[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered fly-parking by HGVs in Kent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I welcome this opportunity to express my concerns to my right hon. Friend the Roads Minister. As he knows, fly-parking—the parking of lorries outside proper parking areas—is a long-term and growing problem in my constituency and across Kent. I thank my colleagues from Kent who are here today to show their support. I know that they share my concerns, as do other colleagues from Kent who are unable to attend this debate. Indeed, during this week, several colleagues from elsewhere in the country have mentioned to me that fly-parking is also a problem in their areas. I hope that through this debate I can push the issue up the Minister’s agenda.
The nub of the problem is that there simply are not enough places for lorries to park in Kent, so they stop where they can. They fill the lay-bys on major roads and park on the hard shoulders of slip roads, on the verges of country lanes and in housing estates. The M20 is the main route to the channel, carrying thousands of lorries every day. In my constituency, junctions 7 and 8 are particular blackspots. Along the A2-M2 route to Dover, Brenley Corner and Gate services are also renowned for large gatherings of lorries.
Since December last year, Kent police have dealt with 2,534 illegally parked heavy goods vehicles. A study in 2011 found that there was a shortfall of about 600 lorry parking spaces in the south-east. Since then, freight volumes have increased substantially. For instance, in just one year, 2014-15, freight increased by 12%. It is now estimated that 11,000 lorries pass through Dover and Folkestone each day to cross the channel.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. As a neighbouring MP—my hon. Friend and I share the town of Maidstone—I have received several complaints from my constituents about lorries parked on the hard shoulder, particularly on the M20 and the A2. I agree wholeheartedly that we need much stricter parking controls. I would also like to see many more overnight parking facilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for her support. We both experience problems with fly-parking around Maidstone.
A huge number of lorries pass along the M20 and through Kent every day. That number is increasing, and the growth trend is expected to continue. In fact, we should hope that it will, because lorry numbers and freight volumes increase as the economy grows. As that happens, the parking situation is likely to get only worse.
Fly-parking is not only a nuisance, it is dangerous, especially when lorries stick out of lay-bys into fast roads or occupy hard shoulders. Last year, tragically, a 74-year-old woman from Maidstone called Susan Mellor died when her car crashed into a lorry parked on the hard shoulder at junction 7 of the M20 in my constituency. Kent police have shown me footage of officers walking along the hard shoulder to move lorries on. As they do so, cars are pounding past, clearly putting the lives of officers in some considerable danger. The process also takes up material police time. Aside from the dangers, there are the problems of noise from the lorries, particularly refrigerated lorries in residential areas; the significant litter associated with lorries parking up; and—I am afraid there is no nice way to put this—human fouling of verges and areas where lorries park. That is truly disgusting, but it happens because the average lay-by or roadside verge has no facilities for drivers to use.
My apologies for missing the start of the debate; I was delayed at a meeting. I am enjoying the hon. Lady’s contribution, and I congratulate her on securing the debate.
The vehicle recovery operator who goes out to fix a vehicle in a lay-by that is awash with most unpleasant materials is the guy—typically it is a guy, although sometimes it is a lady—who has to lie in that to do the repairs. It is horrible. Does the hon. Lady have every sympathy with people, whether they are from one of the recognised motor clubs or from one of the many recovery businesses throughout the country, who have to lie in that to work on vehicles?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Fly-parking is not just a problem in Kent. The Amazon fulfilment centre in Rugeley creates a lot of jobs, but we have the problem of a lot of lorries parking up overnight. My hon. Friend mentioned the litter, and there are a range of other associated problems. There are also the dangers of parking. Does she agree that we need to do more, in every way possible, to prevent lorries from cluttering up the backstreets of towns such as Rugeley?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to do more. I will make some suggestions in a moment.
I want to look at this from the perspective of the lorry drivers as well. I am here to represent my Kent residents, but it is also important to understand that there is a challenge for lorry drivers. As my right hon. Friend the Minister will know, they are required by law to take breaks every four and a half hours, and they must record their driving hours on a tachograph. When the time comes for them to stop, they need to stop. Most drivers plan ahead for where they will stop, but all too often the stop they planned to use is full. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) tells me that the Stop24 lorry park in his constituency is often full. If that happens, drivers have to stop wherever they can.
The current situation has been intensified by the problems around Calais, which make drivers very reluctant to stop in that area. They are choosing to stop on our side of the channel, on their way over or on their way back, which is making the problem worse. The situation in Calais may continue for some time. I hope that it will be resolved, but even when it is, we should not think that the problem will go away, because the underlying problem of a shortage of lorry parking spaces in the south-east will remain.
In preparation for the debate, I have spoken to Kent County Council, which is well aware of the problem and working hard to tackle it. Matthew Balfour, the cabinet member for transport, told me that the council is currently doing a survey of the number of HGVs parking overnight across the county, which will update the figures for how many additional spaces are needed. The council is also looking into where lorry parking might be made available. Councillor Balfour also told me that enforcing parking restrictions is a challenge, and the level of fines tends to be lower than the cost of collecting them. A clamping pilot in Ashford was successful, but it proved prohibitively expensive because the cost of carrying it out was much greater than the revenue it brought in.
I have some specific examples. The penalty for parking on the hard shoulder is only £30, which is less than the £50 fine for exceeding safe driving hours. Parking overnight at a truck stop often costs around £21, so from a driver’s point of view, parking somewhere they should not might be a risk worth taking, even when there is room in a service area.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We need to combine available and affordable parking with penalties for drivers who park where they should not park.
The view from my local authority is that in order for it to properly enforce parking in sensible places, current legislation would require it to put up so much signage that there would be a veritable explosion in signage across the country, as well as extra yellow lines. That would be very high-cost and would have an unacceptable visual impact.
On the motorways, physical barriers can be effective, as has been shown at junction 8 of the M20 in my constituency, where permanent bollards have been put up, meaning that lorries are no longer parking on that slip road. However, rather than solving the problem, such barriers only shift it on elsewhere.
Issuing parking tickets is extremely time-consuming for the police. Where lorries are parked dangerously, the police’s priority is to move them along rather than issuing drivers with a ticket, but again that just shifts the problem elsewhere.
Every organisation I have spoken to—Kent police, Kent County Council and the Road Haulage Association—is clear that the current system is not working and has not worked for at least 15 years. While Kent is disproportionately affected, other areas, such as Wales and Essex, are also affected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) said. This is a national problem and not just a Kent problem. Furthermore, it is a national problem because the M20 through Kent is the UK’s main route for international road freight, an industry that is worth about £11.2 billion annually to the UK economy. The Government must surely recognise that this is a serious problem that requires a clampdown.
First and foremost, however, we need more overnight parking spaces in Kent. There are not enough commercial truck stops to meet demand, so there is market failure going on. Having said that, my right hon. Friend the Minister will know how much I welcome the Government’s £250 million investment in the lorry parking area at Stanford West. It should save residents and businesses from the gridlock of Operation Stack, which closed the M20 in my constituency for 32 days last year. In addition, as has been proposed in the current consultation on the lorry park, it may also be used by lorries outside of Operation Stack, providing about 500 overnight parking places. That is absolutely crucial and would go a long way towards addressing the shortage of lorry parking spaces in Kent.
However, there is also a question of timing. I appreciate Highways England’s “stack first” approach on the lorry park at Stanford West; Highways England is working to get it open for next summer. However, I have also been told—albeit informally—that it might be several years before the lorry park is ready for parking outside of Operation Stack, which strikes me as being too long to wait. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to make sure that Kent and the country’s lorry drivers do not have to wait so long for more parking spaces. Moreover, the Operation Stack lorry park alone will not solve the problem. If the shortfall in 2011 was 600 places, it is likely to be significantly greater now, and it will only grow further. Also, using just one location is not the answer, because lorry drivers use other routes, or they might need to stop earlier or later, so we need more lorry parking spaces all along the trunk roads through Kent.
Freight organisations have said that planning and funding are major barriers. One suggestion is that parking provision should be a requirement in any major industrial development. Major projects, such as the new lower Thames crossing, are on the way, and I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could say what steps he might be able to take to ensure that as road capacity is increased with such major projects, lorry parking capacity is also increased to meet the demand.
In turn, however, that prompts the question of whose responsibility it will be to provide such extra parking. In preparing for this debate, it has been unclear to me quite whose responsibility it is to ensure that there is sufficient provision of lorry parking around trunk routes. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend could say whether it is Highways England or another agency.
In considering what could be helpfully done to address this issue, we need to make it easier for local authorities, Highways England and the police to enforce parking control. Local authorities need to be able to restrict parking in inappropriate places without extensive and costly signing and lining. The police would like police officers and Highways England enforcement officers to be able to direct lorries to move on to a particular place, such as a lorry park, so that they can actually solve the problem when a lorry is parked illegally rather than just shifting it along to another lay-by. At the moment, no sooner do they move a lorry on than it goes and stops somewhere else that it should not stop, and another lorry comes along and fills the place that it has just moved on from, which is a pretty frustrating process for them.
Once sufficient parking provision is in place, I would like the Department for Transport to consider increasing the fines for fly-parking, because it is clear that the current fines are not an effective deterrent. I am not saying that we should increase the fines while there is a shortage of legitimate parking places, but once there is sufficient parking capacity it would make sense to ensure that there is also a sufficient incentive for lorry drivers to use it, even though they are likely to have to pay some level of charge for it.
Local authorities have told me that they need greater powers to collect fines, particularly from foreign-registered lorry drivers, who constitute the majority of lorry drivers using the trunk routes, although I should make it clear that it is not thought to be exclusively foreign lorry drivers who are parking in the wrong places. Judging from the evidence I saw with the police, a mixture of foreign and British drivers do that. Nevertheless, one suggestion from a local authority is that foreign lorry drivers could be prevented from crossing the channel if they have an outstanding parking fine.
To make things really simple for lorry drivers, once there is sufficient parking capacity, could there not be some kind of complete ban on HGVs parking for prolonged periods other than at an authorised truck stop? Then it would be really clear that lorry drivers were not allowed to park up for their official rests unless they were in an authorised place.
While I was looking into all of this, it struck me that there is some level of confusion about who is responsible for what, and that there are various hand-offs between the different parts of the road network. What is a police matter, what is a matter for Highways England and what is a matter for local authorities? I wonder whether there is any way of simplifying that framework and having a single organisation that is responsible for the enforcement of lorry parking.
I have a final request to make of my right hon. Friend the Minister. Could he meet Kent County Council and other stakeholders to discuss the problem? That is particularly important now, because there is an opportunity to take a strategic overview of the entire road network across Kent, taking into account the projected increases in traffic and the impact that the new lower Thames crossing is likely to have on roads that are significantly downstream of it. I hope the Government will take that opportunity, because this issue is not just about Kent; it is about making sure that we have a road infrastructure for the whole country that is fit for the future.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing this debate. I do not intend to say more than a few words on this issue, which is one that I find very troubling indeed. I also draw the Chamber’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests regarding these matters.
I would like to highlight the fact that, as the hon. Lady said, across the country there is a shortage of something like 50,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers, so there is a real need for HGV drivers. One of the reasons—one of many reasons, agreed, but an important one—that there is such a shortage is, quite frankly: why would anyone want to be a haulier, for example a long-distance lorry driver, when it seems that the nation’s view of hauliers is that they should be quite happy to park up in a dismal layby, using the nearest bush as their toilet facilities and washing in a cup? That seems to be what we as a nation believe our HGV drivers should expect, because there are just not the proper facilities for them.
There are motorway service areas across the country, which are mainly designed for car drivers in particular and, to some extent, van drivers; they are not really designed for drivers of larger vehicles. The facilities in those service areas, including the parking facilities, are expensive, as the hon. Lady allowed me to say in an intervention on her: the food and drink that they serve are expensive; and the fuel that they sell is very expensive. Quite frankly, the driver of an HGV would not want to stop at one of those service areas unless they were just nipping in to grab something to eat or to have a toilet break. Also, HGV drivers will probably realise that their managers back at base will be breathing down their neck, because the extra fuel it takes to slow down, pull into such a service area and then accelerate away again means that any break or stop by an HGV has a genuine cost.
As the hon. Lady also quite rightly pointed out, HGV drivers are bound by what their tachograph says about the hours they are working, when they should have rest breaks and those sorts of things. However, a driver is dependent on a road infrastructure, while travelling through Kent or through other areas, which means they might face a delay in getting to their destination as they come through the channel tunnel or use one of the ferries, or a delay on the road itself, as they get snarled up in traffic jams. There are a whole host of things that can go wrong for drivers. Despite their careful planning of their route, they might find themselves having to take a break somewhere they might not otherwise wish to stop.
Indeed, given the appalling situation in Calais at the moment, which the hon. Lady has already drawn our attention to, HGV drivers may well decide that they will stop many miles from Calais, to avoid running the risk of being attacked, as a lot of drivers have been, or having their vehicle broken into, or—to add insult to what is quite often real injury—getting to other side of the channel only to find that somebody did manage to stow away on their vehicle and consequently getting a penalty for having brought them into the country. We will have drivers stopping a long way from Calais, doing the run through and having to stop very quickly when they get to Kent. It will be the same in the other direction, with drivers stopping in Kent on their way through. There are a lot of reasons why a driver will stop, and it is not the drivers’ choice. They do not want to stop in lay-bys and use the facilities or non-facilities there. They would like to use motorway service areas, but the cost is often prohibitive. The number of truck stops around the country is lamentable and poor. Where there are truck stops, they are often in places that historically were on main routes but that is now no longer the case because motorways or depots have moved.
It seems—from what I have picked up, this is what the industry believes—that the Government think this is just a commercial matter and the commercial side should just get on and build truck stops if there is such a demand for them. However, the developers that might be interested in building truck stops often say, “In all reality, it is often 10 years before the idea of truck stop produces a truck stop. We can’t be bothered with it.”
My final point is on Operation Stack and the £250 million. I know there is pushback from some people in Kent who say that the lorry park is in the wrong place and that there will still be problems with congestion on the roads getting to and from the location. Time will tell on that one. I have a feeling that they are probably right to be concerned. I hope that what we take from this excellent debate, which the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent initiated, is that we need to start valuing our commercial drivers and give them the facilities they deserve. At a stroke, that would resolve all the problems and appalling situations that local residents have to put up with. They are not the only victims in this, however, and the Government have to do something to take this issue on board and not just leave it to the commercial sector to deal with.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing this important debate and on all her work since being elected to this House in supporting the people of Kent who have suffered blight from congested roads, lorry parking and fly-parking.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said that this issue should not just be left to the commercial sector. I agree, but I am pleased by the big step change we have seen in the past year, whereby the Government have recognised that lorry parking in Kent is a major strategic national issue. It affects the whole county and all the strategic national routes when there is a major cessation in services through the port of Dover and the channel tunnel to the continent and back. It causes severe congestion on a major national route.
There is an ongoing problem with fly-parking because of the sheer volume and number of lorries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said, when lorries have reached the end of their permitted time as set out in their tachograph, they legally have to find somewhere to stop. If there are not proper facilities for them to stop, they will stop wherever they can. That is far too often in country lanes and lay-bys and on the roadside and verges, which makes a mess and creates misery for those who live with it day to day. The solution is the Government’s decision, following strong representations by Members of Parliament from across the county, that there has to be a proper facility to provide overnight lorry parking on an ongoing basis and a permanent off-road solution to Operation Stack. I thank the Minister for the care and attention he has taken on the subject. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). He has discharged his ministerial duties with great care for and consideration of the problems of the people of Kent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent rightly mentioned the problem at the Stop24 service station at junction 11 of the M20, where lorries seeking somewhere to park for the night are regularly turned away. The facility simply is not big enough. The figures given to me earlier this year by Shepway District Council showed that in October 2015, more than 1,200 lorries were turned away. In November, the figure was 1,600. In December, it was 1,700. It is a regular occurrence, and there simply are not enough spaces. To expand the services at Stop24 to allow for permanent overnight parking for 500 lorries is simply a case of meeting the need that is there.
I agree with what has been said: if we create the facilities, lorry drivers should be compelled to use them and not park up elsewhere in villages and on verges. The delivery of overnight parking facilities to prevent fly-parking is part of a much larger facility that will hold up to 4,000 lorries, meaning that it will be capable of taking the load of Operation Stack. The enforcement of phases 1 and 2 of Operation Stack requires the closure of the M20 between junctions 8 and 9 and junctions 10 and 11 to hold 4,000 lorries. Those lorries are simply queueing, waiting to make their journeys on through the channel tunnel and the port of Dover.
Last year, we lost more than 30 days with Operation Stack. The knock-on consequences for the county are considerable, because the coast bound lanes are closed. That puts amazing pressure on all the A roads. People simply cannot get around the county to do their ordinary business. A journey between Maidstone and Folkestone might take five hours by road when Operation Stack is at its peak. It is simply intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue. We know that volumes of freight traffic are likely to double over the next 10 years, meaning that the problem will get worse. Operation Stack is not just a question of migrant activity or strike action in Calais; it can be caused by any sort of disturbance that stops the flow, such as bad weather meaning that ships cannot cross the strait of Dover or a fire in the channel tunnel. All those things cause delays, and the more freight there is on the road, the more likely there will be delays and the more we will need alternative relief to Operation Stack.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South about the siting of the lorry park, which is required and absolutely essentially. Substantial work was done by Highways England, Kent County Council and other stakeholders, including Kent police, to look for an alternative. Quite simply, if we do not want to shut the motorway, we have to put the lorries somewhere else. They need to be in a place where they can be quickly drawn on and off the motorway network and held securely, close to the channel tunnel and the port of Dover so that the queues can be got rid of and drawn down quickly once the congestion eases. One of the worst aspects of Operation Stack is that once it is fully enforced, it can take up to five days for things to clear, simply because of the volume of traffic and even if the disturbance that caused Stack has long since stopped. The lorry park has to be on a site close to the motorway.
The other important thing—so important in the design of the lorry park that the Government have proposed—is that it is totally integrated with the motorway network, so that lorries can access the park and re-join the motorway without having to use other local roads and cause disturbance. The motorways and A roads should flow as they normally would, even when Operation Stack conditions are in place and lorries are using the lorry park.
An important part of the current consultation on the lorry park—I know the Minister is well aware of this and is speaking to my colleagues on Shepway District Council about it—is our concern that junction 11 of the M20 should be able to operate normally when Operation Stack is in place. Vehicles using the coast-bound carriageway should be able to exit the motorway at junction 11, even when the lorry park is in use and lorries are being drawn down from the lorry park to re-join the carriageway. Highways England has highlighted that there needs to be a proper traffic management system in place to enable that to take place safely. It is vital for my constituents that that is designed and in place by the time the lorry park becomes fully operational. That is a major concern for us, but I know that the Department has flagged up that it is working on a solution. No one thinks it is an insurmountable problem, so we want it to be addressed.
On the siting, the response to the initial consultation was absolutely clear. There were 1,300 individual responses, with a clear majority in favour of the creation of a lorry park, rather than continuing to use the motorways for Operation Stack. The respondents supported that solution, and it has my full support, too. It was also important to the people of Kent to recognise that the lorry park is a major piece of national infrastructure and so should be funded by the Exchequer and not by local authorities. We were therefore grateful that the former Chancellor committed the Government to spending £250 million to deal with the blight of Operation Stack.
I know that other colleagues from Kent wish to speak, but I want to underline the cost factor. Some have queried whether the lorry park is a good use of public money. The road haulage industry and others have estimated that the cost of Operation Stack to the UK economy is £250 million a day, so the cost to the British economy of one day of Stack is the cost of building the lorry park. It is a necessary facility that can be used to help manage fly-parking. It can relieve the county of the blight of Stack. I hope that the infrastructure gives us a better facility to manage other issues, including the regular build-up of traffic queueing to get into the port of Dover. Kent needed infrastructure to allow normal life to continue, and at last it will be delivered.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate. I have had much correspondence on this issue with the Kent Association of Local Councils—I am sure my hon. Friend has as well—and it regularly fills up my email inbox. It is a struggle to know exactly how to solve it. The Stanford West development will be key to solving the problem of fly-parking, which is unfortunately blighting not just the immediate area around Dover and Folkestone, but the whole county. The attendance this afternoon of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) demonstrates that this is an issue that extends beyond Kent, across the country.
I want to put a few facts on the counter today. Some 88% of all HGV traffic passes through Kent going towards the Dover ferry port or Eurotunnel and 70% of that traffic passes down the M20 as the most logical high-speed route from the M25 and elsewhere to get there. We have 10,800 freight vehicles—5,400 each way—passing through Kent every 24 hours. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) noted very well, one of the reasons that Calais is not used is that, in the current environment, lorry drivers simply dare not park for long periods in Calais, as they may need protection from unwarranted and unwanted illegal migrants.
It is not just the primary routes that are suffering. Driving up here from my constituency on a regular basis, I have noticed areas particularly around Cobham. There is a particular on-off road around a petrol station, which is the main route back on to the dualled M2, and which is always chock-a-block with fly-parked lorries. The issue also affects minor roads. It is not uncommon to go anywhere in Kent and see lay-bys, meant for people to take a temporary stop or to dispose of rubbish from their cars, that have become overnight stops. Minor roads are also used. Traffic regulation orders have some value, but local authorities are often hamstrung by fairly limited powers and the difficulty of enforcing any penalty notices they issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent noted that the fines are so small that the cost of recovering them, using the SPARKS network and the powers under the Local Transport Act 2008, which allow local authorities to pursue foreign fines across borders, is often so prohibitive and aggravating that it is simpler to do nothing.
Picking up on the point about the nature of the areas where these lorries are parked, does my hon. Friend agree that it affects residents badly, such as those on Leathermill Lane and Love Lane in Rugeley, but it also affects businesses and other organisations in the locality, because they are parking on business parks as well?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The problem is that, if a vehicle is properly insured and there is no traffic regulation order to prohibit the parking on, say, a housing estate, under the law the vehicle can park there. It comes down to the lack of facilities that we have. Because of tachograph requirements and driver hours, some drivers are forced to stop wherever they can. That enforces the argument for proper sites across the country to stop that happening.
The mess that is created down the last part of the Thanet Way has been mentioned. I know my right hon. Friend the Minister is familiar with that area. There are four or five lay-bys, which are used overnight. I have cause to stop there from time to time when driving with my dog, so that she can take an appropriate break. I pick up what comes out of my dog, but I sometimes wonder if there have been several inconsiderate dog owners. Sadly, that is not the case—it is human waste and filth, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South ably described.
The way to solve the problem is a mixture of carrot and stick. Enforcement notices have a valid part to play. Figures from Kent police, which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent already raised, show that in the six-month period from December ’15 to May ’16, 1,354 lorries were moved on and 370 suffered a graduated fixed penalty notice. A penalty notice should be sufficient to prevent those drivers from fly-parking the next time, but, unfortunately, a degree of lunacy comes into play. The Minister might be interested in this point. I have been doing a lot of work in Sandwich to try to stop big lorries going into the town as a result of blindly using the free software on their phones that is designed for cars, not lorries. Thankfully, we now have a 7.5 tonnes traffic regulation order. When it came in, I asked the police what they were going to do to enforce it. There is new signage of course, but the big stick of fining can work when a fixed penalty notice is issued to a UK haulier, because we know where they are and they can be pursued easily through the British legal system. The problem is with foreign drivers, of which some 65% seem to be the ones responsible across Kent. There is just one handheld machine for taking a credit card across the whole of Kent police. I found that quite incredible. I could set up a shop tomorrow and get a credit card machine in, but Kent police only have one. I am taking that up with the police and crime commissioner.
Cost is the big issue. That £20, or whatever the cost is, is quite a lot of money to the driver or foreign driver and it is not surprising that they want to avoid that. Farthing Corner, one of the key stations on the M2, charges £20 per night—it is not surprising if drivers avoid that charge.
There is a big contrast here with our EU neighbours, who tend to do this better than we have. In France, they have the aires system of truck stops. In Hungary, a place that I am more familiar with—my wife is Hungarian—all main motorways have pull-in areas. They are not full service stations, rather they are off-the-motorway pull-in areas with toilet facilities, called pihenöhely—I will leave a note for Hansard. My first time in Hungary I thought it was a place; there seemed to be rather a lot of places with the same name—they are all over the place.
Drivers’ hours are at the heart of this and until we provide proper facilities we are hamstrung on what we can do. Carrot and stick needs to come into play. The provision of areas, at reasonable cost if necessary, is the carrot. I do not know if there will be a cost associated with Stanford West for usual use; I would imagine there probably will be.
That may not solve the problem of overnight fly-parking, because people will want to park for free somewhere else. That is perhaps something we need to pursue.
Once facilities are available, we need the stick: a higher fine. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent raised that point. That stick should also be linked with Kent police getting more than one credit card machine—that might be useful. Also, local authorities should take the step to enforce. The cost to local authorities of cleaning up the human waste and rubbish in the lay-bys has not yet been quantified, but it must be substantial. It does little for the general quality of our road network.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. This issue needs to be solved, because, no matter which part of the county we are in, Kent is very much at the frontline of the problem.
I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate. From what colleagues have said, it seems that the problem of fly-parking does not only affect particular areas; my area is pretty badly affected, too. In my constituency I have the port of Liverpool, so colleagues can imagine the amount of traffic that goes along the A5036: about 40,000 movements a day. Not all of them are for the port, but about 10% or 15% are. There is a huge amount of traffic, and lorries make up a huge amount of that figure. We have the problem of fly-parking on that route and on surrounding roads. I do not think we can get to the point where we finesse this so much that we have a counsel of perfection of what we want to do, but we certainly have to have a clear, much more co-ordinated idea of what we can do to resolve the problem.
All the enforcement in the world will not make much difference unless, as hon. Members have said, we make provision for lorry parks. Even lorry parks will not necessarily be the solution for everyone. There may be different solutions for different areas, and Government policy should reflect the diversity across the country and address the impact that fly-parking has on particular areas. In reality, I do not know the effect that fly-parking is having in Kent any more than colleagues know what is happening in Merseyside, Bootle or Liverpool. However, we recognise that the problem exists and it needs to be dealt with.
On the grand issue of infrastructure, the Government need to recognise that lorry parks should be part of the transport infrastructure. They should not be something that somebody else provides, whether that be local authorities, hauliers or the Highways Agency, or Highways England as it is now known. There has to be a combined and co-ordinated effort by us all to try to find a solution to the problem—a solution that may be different in different areas. We have to recognise that across the piece. There is also, in the grand sense, the issue of thousands upon thousands of lorry movements up and down the country, and it is important to put into the mix the question of trying to move freight off roads and on to rail. We have a multi-modal transport system, and the ability to move freight from roads to rail may be part of the solution. I do not say it would be the whole solution, but a theme is beginning to develop. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and we have to recognise that.
In my area we have a consultation going on at the moment about upgrading the A5036 or having another road going through a country park. The cost ranges from £120 million to £300 million, depending on which solution is arrived at. To the best of my knowledge, although I am willing to stand corrected, as part of the consultation on that potential development, nobody has talked about a lorry park in that huge expenditure. I do not know where the lorry park might be. It is for others to try to determine the best fit and the best solution, but a lorry park should be considered.
We therefore have a consultation being undertaken about a very expensive road to a port that, thankfully, is expanding, but there is no really co-ordinated discussion about lorry access and where lorries may or may not park. If I may say so, this is a good opportunity for the Minister to put my plea into the mix of the consultation. I think that would go some way to helping to solve the problem—not tomorrow, not next year, but perhaps in five or 10 years’ time, because in five or 10 years’ time we could still be talking about this matter and going around the houses.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issues that affect my area. Notwithstanding the points made in graphic detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), it is important that we have everything on the table to get the matter going. Finally, I am really pleased that I had a very light lunch before I came here today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. On behalf of the shadow Transport team, I welcome the Minister to his place. In his reincarnation he brings a wealth of experience to the Department. I thank the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) for securing this debate and I pay tribute to her hard work highlighting the inconvenience that fly-parking by HGVs has caused her constituents and others across Kent. I also thank her for highlighting the wider concerns associated with the management and transportation of freight in and around Kent generally.
As we have heard, fly-parking, whereby heavy goods vehicles park in areas not intended for them, such as motorway hard shoulders, rural verges or local streets, is a significant problem both in Kent and across the country as a whole. It is a problem for residents, as we have heard, also for the drivers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) so graphically illustrated, those who work in the recovery industry. Although fly-parking in Kent is closely linked with the implementation of Operation Stack and proximity to the port of Dover and the channel tunnel, as has already been fully explained by hon. Members, illegal parking by HGVs is a challenge nationwide. There have been shortcomings in the Government’s handling of the road haulage sector as a whole. Of course, fly-parking affects not only Kent but ports generally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) has pointed out.
I will recap the situation, although I will try not to repeat too many points that have already been well made by hon. Members. A study of national lorry parking published by the Department found that on-site lorry parking facilities in the country were unable to meet the demand for spaces. Kent County Council’s 2012-16 action plan stated that problems associated with parking off-site, particularly when close to residential areas, included lorry-related crime; road safety; damage to roads, kerbs and verges; environmental health issues; littering; visual and noise intrusion; and reduced personal safety. The same action plan also cited evidence from the Department, which found that at peak times many on-site lorry parking facilities in Kent exceeded full capacity. For instance, it found that facilities in Maidstone were at times 100% full, facilities at Gravesham and Ashford were 75% to 100% full, and facilities in the Medway Council area were 75% to 100% full.
Highways England suggested last year in its consultation on managing freight through Kent that there was a shortage of lorry parking spaces in the county. Indeed, while a number of commercially operated sites exist, they are often full, with lorries being turned away. As we have heard, lorry drivers rightly have to abide by strict rules as to how long they can drive between breaks, and the duration of those breaks, and if no formal parking is available, drivers stop where they can, inevitably leading to fly-parking.
The problem seems likely to intensify. Highways England reported last month that over recent decades the number of lorries crossing the English channel has increased sevenfold. It suggests that almost 90% of all UK roll-on/roll-off international freight goes through the strait of Dover, which means putting 11,000 lorries on Kent’s roads every day. It is further estimated that by 2025 the number of lorries travelling through Kent each day could double, putting huge pressure on the road network.
As I have already suggested, it is difficult to discuss the problems associated with the inappropriate parking of HGVs in Kent without talking about Operation Stack. As we have heard, in the summer of 2015 Operation Stack was implemented on an unparallelled scale, which the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) detailed fully. It clearly caused severe disruption to communities in Kent, the local economy, and the road haulage sector because it was in place almost continuously between 23 June and 1 August 2015.
It has been suggested by some that the Government’s response to the trials of that summer—the idea of building a lorry park the size of Disneyland California and larger than the Vatican City—could kill two birds with one stone, because it could keep freight moving irrespective of cross-channel disruption, and also circumvent fly-parking by providing additional on-site capacity for parking HGVs. Indeed, the Government’s consultation on the location of the lorry park had the stated aim not only of
“seeking to solve the problems associated with the queuing which arises whenever there is a lack of capacity at the Port or Eurotunnel”,
but also of asking
“whether a permanent lorry area could help address the issue of illegal and other inappropriate parking.”
In August, Highways England said it was exploring whether to use the planned Stanford West lorry park, which will have considerable capacity, to hold 3,600 lorries, provide overnight lorry parking, and stop lorries parking on roads not intended for their use. Building work on the site is due to start “as soon as possible”. I know that Kent Members have broadly welcomed the building of the facility, but it is worth pointing out that Stanford parish council has expressed concerns, as does the Kent branch of the Campaign for Rural England. That is hardly surprising, but the local communities that will be most closely affected should always have a full opportunity to be involved throughout the decision-making process.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that although Stanford parish council objected, the proposal has the support of the county and district councils, and overwhelming support from the people who responded to the initial consultation. We are responding to what residents want, and are being directed by the responses to the initial consultation on the siting of the lorry park.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments; as I have suggested, it is perhaps hardly surprising that local communities may express concerns in such processes. Whatever the consensus, the Select Committee on Transport has been more directly critical, and has questioned the wisdom of building a permanent lorry park for the considerable sum of a quarter of a billion pounds. It has suggested that so far the Government have proved neither that the benefits will outweigh the costs of construction, nor that the lorry park will ultimately help to keep the M20 open and traffic flowing. In the view of the Committee the decision is both hasty and disappointing, and has been made despite a lack of information and analysis. There has been little certainty about how the lorry park will be operated and the costs of doing so.
It is right that the Government should work to find an alternative to Operation Stack that will not bring Kent grinding to a halt and that will improve driver welfare. It is also welcome that direct access to the lorry park from the M20 will be provided, to avoid a detrimental impact on the local road network. Yet creating a huge lorry park in one location does not really address the wider problems that are manifest in the sector. It is also perhaps worth noting in passing that the cost of the lorry park is roughly equal to the entire annual cycling budget.
I fear that a new lorry park may have much less impact than hoped in terms of providing a solution to fly-parking by HGVs in Kent. The Transport Committee heard strong arguments that parking capacity to address fly-parking is needed across much of Kent, rather than concentrated in a single location. That, as has been mentioned, is because drivers are compelled to stop as and where they can when they have reached the limit on the number of hours they are legally allowed to drive. Furthermore, the Committee has pointed out that the provision of further paid-for parking capacity will not address the problem of those drivers who fly-park to save money, as the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) pointed out to us. In fact Kent County Council also suggests that the causes of fly-parking are
“excess demand, the cost of using truckstops and sometimes unclear signing.”
We really need more smaller, cost-effective parking facilities in several locations across Kent, as well as across the entire country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who chairs the Transport Committee, said:
“Before a spade is put in the ground, the government must show it has given proper consideration to all possible alternatives.”
With respect to the Committee, people have been looking at this issue for decades, and a huge amount of work has been done. The Transport Committee may have given itself a few weeks to look at it, but the consultation is very detailed and the result of many years’ work. Any solution will also pose questions, but the reason for the lorry park’s size, and for where it is sited, is that it is big enough to hold Operation Stack phases 1 and 2, which is what we have 95% of the time. It is where the police and Highways England say it needs to go, which means that it is integrated into the motorway network and is as close as possible to the channel tunnel and the port of Dover.
The hon. Gentleman makes his points forcefully, but I am merely pointing out the issues raised by the Transport Committee, which I think are certainly worth considering. It has proposed a range of alternatives that should at least be considered, including upgrading the M20 and the A2/M2, increasing the capacity of cross-Channel services or, crucially, building a network of smaller lorry parks. Indeed, one could say that what is needed is a comprehensive plan to deal with the issues facing the freight industry, as comments by my hon. Friends have already suggested. Many of us would like a modal shift to rail, in particular, to decrease congestion and take the pressure off our roads, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle pointed out. A single freight train can, after all, take up to 80 HGVs off the roads, and rail freight produces 76% less carbon dioxide per tonne moved than road freight. Of course, as we have also heard, the road haulage industry has a driver recruitment crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South made his points about that very well. With the average age of an HGV driver now around 56, the Government desperately need to take steps to recruit new drivers to the profession. Making it more attractive must be one of the answers.
More truck stops and better parking facilities would not only tackle fly-parking and improve the lives of local residents, but would improve the lot of hard-pressed lorry drivers and might make it easier to recruit as well. I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent on obtaining the debate, and hope she will join us in pressing the Minister and the Department for the improvements that we all want.
It is a delight to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on securing it. It is understandable that she has done so, and I well understand the problems that she and other hon. Members have highlighted. I know many hauliers, not least because road haulage is an important part of the economy of my constituency; it is vital to our whole economy as well. The high concentration of heavy goods vehicles passing through Kent is a subject of particular concern, however, in view of the deleterious effects outlined by a number of the contributors to this short debate. It is a matter on which I have cogitated as Roads Minister, in both my previous and current incarnations in the Department. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, I am visiting Kent tomorrow to look at exactly the matters in question, to meet councillors, and to look at the proposed site of the park, which has been mentioned a number of times.
As I said, HGVs are vital to the economy. They carry what we need to where we need it, and take what we make, grow and fashion to those elsewhere who want to buy it. Nevertheless, the presence of heavy goods vehicles on local roads and public highways can present a challenge and cause difficulties of the kind that have been outlined. In addition, parking is often at a premium. Those who park should of course keep in mind the effect on their neighbours of what they do. Careful and lawful parking is never more important than when the vehicle is a lorry. We hear regularly from the haulage industry that there is a shortage of affordable, good-quality facilities for lorries and their drivers. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) said—incidentally, I do indeed know the Thanet Way extremely well, and was in Broadstairs on holiday again this summer—there is a question of incentive, or carrot, and penalty, or stick, in dealing with the problem. I shall try to deal with both carrots and sticks in my short and pithy but none the less impressive speech.
The last national survey, in 2011, suggested that facilities on or near the strategic road network were underutilised, on average, across England, but not in Kent, where there are particular problems, which local stakeholders have reported repeatedly.
It is good to see the right hon. Gentleman return to the Department. He referred to the study on underutilisation, but the big problem is that a lot of the stops are in the wrong place. It is not surprising that they are underutilised outside Kent, because they are not where the lorry drivers want them to be.
I am inclined to agree with that, which is why I want to do a new piece of work on it. I have decided today that, as a result of this debate, we will look at the issue afresh. We need to do a new study that takes account of the current circumstances and the distribution of supply and demand, as the hon. Gentleman says. I send a message to Members in this Chamber and to my officials, whom I like constantly to surprise, that we will, as a result of this debate, have a fresh look at the provision and location of parking space. The hon. Gentleman is right.
I do not wish to try your patience, Mr Turner, so I will endeavour to be as brief as I can.
It is vital that we, as Kent Members, make the point that if the taxpayer is to get value for money, the lorry park proposed for Stanford West needs to be a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year facility, not just an Operation Stack facility. That will take a considerable amount of pressure off the M20 road system, but it will not help the M2, the A2 or the Thanet Way, which my right hon. Friend the Minister knows very well.
Given that we cannot waste Manston airport as an Operation Stack overspill for much longer—we need it back as an operational airport as quickly as we can—will my right hon. Friend the Minister undertake to look very carefully at Brenley Corner when that bit of the road system is sorted out properly? There is an opportunity there to create some lorry parking. When the gap in the A2 between Canterbury and Dover is dealt with, can we also look very seriously at parking facilities there? It really is time that we learned one or two lessons from the French.
It is right that we look at this issue more widely, and not simply at the provision of this additional facility. We must look both at the capacity challenges on the roads to and from Dover and, as my hon. Friend says—he has comprehensive knowledge of the locality—at additional facilities that could be put in place above and beyond the advantages we will get from the large new park. I will talk a bit more about that in a moment. I take my hon. Friend’s point. We should consider these things strategically, as a number of hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), have suggested, rather than on a piecemeal basis. My hon. Friend has made his point powerfully, and I will ensure that it is built into our thinking.
The clearer picture that I seek through that fresh strategic work will be conducted with Transport Focus, to understand better the current provision and road users’ expectations. As well as looking at the impact of Operation Stack, we will take account of projections of the growing use of the road network in Kent and elsewhere—this is not just an issue for Kent, as a number of hon. Members emphasised, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling).
Operation Stack is only ever used as a last resort, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said, that last resort might be brought about by a variety of causes. Its growing use at a particular period of time is illustrative of precisely that.
My right hon. Friend the Minister is absolutely right that it is used only when necessary, but the trouble is that there is no alternative to its use. If the port or the channel tunnel is not operational, at the moment there is no alternative other than parking the lorries on the motorway. That is the nub of the problem, which is why we require a different solution, and we are glad that the Government have found the resources and strategy to implement it.
Yes, and when Operation Stack is used it demonstrates just how significant the effect of the disruption on the M20 can be on businesses, local people and hauliers themselves. That is why I am determined to deliver an alternative solution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent said, we have committed £250 million for the lorry area, and now we are looking to make that a reality. I take the shadow Minister’s point that that needs to be done carefully and on a considered basis. We must not rush into this. We need to take into account all cost-effectiveness measures. This will be a significant project, so it has to be done properly and cautiously. That is an argument not for delay but for getting it right. I am sure all hon. Members in this Chamber and beyond want that to be the approach adopted by a responsible Government.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his thoughtful and full response. I want to emphasise the point about the Operation Stack lorry park, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) is incredibly knowledgeable; he has done a huge amount of work on it. As he said a moment ago, it has been talked about for at least a decade, yet nothing has happened. Although it should not be rushed—it is a substantial investment—the desire to get absolutely everything right needs to be balanced against the need to ensure that we do not have another summer with Kent at a standstill, with all the awful knock-on effects. Can we manage doing it carefully alongside getting on with it?
My rich experience of Government, to which the shadow Minister so generously alluded in his welcome, has taught me that there is always a plausible argument for doing little and a pretty convincing one for doing nothing. I am not inclined to fall foul of either of those approaches, but it is important that we do this in a way that takes local stakeholders with us, takes local authorities’ views into account, engages the local community, is satisfactory for hauliers and becomes an attractive option for them as well as a necessary one when stacking occurs. A number of hon. Members said that the facility needs to be available above and beyond Operation Stack, for the very reason that led my hon. Friend to bring the debate to the Chamber today.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way. I thank him for making that point. Although I and my county colleagues regard the creation of this facility as vital, we need to take into account the needs of a number of residents who live close to the site and have very special needs. Special consideration must be given to the needs of the residents and businesses. I know that the Department has already flagged up that issue and is looking at it in detail, and I am glad that the Minister has made that point.
That is one of the reasons why I am going to Kent tomorrow. My hon. Friend is right that we need to take fully into account the specific concerns in the locality. I will ask Highways England to work closely with residents and local stakeholders to ensure that the design of the new lorry area minimises the social and environmental impact while addressing this issue for users of the road network. Highways England is also exploring the use of the lorry park for the overnight parking requested by my hon. Friends. We are seeking feedback through the consultation, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and others know, is going on presently, on how that can and should work.
This is not just about Operation Stack and the new facility. It is a national problem that requires the Government, local authorities and industry to work together. Overnight parking of HGVs on the highway and in various business parks has been a significant and growing problem for a considerable time, and the wider effects are various. There is a problem with noise, nuisance, litter, safety and environmental damage, as a number of hon. Members described. Dogs were brought into the equation by my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet, who said that the solution requires a carrot and a stick. I thought it should be a bone and a stick—the stick to throw and the bone to feed.
Nevertheless, a variety of challenges arises from that important concern. To that end, I want to have ongoing discussions with motorway service area and lorry park operators and with the freight industry. I want to see what can be done nationally to improve the availability of quality, safe and secure parking areas. In Kent, Members, councillors and others will play their part.
I am aware of illegal parking by HGVs on the hard shoulder of motorways and local roads in Kent. On the motorways, last winter, in a concerted effort by Highways England and Kent police called Operation Kindle, Highways England traffic officers patrolled key locations systematically and advised drivers of illegally parked vehicles to move on. If they did not do so, the traffic officers informed the police. Fixed penalty notices were issued—if drivers refused to pay, their vehicles were moved to a secure location where they were immobilised until the fines were paid. Graduated fixed penalty notices allowed officers to issue cumulative fines measured against the number of offences and their severity. I understand that operation to have been successful in clearing the targeted areas. For example, on the night of 9 December last year, the police moved on 153 illegally parked vehicles on the M20 and M2, and more than 50 drivers were fined.
Many such vehicles are foreign-owned, which causes a particular problem, as changing the law to allow enforcement of tickets given to foreign-registered vehicles would require an international treaty. When I was told that by my Department, I said that I would quite like to sign an international treaty—it sounds so grand and important, doesn’t it? If that is what we need, that is what we will do, make no mistake. The important thing is to solve the problem, not to focus continually on the obstacles to doing so.
I thank the Minister for giving way. He is being generous with his time.
Forgive me if I have the figures slightly incorrect, but I understand from the Department’s own statistics that in the past two years alone there has been a 50% increase in the amount of freight carried by overseas-registered vehicles, so the issue will grow and grow. The sooner those treaties are on his desk and his pen is in his hand the better—that sounds like a very good move.
The treaty is not on my desk yet—I would not want to deceive the hon. Gentleman or anyone else. Certainly, however, we need to find the solution to the problem of foreign-owned or foreign-driven vehicles. Even if we get the rest right, if we do not solve that problem I suspect we will have only a partial success. Whether any solution involves clamping or seizing those foreign-owned vehicles I do not yet know, but I will certainly ask for further advice on what might be done to tackle that particular issue, which he is right to emphasise again.
Let me sum up and move to my exciting peroration. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent asked for many things. She focused her attention on the possible benefits of any solution for Operation Stack, but she also stressed that that was not the whole story. She talked about needing more space more generally in Kent—my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet emphasised that point—and we will certainly consider that. She asked me to be more specific about the timing of the provision of a new lorry park, and I will endeavour to do that. I want to get this right, and she is right that if we are to do it, we need to set out a timetable for it, so I understand the anxiety that we should do so. She and others have made that point well. She talked about enforcement and fines, which I will come on to in a moment, and about foreign vehicles, which we have heard about, and she also called for a meeting.
Let me tell the House what I think we should do. I take the view that debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere in this place must deliver outcomes, rather than simply allow Ministers to repeat what they have already thought or, more especially, been told. This is what we are going to do: I will look at whether we can improve enforcement, if necessary through a change in the law. If we have to put in place new measures to allow enforcement, we will look at doing so. I will seek further advice on that, and will bring further information to the House accordingly.
I am happy to look at new long-term solutions for overnight parking, as I described in my response to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South. We also need more information—reasonably quickly, actually, as we cannot delay further—because relying on a survey from some time ago is not good enough. I am happy, too, to approach hauliers’ groups directly about the advice they give to drivers. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet made a point about sat-nav, which, personally I do not use, of course, but I understand others do. It can often divert people, unhappily, to routes that are not only unhelpful but injurious to the interests of local communities. We need to work with hauliers on that, and I am happy to meet the Road Haulage Association to talk through what advice it might provide to drivers about parking. I will do so as a result of this debate.
I want to do more on litter. Litter came up in the debate, but I did not raise it with my officials earlier, so this is another delightful surprise for them. I want to do a lot more about litter. I began the fight when I was previously in the Department, but I was moved on to the Home Office and was not able to complete the work. We need to do a lot more about litter in areas such as lay-bys, but also more widely on our road network.
At root, of course, the problem is one of how people treat litter. If they throw things out of car windows, it is pretty hard for Highways England or any local authority to cope. None the less, we can do more about the provision and emptying of bins and the clearing of lay-bys. Also as a result of this afternoon’s debate—I have listened carefully to what people have said—I will ask Highways England to look again at a new initiative on the littering of our roads and, in particular, areas where people stop or park.
I want to look at motorway service areas. A point made forcefully by a number of hon. Members was that the alternatives to parking in lay-bys are not sufficiently attractive. That is sometimes to do with the security of those areas. Someone who parks overnight in a heavy goods vehicle will be concerned about who might get access to that vehicle. The provision of adequate security at the alternative sites is an important element of the solution. I want to look at motorway service areas, the kind of alternative that they are offering, the security of that alternative, its attractiveness and, by the way, its cost. As a number of hon. Members argued, if something is too costly, drivers will avoid it. We need to look at whether the better offer, as it were, is competitive and attractive.
Briefly on that point, when my good friend Robert Key, the former Member of Parliament for Salisbury, was Roads Minister—when God was a boy, that was how long ago it was—I put it to him that the French road system has regular aires de repos. I was told by Robert that the British road system could not accommodate such areas because land was too scarce and journey distances too short. We can live with that no longer, and we have to get to grips with the situation. We absolutely have to provide off-road, properly landscaped areas, with lavatory facilities, and with parking not only for domestic cars but, significantly, for lorries. It is time we did that.
I agree. My hon. Friend is immensely widely travelled, which is why he is so well informed. I tend to limit my own travel to the east of England, which means that I am not as well informed, and therefore rely on advice that I receive from him and others. I will say, however, that part of this business of looking closely at the provision of parking for HGVs is to consider more widely—as he has just described—the sort of roadside services that we provide generally. I am not convinced that the roadside services that we provide in this country are generally good enough. Of course there are exceptions, and I recognise them, but again as a result of today’s debate, I may ask for some further work to be done on the quality of roadside services more generally—the problem we are discussing is a part of that issue. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, based on his wide travel and deep understanding of all such matters, that encourages me to do that. I have already mentioned foreign drivers, and that is in response to my study and the argument that has been made by a number of colleagues.
Finally—I hope that this will excite my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent and others—I am more than happy to agree to a meeting, but I do not think that we should have just a small and insignificant meeting, not that any meeting with me is insignificant. We should have a round-table meeting with the people I have described. We need the hauliers; we need the providers of private lorry parks; we need the motorway service stations; we need the local councillors; and we need colleagues—and the meeting needs to be bipartisan. I am very happy to agree now to hold that kind of round-table meeting, where we can thrash out the range of important issues that have been raised in the debate.
Returning to where I started, I strongly support the principle and practice of moving goods by road. That is an important part of what we do as a country—let us be clear about that—but it needs to be done in an ordered way. Edmund Burke said:
“Good order is the foundation of all good things.”
My friend Evi Williamson, with whom I was discussing this very issue yesterday, affirmed just that idea in anticipation and preparation for the debate. The ordered use of our roads and ordered parking are beneficial to those who park and all those whom they affect. That is precisely why my hon. Friend has brought forward this debate in her constituents’ interests, championing their wellbeing as she always does. She can be assured that my Department and this Minister will respond in the same spirit. I thank her again for giving me the chance to give those particular and specific commitments in response to this important and valuable debate.
Thank you very much, Mr Turner; I will do so briefly. I thank colleagues from Kent and elsewhere for their helpful contributions and the knowledge that they have brought to the debate from the perspective of residents, drivers and road hauliers, which has made this conversation valuable. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his comprehensive response and the list of actions that he will take, which makes me feel that this conversation has been worthwhile. I look forward very much to following up with him in due course on his progress.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered fly-parking by HGVs in Kent.