A contingency plan to deal with potential chaos at major UK ports post-Brexit has been unveiled by the government.
The Department for Transport says it wants to keep traffic moving at a key congestion hotspot in the event of “serious disruption” to lorries preparing to cross the Channel from Dover.
Experts have warned of potential huge delays as border staff struggle to deal with a huge increase in the workload, which will no longer be shared with EU officials.
Minister Jesse Norman said more HGV parking will be created for vehicles being held on the M20 near Kent, while more stringent customs checks take place post-March 2019.
In addition, new contraflow traffic systems will be put in place under the government’s longstanding Operation Stack programme, which aims to minimise snarl-ups on UK roads in the event of Eurotunnel delays.
The government is also set to heap pressure on local councils to approve planning applications to build more lorry parking facilities, particularly in areas where need is greatest.
“Highways England will soon be starting the consultation process on a permanent solution for holding lorries in the event of cross-Channel disruption, with a full public information exercise launching in June,” Norman said in a written ministerial statement.
“The consultation will consider the broad solutions rather than specific sites. It will also seek views on the potential use of any future lorry park or parks for ‘business as usual’ overnight lorry parking; while remaining sensitive to the government’s desire not to deter any planned private investment.”
Preparations for the contraflow scheme, which will see lorries bound for the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel held on the coast-bound carriageway between junctions 8-9 of the M20, is underway now and expected to be in place before Britain leaves the EU.
Highways England, which manages major routes across the country, will also examine the land it holds to identify suitable places for more lorry parks.
Norman, the minister for road, local transport and devolution, added: “I have written with planning minister Dominic Raab to local planning authorities to draw their attention to the survey results, which show a strategic national need for more lorry parking and highlight shortages in specific areas.
“In addition, I am asking Highways England to develop their existing role as a statutory consultee on all proposed developments that are on or that directly affect the strategic road network.
“In future, Highways England will seek to use their unique network-wide perspective to assist local authorities in actively identifying areas of lorry parking need and potential solutions, including in the context of specific planning applications where these might help alleviate the situation.”
Norman promised the Department for Transport would also make it easier for local councils to take action against lorries parked inappropriately.
Brexit ministers have so far visited just eight of the UK’s 120 ports as part of their preparations for the UK’s departure from the union, which critics described as “astonishing”.