For those not affected by Operation Stack – the stacking of lorries on the M20 when there are problems on the cross Channel route, it might merely make for some interesting television pictures and as no one dies so surely the people of Kent will get by and it will soon be forgotten.
A quick perusal of Wikipedia shows that the first Operation Stack occurred in 1988. It has been a regular feature ever since, so basically 27 years of no progress. There have been some failed attempts to play around with how the Kent motorways operate when there are cross Channel problems, and there have been some questionable unfulfilled plans to concrete over many acres of Kent to create vast lorry parks, but ultimately no genuine progress has been made since the very first Operation Stack.
Transport in the bigger picture of things in the UK generally comes way down government priorities, and is not something that is seen as losing a General Election. Because of the long term failure to address the problem we are now seeing sticking plaster plans put forward as the chaos Stack has caused this summer drags on. So Manston Airport and Ebbsfleet Station Car Park are being rented as lorry parks, both of questionable merit and potentially creating massive problems in the Manston and Ebbsfleet areas.
So is there a solution? Avoiding the issues of what leads to Stack, perhaps there is not a perfect solution, but notions of building in Kent vast lorry parks seem laughable. What is important to appreciate is that in the last few decades there has been a huge increase in lorry traffic moving through Kent. Today vast convoys of Eastern European lorries are a common sight on Kent motorways, something 30 years ago which simply did not occur.
We should ask ourselves where is it that these vast lorry convoys are going to? Kent is just the first stage of the UK journey for the vast majority of these continental lorries. The M20 and M2 motorways both help to feed traffic into the London orbital motorway, the M25, a motorway most drivers consider a journey from hell given the vast quantities of traffic on it for much of the day, with many M25 journeys of the stop-start nature, with generally plenty of stop involved!
Anyone travelling from Kent onto the M25 in the mornings would witness the familiar sight of the huge number of lorries that have come across from Europe overnight. Whilst removal of these lorries would not guarantee a totally free-flowing M25, it would certainly make for a far less arduous journey.
Why, when the motorways are overstretched, is it that these vast convoys of continental lorries which are heading for destinations outside Kent are not put onto the railway network, and taken to central points across the country, close to their actual destinations? When it is known that an Operation Stack situation may be necessary, large numbers of lorries can simply be held at the central marshalling points across the country. The result would be less chaos in Kent, but looking at the wider picture, on a daily basis less pollution, and less motorway congestion. But then for a government there comes the question of who would pay for the construction of the necessary infrastructure – if its not a vote loser or gainer have they the courage to undertake such a project? We hear much from government about the importance of facilitating economic growth. Our road and rail network as has so often been said are key arteries in the country’s communication network, but as Operation Stack moves towards middle age it can be seen as a sign of inept long term governance of these key networks.
A final point to ponder – I said no one dies when Operation Stack takes place. Anyone who has witnessed the long queues of traffic on the narrow approach road to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford due to Operation Stack, might question whether this is actually true, with there being a severe risk that emergency response vehicles are going to get caught in the localised traffic chaos, with peoples lives imperilled as a consequence. Time to act I think.