Essential guide to: Operation Stack

PUBLISHED: 13:45 30 July 2015 | UPDATED: 13:45 30 July 2015

Operation Stack

Operation Stack

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Everything you need to know about Operation Stack

What is Operation Stack?

Operation Stack quite literally ‘stacks’ freight traffic on to parts of the M20, turning these chunks of the road into parking spaces for up to 3,000 lorries. Operation Stack is split into three distinct phases – the decision to implement each of these phases is taken by the police who consult with the highways authority and other partners, such as the Port of Dover. It is only put in place as an emergency measure.

What are the three phases used during Operation Stack?

The three phases see lorries being parked on the sections of road below. The phases are implemented from one to three.

• phase one: Coast-bound lorries are parked between junction 11 at Hythe and junction 12 at Cheriton

• phase two: Once the first chunk of the M20 is full, Channel-bound HGVs get stacked from junction eight at Maidstone to nine at Ashford

• phase three: After space in phase two is exhausted, the London-bound carriageway is closed from junction nine at Ashford to eight at Maidstone, with HGVs parked there as a last resort.

These separate phases ratchet up the intensity of the operation. Each phase increases the capacity to hold HGVs back. The separate phases are implemented to buy more time for cross-Channel transport issues to clear.

Why is it implemented?

Kent’s network of roads are the major gateway to Europe for most HGVs carrying freight – over 90 per cent of freight travelling between the UK and Europe doing so through Kent. Currently there is only official parking for around 550 lorries, through a network of nine small, commercially run lorry parks. When there is disruption to cross-Channel travel these lorry parks fill quickly, and Operation Stack is brought into play to ensure that the county’s roads are not brought to a standstill by HGVs which can’t access cross-Channel travel. Issues which have caused the implementation of Operation Stack in the past have been severe weather which stops ferry services running to schedule, protests at the Port of Calais, and ports at Dunkirk and Boulogne, and electrical faults on the channel tunnel.

So, if the M20 is turned into a giant lorry park, what happens to the other traffic using it?

Cars and vehicles which are travelling locally are routed onto the A20, and other smaller roads. This often leads to chaos for motorists, with journey times increasing significantly as roads strain under the weight of the extra traffic.

How widespread are the impacts on other roads?

It isn’t simply traffic which is using the M20 which ends up in gridlock. As the M20 closes, many vehicles (including HGVs) choose to divert down the M2, and then onto the A2 to travel to Dover. The increase in traffic causes even more widespread traffic problems, as subsequent tailbacks from vehicles trying to access Dover from the A2 create a domino effect for traffic on smaller roads.

Are there any other problems associated with Operation Stack?

There are significant economic costs whenever Operation Stack is used. The Freight Transport Association has estimated the cost of implementing it at between £4 and £5 million. However, it is likely that the true cost is greater. There are a number of reasons for the serious economic costs. The implementation and policing costs are significant, but there are also other, indirect costs. Some of these are listed below.

• Costs and penalties to transport operators while lorries and drivers stand idle

• Costs and wastage incurred through if perishable goods go off while lorries are stuck

• Costs and environmental consequences (air pollution, CO2 emissions) of higher fuel use on congested alternative routes

• Costs and environmental consequences of keeping engines running to maintain temperatures in refrigerated vehicles

• Costs to local businesses who lose out as shoppers choose to avoid Maidstone and Ashford.

• Costs to employees in Ashford, Maidstone and elsewhere as they are left stuck in traffic jams – this could have a further adverse impact as they spend more of their disposable income on fuel.

• Implementation creates a poor image of Kent as a county blighted by traffic problems. This could have an impact on tourism

But if this causes so much carnage on the roads for other motorists and also for the economy, shouldn’t someone find another solution?

Many have suggested a variety of solutions, but as of yet, none have proved feasible or been pushed forward. Various locations have been suggested for large new lorry parks. One of the zanier suggestions was made by a countryside campaign group called CPRE Kent. It suggested a solution which would have seen the creation of a large new island just next to the Port of Dover using reclaimed spoil from the sea. CPRE Kent said that as the traffic problems were largely caused by the port, it should bear responsibility for creating the new island to hold HGVs when there was a problem which meant ferries couldn’t travel.

So what’s the answer?

Recently Kent County Council suggested a network of ‘small’ lorry parks which would be able to take the strain of freight when there are issues crossing the Channel. The council decided that the first of these parks should be located in Westernhanger, near Folkestone. However, this is not yet confirmed, as Shepway Borough Council – the local council which makes planning decisions – is not currently supportive of the plans.

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