Damian Collins is the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, and he thinks he knows what the solution to Operation stack is: A Big Lorry Park.
For the those not aware, Operation Stack is a process, whereby, when there is problems moving HGV traffic through the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel to France, sections of the M20 are closed and turned into a temporary lorry park until the problem clears.
Everyone agrees this is really annoying. Everyone agrees it would be better if this didn’t have to happen. However, it doesn’t happen that often…apart from the summer of 2015 where a bizzare set of circumstances including the migrant crisis and the shutdown of Myferrylink led to 30 days of Operation stack over the summer. There has been nothing like it in the previous 20 years, and not a single use of Operation Stack since
So why is a huge lorry park planned? That seems like a simple question, but the answer is Kafkaesque in its complexity. Exactly who decided this should happen is something of a mystery, but, as best as I can piece together from the information provided to me by the representatives of Highways England at the consultation, plus my own creative imaginings of how things might have unfolded, the story goes something a bit like this:
In the summer of 2015, the Government had a massive knee-jerk to what was happening in Kent and did what they always do when they want to appear to be taking a crisis seriously. They called a COBRA meeting. (COBRA sounds exciting doesn’t it? It just stands for “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A”, actually pretty mundane. One wonders whether our national crisis would seem to be taken so seriously if they were held in a place with a less dynamic sounding acronym like “Ministerial Office Under Stairs E”)
The COBRA meeting decided “Something Must Be Done”- that wonderful political cliche. They had a brilliant idea. A cunning plan, A plan so cunning, so devious, such an utter work of genius, that it would perhaps only be surpassed by Baldrick’s very best flashes of brilliance in Blackadder….
They wouldn’t put the Lorries on the motorway anymore. They would put them in a big tarmac lorry park instead. Genius. Brilliant. It’s amazing no one had ever thought of it before! In all the 20 years of operation stack! How had such an obvious solution evaded everyone? There was just one small problem. There was no lorry park big enough.
Never mind. Build one. Brilliant! The COBRA meeting concluded, f 2015, and the assembled political geniuses departed into the 2015 summer sunshine for an early lunch, patting each other on the back. They had solved the problem of Operation Stack!
Unfortunately, even as they left their meeting, the Lorries continued to be parked all over the M20, clogging up Kent, and absolutely nothing was resolved. Our band of transport geniuses were not perturbed by this. The Huge Lorry Park would be delivered “AT PACE” (whatever that means), and they were sure that the fact they had created a solution to operation stack in 2018 would be of great comfort to HGV drivers dying of thirst trapped on the M20 in the summer of 2015.
Anyhow, the crisis of the summer of 2015 solved itself, with little or no significant interventions from Government (beyond firming up defences against migrants in Calais). The Lorry Park, nevertheless, moved forward “at pace”.
Now, when I say the Lorry park needed to be big, we have to get this in perspective. I don’t mean big. I mean huge. Behemoth. Let me paint a picture for you:
Imagine taking a nice walk in London. You start at the London Eye. You take a stroll across Westminster bridge and go to see Clarence house and St James’ Palace. Then you walk on down past Buckingham Palace to have a look at Westminster Cathedral. Now you walk along Victoria Street, back past the House of Commons, back over the river and down to St. Thomas’ Hospital. Finally, you turn north again and walk back up the river bank past the Aquarium to the London Eye. You arrive, tired after your extensive sight seeing tour of London. Congratulations! You have just walked the perimeter area of the Lorry Park! Except that if this is the Lorry Park, you wouldn’t have just walked through the World’s greatest city, you would have walked around the edge of TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY ACRES OF BARREN TARMAC DESERT.
Crumbs. Obviously, something like that you’re going to have to think very carefully where you put it right? You’d need to consider a wide range of options and and put them to some pretty careful consideration.
Well, no, it turns out, if you’re a brilliant Government genius, you can stick a pin in a map at a place called “Stanford” in Kent, because it’s near the Eurotunnel and on the M20 route, and simply ask the residents if they would like the Park put to the East of their Village or the West. When they say they’d really not have either, you can simply ignore them and tell them you’re putting it to the west of their village with the boundary fence of the park pressed right up against the edge of their property.
On an area of unspoiled greenbelt, inhabited by endangered species such as Bats.
Next to a Site of Special Scientific Interest….
Just nestled up a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty….
On a flood plain…
And don’t worry, it won’t cost much. Only an initial estimate, before even a single square foot of tarmac has been laid, of a quarter of a billion pounds.
You can do all this, because you’re brilliant Government Geniuses. You sat in a COBRA meeting and said you’d deliver a solution “at pace” remember?
The Local Conservative MP, Damian Collins believes the Lorry Park is a brilliant idea, and is very keen to tell his residents how brilliant it will be for them, because it will get rid of Operation Stack. Their homes might flood from the change in flood plains, and lose two thirds of their value because instead of overlooking acres of unspoilt finest Kentish countryside they will now gaze out on a scene of desolation suitable for filming the next Mad Max sequel, but this will be more than mitigated for by the…average of oh…two or three days a year when they might be late for work due to Operation Stack.
Except, and here is the most fun part of all of this.
It. won’t. solve. Operation. Stack.
The COBRA meeting told Highways England to “come up with a big Lorry Park Solution”. Highways England came up with one and told Government (i.e. The COBRA meeting people) that it was a Big Lorry Park at Stanford.
Government say Highways England think a Big Lorry Park is a good idea…because H.E. told them so…in the consultation where Government told them to tell them that a Big Lorry Park was a good idea.
And meanwhile, Highways England say that Government told them a Big Lorry Park was a good idea, and they are just getting on with delivering on the instruction of their paymasters.
The entirely unsurprising result of this debacle of Big Government over-reach is that actually no-one has seriously considered whether this is actually a good idea.
There are some things that the Lorry Park will definitely do:
- Cost a lot of money (£250m)
- Destroy a lot of beautiful English countryside (250acres)
- Devastate the Village communities of Sellinge and Stanford
- Make whoever is on the receiving end of the £250m of taxpayer money an awful lot richer.
Spot the odd one out on that list.
However, despite all of this, Damian Collins MP, (Local Elected Representative of the people of Stanford – Elected to represent their best interests to parliament) thinks this is all worthwhile, because of the dramatic improvement it will have on the rest of the constituents of his Folkestone and Hythe Constituency, because it will solve Operation Stack.
Except that by Highways England’s own best estimates for operation of the park it is highly unlikely that it will actually solve Operation Stack, (if a problem that has not occurred in over a year needs “solving”) and may well even make it worse….
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Saga as we uncover why Damian’s Lorry Park cannot actually work….