Kent airport lorry park now cleared after Christmas travel chaos, transport secretary says

Joe Middleton
Saturday 26 December 2020 18:21 GMT
Lorries and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) stacked at Manston Airport this week
Lorries and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) stacked at Manston Airport this week (AFP via Getty Images)

A lorry park at a disused Kent airfield has now been cleared after thousands of vehicles were parked at the site in a bid to ease gridlock caused by the French border closing. 

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said all lorries had left Manston airfield near Ramsgate by 9am on Saturday, sharing a picture on his Twitter account that showed the runway completely clear of vehicles.

He said: "Update on Kent lorry situation: 15,526 #Coronavirus tests now carried out. Just 36 positive results, which are being verified (0.23%).

“Manston now empty and lorries should no longer head there please.”

France closed its border last Sunday following the discovery of a fast-spreading Covid-19 variant in the UK. 

Thousands of lorries were soon stranded on the UK side, with the severe disruption at the port of Dover leading to concerns over potential food shortages.

The tensions at the border caused scuffles between drivers and police, while politicians brokered a deal allowing freight to cross as long as drivers returned a negative Covid-19 test.

More than 1,100 army personnel were deployed to Kent in order to help test the hauliers at Manston, the town of Dover, and on the M20, where Operation Brock – a motorway contraflow system designed to deal with traffic disruption – has been in place.

In a follow-up tweet this afternoon, Mr Shapps added: “A massive THANK YOU to everyone who's worked tirelessly over the past few days to reduce the huge disruption caused by the sudden French border closure: police, military, planners, councils, charities, border staff – all have rallied to bring food & drink to stranded hauliers.”

Despite the progress at Manston, 1,600 lorries are still stuck in Operation Brock, the BBC reported.

Various individuals and organisations have volunteered to help the stranded drivers by providing them with food and drink over the past week.

Mubashir Ahmad Siddiqi, 60, and his two 20-year-old sons Qasim and Hamza, from Barking in east London, spent six hours helping to prepare 1,000 portions of chicken biryani on Friday for those stuck in Kent.

Mr Siddiqi said: “Ten of us from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the Ahmadiyya Muslim youth association managed to drop off over 1,000 meals, 1,200 chocolate bars and drinks for the lorry drivers.”

He added: “It's a great feeling to be able to help those who are alone at the moment and we hope that through our humble efforts we were able to cheer them up with the food packages.”

HM Coastguard said its teams in the Dover area had also delivered 3,000 hot meals, 600 pizzas, 2,985 packed lunches and 17 pallets of water to those waiting.

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