Road User Voice – February 2016 – Operation Stack, Manston Airport and the Traffic Assessment Project (TAP)

02 February 2016

During summer 2015 Operation Stack brought widespread disruption to the Strategic Road Network in Kent. We welcome the Government’s commitment to find a permanent solution to the problem and have responded to Highways England’s recent consultation on proposals for a purpose-built lorry park.

A key point in our response is that whichever of the two sites is selected, there must be effective engagement with the likely users of the facility once it opens. There is no point in building something that doesn’t meet lorry drivers’ or their employers’ needs – they simply won’t use it.

To understand more about the issues involved in getting lorries to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, before Christmas we went to see how things work.

We started with a visit to Highways England’s south east regional control centre at Godstone. There we met Martin Crosswell and Dez Leach, operations managers at Highways England, to learn more about the network in their region.

It’s from here, in conjunction with other agencies, that Operation Stack and the Traffic Assessment Project (TAP) is co-ordinated. The control centre has around 10 desks with operators sending traffic officers to incidents and setting signs and signals to help direct and keep road users moving. We sat with an operator who showed how they co-ordinate the signage for Operation Stack and use technology to monitor the network.

Highways England’s south east regional control centre at Godstone

The following day Ian Jobson, deputy strategic lead for Operation Stack at Highways England, joined us for a road user perspective of the M20 and the diversion route to Manston Airfield and onto the Port of Dover. We must also thank Anthony Steer, a Highways England traffic officer, who drove us around during the visit and explained many features and operations of the network. We heard about the complexities of diverting hundreds of trucks off the motorways to Manston, as well as the preparations required in converting a runway into an area to hold up to 4500 HGVs in just four hours. It was clear that the challenges of ensuring international freight traffic actually complies with requests to use Manston, and then regulating the flow of lorries from there to Dover when there is ferry capacity, remain considerable. 

A drivers’ eye-view of the marked-out runway at Manston airfield. It has the capacity to hold some 4,500 HGVs.

We also visited the Port of Dover and met Therese West, its operations support manager. Therese explained how it keep this extremely busy port moving. With a ferry sailing around every 30 minutes, there is a near-constant stream of lorries on and off the ferries. Despite the co-ordination between the Port of Dover and Highways England the volume of freight traffic required lorries to queue outside Dover under the Traffic Assessment Phase (TAP) system each day during our visit. We witnessed several miles of slow-moving HGVs along the A20 and on the alternative approach to Dover via the A2.

Lorries waiting for the next ferry at the Port of Dover

The two days gave a valuable insight in to the challenges road users of all types have in Kent, whether there is disruption to cross-Channel services or not.

Stuart Edwards
Road User Executive

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