Minister says sorry about M26 closure for Brexit lorry park
by Andy Tong | 24th October 2018
THE Secretary of State for Transport has apologised for failing to inform residents of Tonbridge & Malling about the closure of the M26 motorway to prepare a lorry park there in the event of a no-deal Brexit – and said that the plan is ‘unlikely to be needed’.
The proposal is to hold freight there in case of delays at the border with the European mainland at the port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel.
Chris Grayling and Roads Minister Jesse Norman told Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, that ‘other options were preferable’.
Mr Tugendhat has set up a debate in the House of Commons on the subject on October 25.
The 10-mile stretch of motorway is set to be closed at night from November 19 to December 21.
The road will be shut from 10pm to 5am for the works – which were originally due to start at 8pm.
It was blocked off for five nights from October 10-15 while Highways England carried out surveys.
The contingency, called ‘Operation Brock’ – a similar strategy to Operation Stack – has been revived despite assurances to the Times by Highways England that it would not go ahead.
The M26 serves a large swathe in the north of the borough including the villages of Wrotham, Borough Green and Ightham.
Mr Tugendhat lambasted his Conservative colleague Mr Grayling in the House of Commons on the morning after the works started.
He said: “It has come to a pretty pass when a member finds out that works have begun on a motorway to turn that motorway into a parking lot without consultation with the local community or indeed with surrounding members.
“I was assured [in April] that works were not planned and only yesterday was it confirmed to me that Highways England had said that that was exactly what was planned despite having told me the reverse only a week earlier.”
The minister replied: “I have to say that I do not expect any of the contingencies that we have in place for a no-deal Brexit to be needed because I am confident we will reach a sensible agreement.”
A week later Mr Tugendhat and Sir Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks, met Mr Grayling, and the Tonbridge MP revealed: “They apologised to us for not consulting with the local community before commissioning the works.
“Thankfully the Transport Secretary agreed that other options were preferable and he would like to pursue these before the M26 was considered.
“Though they insisted that the M26 was unlikely to be needed, Sir Michael and I made clear that the local infrastructure could not cope with the plans without investment. I will do all I can to make sure it isn’t used in any scenario.”
In August the Freight Transport Association [FTA], based in Tunbridge Wells, told the Times: “As far as Operation Brock is concerned, 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. The findings mean it has now been removed from consideration.”
More than 90 per cent of the freight traffic with the continental mainland goes through Dover and the Tunnel, and it is feared that a no-deal Brexit will cause widescale hold-ups.
Operation Stack, enforced during industrial action or bad weather, sees the M20 closed for up to five junctions from Maidstone to Folkestone.