In Depth

Operation Stack: Will a park the size of Disneyland help?

MPs express concern that government is throwing £250m at the M20 queuing problem

Holidaymakers heading to Europe last summer might remember the long delays due to a gridlocked M20. The emergency traffic-management tactic Operation Stack was used to ease the problem, but this has drawbacks of its own. While the government wants to build a gargantuan car park for lorries travelling to Dover, MPs have raised concerns about the £250m cost.

Here's what we know:

What is Operation Stack?

It is a queuing system for lorries, which Kent Police and Highways England implement when there is disruption to channel crossings. They shut off sections of the M20 and essentially turn them into giant car parks for freight vehicles. Cars are then diverted onto the A20 or A2. However, neither of these A roads have the same capacity as the motorway and traffic delays can result.

Last summer, the system was used more than two dozen times, sometimes on consecutive days. According to the Freight Transport Association (FTA), UK hauliers lost more than £21m during the 28 days it was implemented between 23 June and 2 August 2015, with drivers delayed for long periods without sufficient facilities.

What is the government doing about it?

Under pressure to tackle the problem, ministers have put together plans to build a permanent lorry park near junction 11 of the M20, capable of holding 4,000 lorries. It would be equivalent in size to Disneyland in California, a scale unprecedented in Europe.

Will it go ahead?

The lorry park's £250m price tag has caused concern among MPs on the House of Commons Transport Committee. In a report released today, the committee called on ministers to justify the spending and demonstrate that all possible alternatives have been properly evaluated. It warns that the government's decision was "taken hastily" in reaction to the events of last summer.

"We are not saying that the government should not press ahead with its proposal, only that it has more work to do to persuade us of the business case for this investment," said Louise Ellman, chair of the committee. She is urging the government to look at the cost-benefit ratios of alternatives to the lorry park, as well as the environmental and social costs the plans might impose on the local area, and the long-term costs of operating and maintaining the park.

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