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Road User Voice – August 2015 – Getting the user voice heard in Operation Stack

21 August 2015

Sadly, Operation Stack (OpStack) now needs little introduction. The queues of lorries on the M20 in Kent – the response to the awful problems at Calais – hit the headlines in a big way during July. But it has been a recurrent, if normally short-lived, nuisance for local traffic in Kent for many years now.

It’s clear that taking a key motorway like the M20 out of service affects a wide range of road users – not just long-distance freight and tourist traffic, but also local businesses and bus services. So it made sense for Transport Focus to make this its first intervention on a roads issue.

It’s a great relief that cross-Channel traffic is flowing better just now and OpStack is not needed at the moment. However, our involvement in ensuring the user interest is a top priority is far from over.

OpStack is the joint responsibility of Kent Police, Kent County Council (KCC) and Highways England (HE) – all reluctantly having to deal with a very difficult issue. Our chief executive, Anthony Smith, wrote to all three jointly in July and sought to increase our understanding of how OpStack was affecting road users. The letter stressed the importance of ensuring the welfare of drivers stuck in the queues and making the clearest possible information available to the public.

We also pressed for early action on more effective solutions – now the thrust of a clear challenge coming down from central Government through the emergency Cobra committee.

We soon got a full and encouraging response from David Brewer, the lead director at HE. We’ve also had a very useful briefing from KCC, in particular on what its resilience team is able to do on driver welfare. It seems good progress is now being made with Manston Airport being lined up as reserve parking for Dover-bound HGVs. HE is keen to bring in better traffic control methods and to work with KCC to secure better-located parking off the motorway.

Transport Focus is pressing for more accessible and helpful information for local and long-distance drivers alike. And we are gearing up to research the experiences of HGV drivers if they’re caught up in a resumption of the queues. This will help to inform our next steps.

Most importantly, we want to ensure the momentum for a better solution is not lost. It’s been too easy to dismiss OpStack as a local issue, to be led at a local level, but its intensive use has been causing disruption intolerable at any level. Transport Focus will keep up the pressure to deliver the sustainable solution which most helps all road users.

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