A PROPOSAL to shut the M26 in order to cope with the fall-out from Brexit on the Kentish frontier with Europe has been shelved.
The plan put forward by the government, as part of Operation Brock, would have seen the 10-mile stretch of motorway between Sevenoaks and Wrotham Heath closed to provide a lorry park for freight that was held up on its way across the Channel.
But the Freight Transport Association [FTA], which is based in Tunbridge Wells, revealed that it ‘has been discounted by the Highways Agency as a viable option for lorry parking’.
Departure from the EU could lead to complications and delays at the all-important trade border.
More than 90 per cent of the freight traffic with the continental mainland goes through the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel.
Communities and businesses across West Kent would have been seriously affected by such a policy disrupting their access by car.
The idea behind Operation Brock is similar to the emergency procedure known as Operation Stack, where the M20 motorway can be closed for up to five junctions from Maidstone (eight) to Folkestone (12), forcing locals to find alternative routes.
The scheme has been in operation for 10 years and is enforced when services are disturbed by industrial action,
weather conditions or electrical failure at the Channel Tunnel.
There are officially only 550 parking spaces for HGVs in the county, and Operation Stack provides an extra 3,000 places – with Manston Airfield acting as an overflow.
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, has criticised the plan, which would cause ‘chaos’ in towns and villages across West Kent.
He said: ‘This is a proposal which I will strongly resist if it is taken any further. The M26 is a crucial part of our strategic road network, and the lack of slip roads at junction five of the M25 makes the westbound carriageway the longest in England without a junction.
‘Closing this for days will cause chaos through all the villages along the A25, and communities such as Borough Green, Platt and Wrotham will be inaccessible.’
He added: ‘I’ve already written to the Transport Secretary and met the Roads Minister to voice my opposition. I’ll be re-emphasising my points.
‘The M26 connects every community along it and the M20 with the rest of the country and cannot be closed for days on end to park lorries.’
But a spokesperson for the FTA has revealed that the plan has already been rejected by Highways England, the government-owned company that maintains all roads.
She told the Times: ‘This has been discounted by Highways England as a viable option for lorry parking. A feasibility study was conducted on its impact on the strategic road network and the findings mean it has now been removed from consideration.’
The ability of local drivers to access their communities was a concern for the FTA, which represents more than 13,000 companies in the transport industry.
The FTA added: ‘As an association, we are keeping in close contact with Highways England to ensure that any areas earmarked for lorry parking provide the necessary safe and secure facilities for drivers and do not inconvenience residents across the county.’
Highways England said: ‘We recently consulted on a permanent solution for Operation Stack and a number of options have been put forward.
‘No site or solution has yet been chosen. We will fully engage with residents, the public and other stakeholders ahead of publishing options for a permanent solution.’
Operation Stack has not been implemented since 2015, partly because of increased capacity at Dover and a Traffic Assessment Project which limits the vehicles travelling to the port.
The main part of Operation Brock would see one lane of the M20 closed to traffic while a contraflow was in operation on the other side.
Highways England added: ‘We have also set out plans to introduce an interim solution for Operation Stack for early 2019, the soonest this project can be completed.
‘We will shortly start to prepare the M20 for Operation Brock, which will keep the motorway open for motorists during cross Channel disruption, meaning Kent residents and businesses can keep on the move.’
PICTURE: LORRY LOAD: Operation Stack has not been used on the M20 since 2015