ago to deliver the Operation Stack relief lorry park is proceeded with at pace. If it is possible to avoid the judicial review and negotiate a settlement, we should take that opportunity. After the review is completed, we should make sure that we get on with the work.

If there is any danger that the lorry park will not be completed in time for spring 2019, the Government should put in place additional resilience for when the park is still being finished—not instead of the lorry park, but in case it is needed ahead of the park’s being completed. It is better than nothing to have Manston airport on standby, ready to provide parking space for freight that cannot leave the country, but it is not an adequate or long-term solution. The Government have recognised that.

The only and proper long-term solution that has been planned for is the relief lorry park. We need to get on with that for the country and the county. We should put the residents of my constituency whose property abuts the lorry park site out of their plight and proceed with the compensation that they are due so that they can move on with their lives and not have to wait for any further delays.