Kent motorway closed ahead of Brock barrier Brexit dress rehearsal

  • Video report by ITV Meridian's James Dunham

Businesses and haulage firms in Kent who rely on the cross-channel link say they are facing uncertainty, as the system to deal with congestion on part of the M20 is tested.

Tonight a moveable barrier will be implemented on the motorway as part of a 'dress rehearsal' for traffic problems.

It will affect the road between junction 7 for Maidstone and junction 9 for Ashford until Tuesday morning.

The measure is part of Operation Brock, a series of ways officials plan to deal with traffic problems, when the UK leaves the EU.

The closure on Friday evening meant the A20, adjacent to the M20, was fairly busy with lorries and other drivers using the alternative route.

  • Some businesses are concerned that regardless of the preparations, there will still be traffic problems, including florist Chris Wolfe.

It will mean a contraflow system is put in place, providing lorries with a designated 30mph coast-bound, while drivers will have two remaining lanes with a speed limit of 50mph.

The barrier will see the M20 closed on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night from 8pm until 8am on Monday morning with diversions in place.

The fixed barrier on the M20 was removed in January 2020

Highways England say the moveable concrete blocks can be deployed within hours, it is much more fluid than a static barrier which took weeks to install.

That system was in place from March 2019 to January 2020 in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit, but was later removed.

How will the M20 look? Highways England guidance:

  • The M20 will close in both directions overnight between junctions 7 and 9 (coastbound) and junctions 9 and 8 (London-bound) on Friday 11 December for the installation of the moveable barrier.

  • When the M20 reopens by 8am on Saturday 12 December, the contraflow will be in place in its initial phase. Drivers will need to follow the different layout on the M20 from just north of Junction 8 (for Hollingbourne/Leeds) to Junction 9 (Ashford). Lorries heading for mainland Europe will be routed down the coastbound carriageway, with a 30mph speed limit in place. All other traffic will be directed onto the contraflow, with two lanes in each direction operating at 50mph.

  • The M20 will close in both directions overnight between junctions 7 and 9 (coastbound) and junctions 9 and 8 (London-bound) at 8pm on Saturday 12 December and reopen by 8am on Sunday 13 December with the contraflow now open in its final phase.

  • The M20 will again close overnight between junctions 7 and 9 (coastbound) and junctions 9 and 8 (London-bound) at 8pm on Sunday 13 December for removal of traffic management on the coastbound carriageway.

  • When the M20 reopens by 8am on Monday 14 December, the coastbound carriageway will be back to normal, with all traffic management removed. The London-bound carriageway will be open but some traffic management – including the moveable barrier – will still be in place. Speed restrictions will apply. The London-bound carriageway will be closed overnight between junctions 9 and 8 at 8pm on Monday 14 December with the moveable barrier being moved to the far side of the hard shoulder.

  • The London-bound M20 will reopen by 8am on Tuesday 15 December, with the M20 back to its normal layout in both directions, with three lanes operating at the national speed limit.

Operation Stack in place on the M20

Uncertainty for businesses

Even in the event of a deal businesses and haulage firms are expecting delays at the ports after the transition period.

Heidi Skinner from Logistics UK, which represents hauliers, says there is 'no good solution for traffic disruption',

"No business likes uncertainty and we'd like to see is a much clearer direction is to how this will progress. We are still waiting with very few days to go to know what sort of situation hauliers will have with access to the continent. There's a very complicated system that hauliers are required to get permits to access the continent if we don't have a deal. Otherwise we have to get bilateral trade agreements in place. This is very worrying situation for hauliers who are used to having free access to the continent and with such a short space of time they're now learning whether they do or do not have permits to go across to the EU."

"No businesses want to be in queues that costs time and money.We've got supply chains that are working on a just in time delivery basis, that are used to accessing the border quickly and efficiently . We don't want to see any queues at the border and it is vital we keep these supply chains moving."

Chris Wolfe, owner of Southeast Flowers, says it will be 'carnage' Credit:

Chris Wolfe is the owner of South East flowers. A wholesaler based in Ashford. She says the situation will be carnage,

"I think it's going to be carnage really. I'm hugely concerned we've been through Operation Stack many times. Being situated within Ashford we're right in the thick of it. Deal or no deal Brexit is going to have an impact on the transport of our flowers. Logistically it's going to be a problem as well as what happens on the financial side.

"We will probably start to work 24 hours advance. We normally receive our deliveries at 1am in the morning but if we're not receiving our flowers until the afternoon we will have to work a day ahead."

'Operation Brock will keep Kent moving'

Highways England south east operations director Nicola Bell said:

"We have again worked extensively with our partners in Kent and are confident that this test will provide a valuable dress rehearsal into the operation of our Kent-wide port disruption contingency measures. The test will help us to fine tune Operation Brock, finding ways to make the deployment quicker whenever the barrier is needed, whether it be in preparation for transition, or other disruption to cross-channel services.

 "Operation Brock will keep Kent moving, and we thank road users in advance for their patience while the test is taking place." 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

"Kent is a critical link to one of our busiest trade routes, and this state-of-the-art technology will ensure that we can keep the local road network moving.

"Testing this barrier now will ensure that if the system is needed it can be quickly and safely deployed, helping drivers get to where they need to be - even in the event of disruption at the end of the transition period and to assist with any other future disruption caused for any reason."