A £20 million cash injection is urgently needed to help leaders in Kent prepare for "chaos" in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the county council has warned.
The leader of the council, Paul Carter, said he hoped to avoid a repeat of scenes in 2015, when disruption to cross-Channel traffic saw lorries parked along the M20 motorway under an emergency procedure known as Operation Stack.
He called on ministers to fast-track £20m in funding for new technology, signs and staff - and called for a national plan to provide a way to keep trucks out of Kent if it becomes necessary.
Since August, the Government has increased its assessment of the potential period of disruption following Brexit day in March 2019 from three to six months, stretching across the busiest periods for passenger movements.
In a report to the council, Mr Carter outlined a set of measures to hold as many as 10,000 trucks in the county in the case of Brexit causing major delays.
These range from “buffer zones” around the port of Dover and the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone to the use of Manston Airport or the M26 motorway as giant lorry parks – or even holding freight traffic outside the county.
The report detailed potential problems including:
- Doctors and nurses taking longer to get to hospitals and care staff needing more time to visit clients
- Difficulties for pupils and teachers getting to schools during the vital GCSE exam period
- Problems transporting bodies to mortuaries and post mortems
- Harm to air quality from idling engines in traffic queues
- Registrars being unable to get to weddings during the busy spring season
- A build-up of waste due to disrupted bin collections
Mr Carter said the implementation of Operation Stack and closure of the M20 due to a French ferry strike in 2015 was estimated to have cost the Kent economy £1.45m a day, and the UK economy £250m a day.
Some 7,000 lorries were parked on the M20 in Kent, causing “significant gridlock and exceptionally high traffic volumes” over three weeks.
The following year, a shorter disruption caused delays of up to 12 hours for some travellers.
“With national government’s cooperation we can avoid the chaos that we saw in 2015,” said Mr Carter.
But he added: “We now need far more input and information from national government in how they are going to work with us.
“There must be a national freight transport plan which, when necessary, can hold lorries back from coming into Kent in the first place should the need arise.
“We now have holding areas to take more than 10,000 lorries before it becomes necessary to use the M26 to hold freight, which is a situation that I want to avoid as far as we possibly can.
“We need the right investment from the Department for Transport in the technology, number plate recognition and enforcement powers to stop lorries cutting and running down inappropriate highways and by-ways in Kent and directed to go where they’re told.”
He said plans were already in place for Highways England to provide 200 additional traffic officers with powers to stop, direct and divert vehicles on motorways.
In the longer term, the port of Ramsgate could be expanded to increase capacity on cross-Channel routes and Sheerness could be developed for ferry traffic, his report said.