Operation Stack Contents


1.Routes through Kent to Dover and Folkestone provide a vital link between the Channel Ports, London and the rest of the UK. The M20, the A2 / M2 route and the Dartford crossing—the only road crossing of the Thames Estuary east of London—are all critical parts of the country’s road network. Businesses, communities and individuals across the UK depend on these routes for goods and services. The routes also serve an important local function, enabling local businesses to operate effectively and making it possible for people in local communities to access education, housing, jobs, and leisure and retail facilities.

2.Eighty-eight per cent of powered goods vehicles travelling from Great Britain to mainland Europe use the Dover Strait Port Group,1 travelling by:

3.The M20 is the main freight corridor to the Channel Tunnel. It is also used by up to 70% of traffic heading for the Port of Dover (which then takes the A20 coastal route from Folkestone to Dover), because of the inferior standard of the more direct A2 / M2 route to Dover (the approach to the Port on the A2 has a number of sections that comprise a single carriageway).4 (The network of motorways and trunk roads in Kent is shown in Figure 1.) On average, some 10,800 road-freight vehicles cross the Strait of Dover each day (5,400 in each direction), around two-thirds of them travelling by ferry and one-third through the Tunnel.5

4.Operation Stack is implemented when either of the cross-Channel services is severely disrupted, for reasons such as bad weather, operational problems, industrial action and demonstrations, and, in recent instances, migrant action at Calais (Coquelles).

5.It involves the emergency use of large stretches of the M20 motorway (in south-east Kent) to park freight traffic bound for the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover.

6.During the deployment of Operation Stack, Kent Police use powers under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to close affected sections of the M20 and direct coast-bound freight traffic to queue there. Deployment is overseen by a multi-agency Strategic Coordinating Group, which is apparently also referred to as “Operation Fennel” (and, not quite correctly, as “Gold Command”). This is usually chaired by a Kent Police representative.6

Figure 1: Kent motorways and trunk roads

Map of motorways and trunk roads leading to lorry park

Source: Highways England

7.When Operation Stack is in place, freight is separated into two static queues on either side of the M20 carriageway—one for Eurotunnel traffic (on the inside lane) and one for Port of Dover traffic (on the outside lane). Space is left in the middle to allow access for emergency vehicles. Queues are released at the request of the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, with vehicles being moved forward as required, according to the amount of capacity becoming available.

8.When the M20 is in use for Operation Stack, other traffic must be rerouted onto the local road network. This includes both local traffic and non-freight (largely tourist) traffic heading for the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel.

9.In the summer of 2015, as a result of severe and protracted disruption to both ferry services and the Channel Tunnel, Operation Stack was deployed on an unprecedented scale. In consequence, the local community in south-east Kent experienced a very significant level of disruption and inconvenience.

10.Following these events, we held an evidence session on 14 October 2015, at which we heard from a range of local and national stakeholders about the problems caused by Operation Stack and about possible alternative arrangements. We also received a small amount of correspondence on the subject.

11.On 22 October 2015 our Chair wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, asking him about the Government’s plans to conduct Operation Stack differently and to mitigate its effects in the meantime.7

12.The Secretary of State replied on 25 November 2015, telling us that work on a long-term solution to the issues posed by Operation Stack had “moved at pace”. He informed us of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement on that same day, in the Spending Review and Autumn Statement, that the Government was “providing up to £250 million for a major new permanent lorry park to increase resilience in Kent”. Mr McLoughlin further stated that the Government would “consult on a preferred site at Stanford [a village by Junction 11 of the M20] and other alternatives shortly”.8 On 11 December 2015 Highways England (the body responsible for the M20)9 began a public consultation (which ran until 26 January 2016) concerning plans for the lorry park.10

13.On 19 January 2016 we announced the reopening of our inquiry into Operation Stack, in order to consider these new developments, and issued a call for written evidence. We emphasised that the inquiry would not consider proposals for specific sites for the permanent lorry park, as this was a planning issue and currently being considered in the consultation by Highways England.11

14.In an evidence session on 21 March 2016 we heard arguments for and against the planned lorry park from a range of local and national stakeholders. In a further session, on 11 April 2016, we took evidence from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) with responsibility for freight and logistics, national roads and Highways England, Andrew Jones MP; a senior official at the Department; and the Chief Executive of Highways England. In addition, we received 56 written evidence submissions. We are grateful to our witnesses and to all those who took the trouble to write to us.

2 RORO ferries between Dover and Calais also carry non-freight vehicles and foot passengers.

3 Eurotunnel operates separate shuttle services for freight and non-freight vehicles. Foot-passenger and rail-freight services through the Tunnel are run by two other operators (Eurostar and DB Schenker respectively), who pay a toll to Eurotunnel.

4 Qq85, 87 [Paul Watkins]; Port of Dover (OPP 004), Kent County Council (OPP 021), Dover District Council (OPP 034)

6 Qq44, 46, 66, 76, 231; Department for Transport (OPP 063); Report of the European Gateway Strategic Delivery Group, Solutions to Operation Stack: Freight Fluidity for the UK’s Gateway to Europe, July 2015; Cabinet Office, Emergency Response and Recovery: Non statutory guidance accompanying the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, October 2013.

9 Highways England has operated as a government-owned company since 1 April 2015. It was previously, from 1994, constituted as a government executive agency, called the Highways Agency. It is the statutory Highway Authority responsible for the core road network (motorways and trunk roads) in England. Non-trunk highways in Kent are the responsibility of Kent County Council, as the upper-tier local authority.

11 Transport Committee, Operation Stack inquiry launched, 19 January 2016

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

25 May 2016