Operation Stack: Businesses in Kent count the cost after M20 was turned into giant lorry park

Hauliers lost estimated £3.75 million during motorway's most recent closure

Jonathan Owen
Thursday 30 July 2015 17:57 BST
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People play football amongst lorries parked on both carriageways of the M20 in Ashford, Kent
People play football amongst lorries parked on both carriageways of the M20 in Ashford, Kent (PA)

Businesses across Kent are counting the cost of the disruption by Operation Stack - which saw stretches of the M20 turned into a giant lorry park for most of last week - and demanding the Government prevent a repeat of the gridlock.

The police operation, which results in lorries parking on sections of the motorway when cross-channel traffic is disrupted, has become more frequent in recent weeks due to strikes by French ferry and protests by migrants in Calais.

British hauliers lost an estimated £3.75 million during the most recent closure of parts of the M20, which began last Wednesday and ended on Sunday, according to Donald Armour, international affairs manager at the Freight Transport Association. “We want the British government to work with the French government to sort out the migrant problem,” he added.

The cost to road freight is part of a wider loss, with local businesses across Kent affected. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is demanding that the Government act to ensure the chaos does not happen again. “These extreme traffic delays have been a persistent issue for some years with little progress at either local or national level to deliver a fit-for-purpose, permanent solution,” said John Allan, FSB national chairman yesterday. “We have raised the issue directly with Government, asking them to make solving this issue a top priority,” he added.

Tony O’Donnell, managing director, Catchpole and Rye, a bathroom manufacturing company near Ashford, told The Independent: “We’ve got backlogs of deliveries to get out now because of it. By the end of this week we’ll be back to normal...the problem is there’s no certainty it won’t happen again.”

And Neville Gaunt, managing director of Mindfit Limited, a Kent-based training organisation, said: “Due to Operation Stack I have had to cancel several meetings...I cancelled a trip last minute to Brussels to meet a Middle East client...now I face a much longer trip to Dubai to resurrect the discussions - conservatively that’s a £10k-£15k unnecessary cost I’m facing.”

Another affected is Sue Nelson, who runs a funding consultancy in Ashford. “We’ve been running at 80 per cent capacity – and that adds up to at least £18,000 a month in lost revenue,” she said.

And more than eight out of ten tourism businesses have been affected by the motorway closures, according to Visit Kent. “Depending on the size of the business the cost of this lost business varies but for many it is rolling into the thousands,” said a spokesperson. Canterbury Cathedral, Westenhanger Castle, and Leeds Castle have all seen visitor numbers hit as a result of the road delays.

In response to growing concern over the delays caused whenever Operation Stack is enforced, Highways England considered a contraflow system in a bid to keep traffic moving in future.

However, citing safety concerns over road users and those working on the motorway, the body chose not to pursue the system.

A Highways England spokesperson said: “We have decided a contraflow would present a significant and unacceptable risk to the safety of road users and anyone required to work within it.

"We have presented our reasons to our partners, including Kent Police and Kent County Council, who support our decision.

“We are continuing our work with the task force to urgently review what other measures could be put in place.”

In response to Highways England's decision, Matthew Balfour, cabinet member for environment and transport at Kent County Council, said: “Operation Stack is a nightmare for the people of Kent who are unable to go about their daily business.

“Not only does it affect people’s lives, but businesses are suffering and anyone trying to get to Dover for their summer holidays are stuck in miles of tailbacks.

“This is an urgent problem that needs to be dealt with by government and Highways England.

“I am disappointed that Highways England considers a contraflow system to be unworkable but it is for them to give the government a solution and they need to get on with it.”

In a statement, a Government spokesman said: “We are determined to do whatever possible to help keep Kent’s roads free from disruption.”

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