The queues at Dover have cleared, but it was the Eurotunnel that was branded the new 'hotspot of holiday hell' on Sunday, as Marc Mallett reports
The disruption at the Port of Dover cleared on Sunday, after two days of holidaymakers having to endure gridlocked roads and lengthy waits as the summer getaway began, but travellers faced congestion at the Eurotunnel in Folkestone.
It was branded the new “hotspot of holiday hell” by the AA, with Eurotunnel warning its service was delayed and the processing time from check-in to boarding estimated to be about 90 minutes.
Some people travelled overnight to avoid the queues, but holidaymakers faced hours of queuing, with no sign of the congestion easing.
With the M20 coastbound still closed to non-freight traffic as part of Operation Brock to manage traffic, National Highways warned of “severe delays” in Kent for people heading towards Dover or the Eurotunnel.
And while the AA said long waits at Folkestone had “fallen considerably” by late Sunday afternoon, the motoring organisation raised concerns that such congestion could be repeated this summer.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “This has been an incredible weekend of traffic jams into Dover and Folkestone, and holidaymakers will have been frustrated and angry at the delays.
“Good progress has been made throughout the day and those waiting for more than five hours before reaching the check-in desk has fallen considerably. We hope that by tonight we should be back to usual traffic levels.
“However, we are concerned that we could be in for a repeat of this congestion across the summer.
“Drivers due to use both Dover and Folkestone to head into Europe on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday mornings between now and the reopening of schools may see a repetition of these delays across the summer.”
Meanwhile in Dover, queues were reduced to an hour on Sunday, in contrast to scenes of bumper-to-bumper traffic which caused travel chaos in the area since Friday.
Extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the hold-ups.
More than 6,000 tourist cars were expected at the port on Sunday, as people continued their summer trips, after most schools in England and Wales broke up for the holidays.
The Port of Dover said it had assisted more than 10,800 passengers on their way by mid-morning.
A spokesman for the port said: “French border is fully manned and everything is flowing normally.
“There will be queues but short term (less than 60 minutes) during the day.”
He said the port will “continue to issue the need to come prepared” when asked whether people should still ensure they have appropriate water, food and medical supplies with them if travelling.
Scenes of gridlocked roads and bumper-to-bumper cars seen on Friday were repeated on Saturday as thousands of travellers endured lengthy queues and some lorry drivers saw waits of more than 18 hours at the Port of Dover.
Port authorities said work undertaken by them and their partners, “including strong support from French border colleagues," to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates that the Port of Dover’s “summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period."
Some 72,000 passengers – more than 200 miles of tourist and freight traffic combined – had been processed by Sunday morning.
Port chief executive Doug Bannister thanked travellers and Dover residents for their understanding during what he described as a “challenging period”, and said he was “incredibly grateful to everyone who has turned this situation around, from the French and UK authorities to our ferry operators, Kent partners and our own port staff."
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Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss said disruption at the Port of Dover was the fault of French authorities when asked if Brexit was the reason for the transport chaos.
Speaking at a campaign visit in Kent on Saturday, she said: “This is a situation that has been caused by a lack of resource at the border.
“And that is what the French authorities need to address and that is what I am being very clear with them about.”
On Saturday, Ms Truss said she had spoken to French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.
She said: “I was clear the French authorities have not put enough people on the border and we need to see action from then to resolve the terrible situation which travellers, including families, are facing.”
The message came after a tweet from Ms Colonna, who stated the pair had a “good talk”.
Ms Colonna added: “We welcomed the cooperation between our competent technical services to reduce the delays. Need also to improve the facilities of the port of Dover.”
French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, has blamed delays on the UK’s exit from the EU, telling BBC News it was “an aftermath of Brexit” with more checks needed and claiming the Dover port is “too small” with too few kiosks due to a lack of space.
Passengers embarking on cross-Channel sailings from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry.
Mr Simmonds said Brexit “certainly is contributing” to the situation, with “a harder border than there was before”.
He added: “We’ve been saying this for years that extra checks would have an impact on capacity at certain ports and could cause congestion and disruption at certain times and the Port of Dover has worked very hard to make sure that that is mitigated.
“But at the end of the day, it just takes a little bit longer now to do checks at those ports and that can add up when you’ve got thousands and thousands of passengers.”
Natalie Chapman, from haulier group Logistics UK, echoed concerns about French staff numbers and Brexit changes.
She said: “As I say, the cause was that lack of resource yesterday but also, of course, it takes a lot longer to process through traffic than it used to.
“You used to, prior to Brexit, just wave your passport and they may or may not be looked at but now every one is checked and stamped.”