Operation Stack/Lorry Parking in Kent

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:13 pm on 25th October 2017.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:13 pm, 25th October 2017

As my hon. Friend knows, I was involved in establishing Highways England to replace the old Highways Agency. In doing so, we were anxious that Highways England should adopt a rather different approach from its predecessor’s. That is not to say that everything the Highways Agency did was wrong—of course it was not—but I saw the opportunity to improve on its approach.

We continue to work with Highways England to get that right; part of it is proper engagement with colleagues in this House and with the general public. Had there been a more generous regime in that respect—to put it as mildly as possible—we might have ended up in a different place. Apart from the issue of the character of the environmental impact assessment, which is at the heart of this debate, greater engagement and dialogue is an important part of how we want to move forward.

Yes, I am conscious of the needs of our truckers. I would like to see myself as the truckers’ friend—it is better for other people to say that than me, but if that is how the truckers want to see me, so be it—and I am certainly determined to ensure that our HGV drivers and the businesses that employ them get a better deal on lorry parking generally. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe I know shares that ambition—he has been a great champion of their interests, too.

Now let me turn to Kent. My hon. Friend knows that we are in the middle of a judicial proceeding, which limits some of what I can say. It does not limit me entirely; he knows me well enough to know that I will stretch those limits to their very breaking point, but I have to be cautious. We are subject to a judicial review, of which he is well aware, and he and I have discussed it previously.

Nevertheless, let me make three or four core points, the first of which is that two objectives are associated with the circumstances in Kent. I have a pre-prepared text with me, but as you know, Mr Chope, it is not my habit to read them—I think it is terribly tedious to do so. The Chamber deserves better.

The first objective, to which my hon. Friend made ample reference, is to ensure that when Stack is operational we do not end up with the delays, congestion and all that arises from that in Kent—particularly on the M20, but well beyond, too, to the adjacent roads. That requirement is fundamental. My hon. Friend has said before, and rightly implied again today, that in 2015 there was what might be called a perfect storm, when a series of events occurred that meant that Stack happened several times during a relatively short period. That can occur as a result of weather conditions, industrial action, circumstances on the other side of the channel and so forth—he is well aware of all that. That created an intolerable burden on the people of Kent.

Operation Stack has a big effect on the wider economy, as my hon. Friend has also said many times. We move goods largely by sea and then by truck—and train, too. When congestion occurs in Kent, it has a knock-on effect across the whole of our kingdom. Ninety-five per cent. of the goods that we export and buy—some we want and some we need—are carried by sea. They often end up on trucks because of how commerce works. We cannot allow that congestion to perpetuate, so we must have a solution that avoids congestion in Kent. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that I am considering a range of short, medium and long-term options. We should be nothing other than lateral and broad-minded in our thinking about how we avoid the eventuality. That is not to say that he is not right, but there are several ways in which we can deal with the problem. I assure him that that work is ongoing.

The second requirement is to have sufficient lorry parking space. The proposal that is now subject to judicial review originated because we recognised that we needed considerable space to accommodate the volume of traffic that might be displaced as a result of Operation Stack. We know the history very well, and this is where I have to be cautious. The assessment that was done was gauged by some to be insufficient, and as a result the process stalled. We are now part of judicial proceedings, of which my hon. Friend is well aware. The fact remains that the issue will not go away, given the 40 ferries leaving the port of Dover, the 130 train departures handled by Eurotunnel and the growth that we anticipate in that traffic,. We have to deal with the challenge of congestion and the prevailing challenge of lorry parking.

I take the view, which I think my hon. Friend shares—he may intervene if he does not, or even if he does—that we need to look at other sites in Kent, too. There is certainly space for incremental growth at a number of the existing sites in Kent and beyond. I have told the sector that I am very happy to look at where we can achieve that incremental growth. It is not sufficient in itself, but it is an important additional consideration.