MPs criticise ‘rushed’ Operation Stack plan

Government may have acted too hastily in pushing forward proposals for a £250M lorry park beside the M20 in Kent to alleviate disruption caused by Operation Stack, an influential group of MPs has said.

The Transport Select Committee launched a report today arguing that the decision to develop plans for the facility was rushed in reaction to the events of last summer, when Operation Stack was used longer than ever before.

It calls on Transport Ministers to do more to demonstrate the necessity of building the lorry park, which would be located near junction 11 of the M20 and hold around 4000 large goods vehicles.

The report’s launch came after Highways England awarded a major £130M contract to Balfour Beatty to construct the divisive lorry area last week. This contract covers development of the project during the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) phase and would also cover construction of the £250M park, subject to Government approval.

A spokesman for Highways England explained that no decision had been made yet on the site of the lorry area following a public consultation earlier this year. The early award of the contract is expected to minimise potential delays to the work starting on site once the location is finalised and a decision to proceed is made.

Transport Select Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “The disruption caused by Operation Stack affects many people in Kent but this is not just a local issue. The routes to Dover and Folkestone are important nationally – they carry more than 80% of the road freight entering or leaving the UK.

“The Government has settled on a lorry park as the best solution but what they are proposing is on a vast scale and could cost up to quarter of a billion pounds.

“Ministers need to do more in order to justify this spending. We are not saying that the Government should not press ahead with its proposal, only that it has more work to do to persuade us of the business case for this investment.”

Transport Ministers are urged to evaluate the cost-benefit ratios of alternatives to the lorry park and to demonstrate whether the facility is a ‘proportionate and appropriate solution’ to the disruption associated with Operation Stack.

They are also called on to reveal the environmental and social costs that the lorry park would impose on the locality and the long term costs of operating, maintaining, renewing and eventually decommissioning it.

The lorry area could be partially open by next summer.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are acutely aware of the impact Operation Stack has on residents and businesses. It is right that we find a permanent solution and we’re determined to keep Kent moving. That is why up to £250M was made available to build a lorry park which could take lorries off the county’s roads in the event of disruption.

“Highways England received more than 1000 responses to its public consultation on this issue and will announce a decision on the preferred site soon.”