Moveable barrier unveiled to keep UK-EU road freight moving


Government says new solution, available from December, could be deployed within hours to minimise disruption on key haulage roads leading to and from Channel crossings at times of cross-channel disruption, replacing ‘Operation Brock’ and ‘Operation Stack’

At a time when the UK’s European trading partners have become increasingly perplexed by Britain’s apparent determination to erect new barriers to frictionless trade, the UK has unveiled a new type of barrier that is designed to keep trade moving.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today announced that a new moveable barrier solution will be available and on standby from later this year to keep traffic moving on the key freight roads leading to and from UK Channel crossings at times of cross-channel disruption, which he said could be deployed using a specialist vehicle within hours. And he said it would involve far less disruption than last year’s ‘Operation Brock’ – which required a month of overnight closures – or the previous solution ‘Operation Stack’, closing the M20.

He said the UK government and Highways England had develop the “long-term solution to handle traffic disruption in Kent”, using “state-of-the-art technology”, and can be deployed quickly, simply and safely, describing it as a “new permanent contingency arrangement” that will be in place from December 2020 – just before the UK moves to a new trading arrangement with the EU as it leaves the so-called “transition period” following its departure from the EU.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said: “Once a specialist vehicle is in place, Highways England will be able to deploy the moveable barrier on the M20 swiftly and safely to ensure minimal disruption to motorists, adding: “This will be a marked improvement in comparison to Operation Brock which required a month of overnight closures to deploy the metal barrier required for the contraflow system previously used.”

It said the technology “will be designed to ensure that the M20 is kept open at times of disruption, whilst also allowing the motorway to retain three lanes, a hard shoulder, and 70 mph speed limits in both directions during normal traffic conditions”.

Shapps said: “After listening to frustrated residents and businesses affected by Operations Brock and Stack, we’ve invested in a new solution to boost Kent’s resilience and keep its vital road network moving, even at times of disruption. This state-of-the-art technology can be deployed quickly, simply and safely, ensuring motorists across the county can get to where they need to be with minimum fuss, whatever the circumstances.”

He said moveable barriers were already used in cities around the world including Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver, adding: “The technology has been chosen by the Department for Transport and Highways England as a long-term solution to Operation Brock and Stack and will ensure Kent is prepared for any disruption on the short strait, such as from industrial action or bad weather.

“The new solution also means that Highways England’s work on an ‘off road’ replacement for Operation Stack has been stopped. As part of this, previous Highways England plans for a new large lorry holding area in Kent are no longer being pursued.”

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said the news that the UK government and Highways England had “developed a further solution to handle potential traffic disruption from the ports in Kent is promising news for businesses in the county, and for hauliers who need to keep goods moving between the UK and the Continent”.  

FTA’s policy manger for the southeast of England, Heidi Skinner, commented: “No operator wants to be stuck in slow-moving or stationary traffic, and today’s announcement will come as a welcome respite for those concerned about the impact of potential delays on the UK’s supply chain from the Continent, as well as on businesses and residents in Kent. However, there is more to be done to ensure that the new system will work in the best way possible and manage the congestion any form of cross-Channel disruption can cause, and we look forward to working with Highways England and DfT on this.” 

Meanwhile, the UK’s Road Haulage Association (RHA) said urged the UK government to fully prepare businesses for the new customs procedures that will be needed after 31 December to avoid traffic chaos in Kent. Acknowledging the announcement of the new traffic management plans today to minimise disruption in the county from December in place of Operation Brock, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said “giving business the clarity and time to gear up for new border processes” was key to keeping traffic and goods moving.

He noted: “Government must announce when industry can expect to see what customs operating procedures will look like, so firms can get on with preparing for new trading realities. We need the guidance to be clear and we need it immediately.”