Operation Stack is a procedure that consists in parking (“stacking”) HGVs on each side of the M20, turning both sides of the motorway into temporary parking spaces for up to 3,000 lorries. The police can use Operation Stack on four portions of the M20. The procedure is implemented after consulting the highway authorities and other partners, such as the Port of Dover. It is an emergency procedure and has been used many times between 2005 and as July 2015 due to various causes such as bad weather or industrial actions (other reasons listed below.)
What are the four stages of Operation Stack?
Each stage of Operation Stack sees HGVs being parked on portions of the M20. No two stages can be implemented at the same time, and they start invariably at stage one. Stage four is the newest one and has been used in June and July 2015. Each following stage is implemented as a result of the previous one reaching full capacity.
- 1. Coast-bound lorries are parked from Junction 11 (Hythe) to Junction 12 (Cheriton)
- 2. Coast-bound traffic are parked from Junction 8 (Maidstone) to 9 (Ashford)
- 3. London-bound carriageway is closed from Junction 9 (Ashford) to 8 (Maidstone)
- 4. Due to exceptional circumstances in June and July 2015, coast-bound traffic saw HGVs parked from Junction 8 (Maidstone) to 12 (Cheriton) as a last resort
These four stages allow for more flexibility for the police and also allow for a less brutal stop to traffic. This procedure is implemented in order to give some time for the cross-Channel issues to clear.
What is the reasoning behind Operation Stack?
Over 90 percent of freight travelling between the UK and Europe is using Kent’s network of road. However, official parking has space for only 550 lorries, spread across nine commercially run lorry parks. When issues are disrupting cross-Channel traffic, those parks are quickly full and as a result, initial disruptions may snowball into much bigger ones. To tackle this issue, concerned authorities designed Operation Stack. It is in essence a procedure that ensures that Kent’s roads are not jammed by HGVs that cannot use cross-Channel travel.
Several issues resulted in the use of Operation Stack in the past, ranging from storms stopping ferry services on each sides of the Channel, protests at the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne, electrical faults on the tunnel channel, and migrants storming the Calais portal.
As a non-HGV driver, am I impacted by Operation Stack?
Any vehicle that is not an HGV is rerouted to the A20 and smaller roads. Consequently, drivers need to take caution as journey times will increase, sometimes significantly. Smaller roads are after all ill-suited to the heavy traffic a motorway was designed for.
How much of an impact are we talking about?
The gridlock is not only impacting the M20, but all nearby roads as well. Once portions of the motorway are closed, many drivers (including HGV drivers) will choose to avoid the M20 and reroute to the M2, and then to the A2 to arrive at Dover in time. This in turn can snowball into even bigger traffic problems, as people are substantially delayed by resulting tailbacks on smaller roads.
Is there any downside to Operation Stack?
There are economic consequences whenever Operation Stack is used. According to Freight Transport Associations estimates, the cost of implementing it ranges between £4 and £5 million. With hindsight, these estimates appear on the low end. Listed below are reasons why the economic cost is high:
- · Penalties to transport operators while their HGVs and drivers are on standby
- · Costs due to perishable goods rotting in HGVs while Operation Stack is in place.
- · Environmental consequences due to pollution: vehicles burn more fuel on congested alternative roads and stopped HGVs need to keep their engine running to maintain cold temperatures in refrigerated vehicles.
- · Local businesses in Maidstone and Ashford lose out shoppers as drivers avoid these towns.
- · People working and traveling to and from Maidstone and Ashford will be stuck in tailbacks; resulting in slow business days.
- · Each time the Operation is implemented, the public image of Kent deteriorates, which can have a negative impact on tourism
Can an alternate solution be found, as Operation Stack seems to be the origin of many problems?
Solutions are being suggested by various groups but Operation Stack remains the easiest and more efficient when it comes to solving cross-Channel issues – it has been used as recently as July 2015. The most viable alternative seems to be the creation of more lorry parks, but it is at a standstill for now.
What is Kent County Council doing about it?
As mentioned above, the Kent County Council suggested the creation of another network of lorry parks to help the already existing ones cope with the heavy traffic. The council decided that the first of these parks be located near Folkestone, in Westernhanger. However, the Shepway Borough Council is not supportive of this plan.