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Operation Brock

Volume 797: debated on Monday 8 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have reassessed the safety of the contra flow on the M20, installed as part of Operation Brock, following a series of accidents since the installation of barriers.

My Lords, the Operation Brock contraflow system using barriers on the London-bound carriageway between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 has been in place since 25 March. Although some incidents have been reported, which is of course regrettable, this is not dissimilar to other roadwork contraflows. Highways England and Kent Police agree that no changes are currently required as a result of these incidents, but they will continue to closely monitor the use of Operation Brock to ensure driver safety.

My Lords, there have already been half a dozen accidents, one of which held up the traffic for 13 and a half hours on that short stretch of motorway. That is not normal for motorways in this country. The impact on the rest of the roads in Kent is considerable, because people are seeking to avoid the contraflow. Can the Government give us an assurance that, in the light of yesterday’s criticism from DFDS ferries and Kent County Council, a full audit of the situation will be undertaken? Can the Government undertake to remove the contraflow if and when we resolve our issues on Brexit?

My Lords, since Brock became active, five road traffic collisions have been reported to Highways England, although that is yet to be validated as an official statistic. It is not dissimilar to other contraflows; there have been five incidents in the same period within the adjacent M20 smart motorways roadwork. However, I reassure noble Lords that Highways England will closely monitor the performance of the contraflow and ensure that the M20 continues to operate safely. The point of Operation Brock is to ensure that the M20 does not close down, which would obviously have a terrible effect on local roads. Both Highways England and Kent Police will continually monitor the situation.

My Lords, is not the answer to contraflows to set appropriate speed limits and then enforce them? I have seen many people caught speeding in contraflows. If speed limits are properly enforced, surely that will reduce accidents.

The noble Lord is right to point out the benefits of having speed limits within contraflows. For safety reasons, there has been a speed reduction in the area while the contingency is in place: for the freight side the limit has been reduced to 30 miles per hour, and for the non-freight traffic travelling in the contraflow it is now 50 miles per hour. Highways England has redeployed 80 traffic officers to support Operation Brock, which will ensure that there are 30 on duty at any time. That action will ensure proper enforcement measures. We are also considering activating speed cameras and further signage.

My Lords, is not the trouble on the M20 often caused by strikes in France, so it is not in fact our fault at all?

Operation Brock is designed to be an improvement on Operation Stack, which we saw huge problems with in 2015. We actually used Operation Stack in mid-March; that was caused by high winds. My noble friend is right to point out that disruption can have a number of causes. That is why we have the contraflow in place: to ensure that we can deal with any disruption.

My Lords, the Minister will know that my rule of transport safety is: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. That seems to have proved true in this case already. Accidents will create enormous delays and completely destroy the whole operation. Can she assure us that everything is being done to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practical?

As I said, there is no evidence for the cause of the current accidents, but we are of course looking at the circumstances around each collision and considering what can be done to prevent future incidents. Highways England has already reduced the spacing between cones on the coast-bound carriageway to reduce the risk of illegal parking. Additionally, the junction 8 coast-bound entrance slipway, which is currently closed, has had CCTV infrastructure installed. The department is assured that Highways England is doing everything it can to reduce the risk of accidents.

My Lords, of the existing places where the vehicles are going to be checked, one is very close to the Port of Dover and the second is very close to Eurotunnel, with the danger that they will themselves generate enough congestion to trigger Operation Brock when it might not have been necessary. What other locations are being considered and when might we expect them to open?

My Lords, of course we aim to ensure that all movement through ports will continue to be as frictionless as possible in a no-deal scenario so that the effects on businesses using the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel are minimised. To achieve this, our modelling for roll-on roll-off freight moves the customs processes away from the border. Furthermore, in early February HMRC announced transitional simplified procedures, which will help businesses using those facilities. But, as I say, we are working hard to mitigate any disruption caused by additional checks.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the M20 provides access to the Cinque Ports, which of course gathered together in a time of crisis because our nation did not have enough ships. Does the Minister think there is a similar technique we could use to resolve the problem we have at the moment of too few ships?

I am not sure I can comment on that specific solution. We are of course working very closely with the local resilience forums and all ports to ensure that we mitigate disruption wherever possible.