Whatever anyone’s views on Brexit, no one wants to see traffic chaos in Kent after March 29th. Therefore one of the key meetings I have attended recently was the briefing from Highways England and the Department of Transport about the contingency arrangements if there are problems with cross-channel traffic.
The aim is to avoid a return to Operation Stack, when whole sections of the M20 are closed (although I was disturbed to learn that this has not been ruled out altogether). The encouraging news is that the engineering work to allow a contraflow system to operate, keeping the motorway flowing both ways, has now been finished.
There will have to be a decision taken in the next few days whether to put the metal barrier which enables this contraflow in place for March 29th, whatever the state of the political negotiations. It will involve lower speed limits along the area covered, but the prize of keeping traffic flowing is a huge one, as those of us who remember the chaos of 2015 will attest.
The aim is to use this contraflow as the first storage area, followed by Manston, and then followed by the M26 if necessary. The current plan allows for a maximum of 10,000 trucks to be held in Kent, so if the disruption means that more need to be held, a national plan will come into operation.
This will involve using powers under the Traffic Regulation Orders which could restrict specific types of vehicle coming into Kent. These powers have never been used this way before, and there are obvious practical issues about to enforce them, and indeed where to store the lorries which would be stopped elsewhere in the country.
Looking at these plans, I can see that everyone involved is working flat out to make them work, but it reinforces my view that a disorderly Brexit would pose great risks to Kent.