A significant step towards normality on Kent’s roads is being taken with the suspension of services for EU-bound HGVs at the former Manston Airport site.
From Sunday 21 March 2021 freight heading for the Port of Dover will no longer be directed to attend the Department for Transport-owned site, which will no longer offer Covid-19 tests or customs checks but can be reactivated at short notice if necessary.
All HGVs will instead access the Operation Brock traffic management system between Junctions 8 and 9 on the M20 coastbound carriageway, with one lane being used for Eurotunnel and the other for the Port of Dover. Any HGVs that attempt to take an alternative route outside of Brock risk enforcement action being taken against them.
HGV drivers who require a Covid-19 test before leaving the UK are strongly encouraged to take one before entering Kent in order to avoid delays. Any that arrive without one will now be directed to a single facility at Sevington, near Ashford.
Constable Claire Nix of Kent Police, who is also the Chair of the Kent Resilience Forum, said: ‘Thanks to the hard work of all partners and those EU-bound motorists who have followed the requirements, there have been no significant traffic issues on Kent’s roads since the end of the EU transition period.
‘The suspension of services at the former Manston Airport site is the first major step in what we all hope will be an eventual return to business as usual, as it means HGV traffic bound for the Port of Dover will now be able to take a more direct route along the M20 with easier access to the full range of services that will be provided at the Sevington Inland Border Facility.
‘It is however important to note that Manston can be stood up again at short notice if necessary, and that the site was only ever planned to be used as a holding area for lorries in extreme circumstances – as was the case following the closure of the French border last December.
‘The recent agreement between the UK and French governments that HGV drivers who spend less than 48 hours in the country no longer need a negative Covid-19 test result before entering France gave partners the opportunity to review the traffic management plan and agree that the suspension of services at Manston is a step in the right direction.
‘I would like to reassure residents that while these changes may result in some local traffic disruption in the short term, we in the Kent Resilience Forum will continue to closely monitor freight volumes and remain committed to keeping Kent moving. I would also like to thank everyone for their patience as the country continues to adjust following the end of the EU transition period.’
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: ‘Thanks to the efforts of the haulage industry and partners, traffic continues to run smoothly through Kent, which is fantastic to see.
‘The changes to the French protocol have meant that there’s a reduction in the number of hauliers who require testing, and as a result, we can reduce outbound haulier testing in Kent – helping minimise disruption to local residents.
‘Manston can be reactivated at short notice if any circumstances change, but I know the local community, which has worked so collaboratively with us during this time, will be pleased to see another step being taken towards the normal running of Kent’s roads.’
Kent County Council’s Senior Highway Manager Toby Howe said: ‘The good news is the traffic management plan the Kent Resilience Forum devised over many months of preparation to keep Kent moving following the end of Transition worked.
‘The requirement from a number of countries for HGV drivers to have a negative Covid test before heading back across the Channel did threaten to cause sustained backlogs but thanks to the efforts of all the KRF partners working together with Government and Army personnel, Manston was quickly transformed into an efficient testing site for Port of Dover-bound traffic. Meanwhile, drivers heading for Eurotunnel, who still needed a test and checks, were sent down the M20 to Sevington.
‘The Ashford site has always been designed to be a one-stop shop customs clearing house and now, as testing requirements continue to ease, we are able to bring the Port of Dover traffic back into the original plan – using the M20 and going to Sevington.
‘With these traffic management changes, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs set to move to Sevington in the coming days, it will be a real boost for everyone working on Kent’s Brexit traffic plans to finally see the site start to function as it was always intended to do. Together, KRF partners will continue to work to reduce any local traffic disruption.’
Highways England regional director Nicola Bell said: ‘With the suspension of services at Manston from Sunday 21 March, from this date all freight heading for the Port of Dover will be routed down the M20 to Operation Brock at Junction 8.
‘Operation Brock is currently in place for Eurotunnel freight, and Port of Dover hauliers should continue to use Manston until 21 March.
‘Whilst this is a positive step, we should be cautious, and hopefully this is the next stage of getting back to normality in Kent.’