Lorry Parks – 5th August 2015
Only a bureaucrat with no understanding of the geography and road systems of East Kent or a complete idiot would consider, for more than a few seconds, Manston Airport as a suitable location for a lorry park to relieve the pressure on “Operation Stuck”. It is the second-worst location in the area. The worst, of course, is Port Ramsgate. Ramsgate Harbour has very limited capacity and road access that was purpose- built to carry traffic to a few RoRo ferries a day but is completely unsuited to the long-term storage of more than a relatively few moderately sized trucks at best. In another context we will return to the freight potential of both Manston Airport and Port Ramsgate but we face, immediately, a real problem that requires the benefit of sensible and practical solutions.
On the English side of the Channel it has become clear now, as if it has not been blindingly clear for years, that the use of the bottom end of the M20 as a location to store backed-up freight traffic is at best a short-term sticking-plaster remedy where what is needed is major surgery. The current issue of economic migrants is one that has to be addressed at a mainland pan-European level but there hosts of other reasons – foul weather, the suspension for emergency reasons of Channel tunnel traffic and unacceptably frequent industrial action in France to name but three – why cross-Channel traffic can be disrupted.
Kent County Council and successive Governments have, over years, ducked the requirement to create permanent lorry parks on the M2 to serve Dover and at Junction 11 on the M20 to serve the Channel Tunnel. On a nightly basis trucks are parked in every available layby and on every safe verge and slip-road because there is no serviced area in which to stop. Continental truckers use the hedgerows as lavatories and have nowhere to wash or to get beverages or food until they reach the service stations further up – or down – the line. The suggestion that to provide proper facilities would be to take green fields to create large areas of largely unused tarmac misses the point. Not only at “stack” times but on a daily basis there is a need to offer the sort of Air de Repos that you will find at regular intervals on most Continental motorways. We need to remove articulated clutter from our roadsides and create a decent environment for those who convey goods by road to and from Europe. From that starting point it is not rocket science to create additional and landscaped space to meet emergency needs.
All of that, though, begs the real question. The solution to the twin problems of industrial action at Calais and of economic migration – as very distinct from genuine asylum seekers – lies not mainly or even with the Government of the United Kingdom but fairly and squarely with the Government of France and with a European Commission that pays great attention to the right of “Freedom of Movement” just until that “movement” relates to the rights of British and continental businesses and travellers to move goods and people freely between the British Isles and mainland Europe. At that point the European Commission and those British Members of the European Parliament who, while elected to hold the Commission to account make much noise while taking very little critical action, are strangely supine.
If you are a British motorist travelling through France you may be fined for not carrying a high-viz jacket or a warning triangle or some spare light bulbs. If you are a striking French seafarer, however, it would appear that you can create a bonfire of car tyres in the middle of major roads leading to the ports and railheads with absolute impunity.
Likewise, because of the Schengen Agreement that has removed most, but not all, of the borders within mainland Europe, it is possible and permissible to travel from the Greek or Italian Islands or, in the case of France, from Martinique on the other side of the Atlantic, without facing a single border check until you reach the United Kingdom Frontier Controls at the Gare du Nord in Paris, the Channel Tunnel check-in or the port of Calais. The time has surely come for the Commission to acknowledge that the Schengen Agreement has created more problems than it has solved and to re-introduce frontier checks, like a ship`s watertight compartments, throughout the Member States of the European Union.
The real, and long-term solution, of course, is for a United Nations that finds it easy to criticise a “discriminatory” United Kingdom and a European Union that prefers to treat “The jungle” at Calais as a British problem, to instead get to the root of living standards and real oppression in Syria and Egypt, of course, and in counties like Sudan and Ethiopia and Somalia and throughout North Africa so that there is no need for desperate young and mainly men to allow themselves to be trafficked by international criminals while in search of a better life.
That will have to be done but it will take much time and money and effort. In the meantime the UK cannot and must not be held hostage by France and Brussels ever again. We have South Coast ports – and Ramsgate, while needing dredging, is one-such - that can and should be helped contribute alternative routes to the Dover-Calais run on a permanent basis. We also have Manston Airport which, as a freight hub, can and should be used to relieve some of the pressure on the demand for the import and export of, particularly, perishable goods. The writing is on the wall: in the national interest we can, and must, make the very most of our transport infrastructure to meet current and future needs and to offer resilience in times of stress. These are not assets that we can afford to squander.