The government has dropped plans for a huge lorry park off the M20.
In a massive U-turn, the government says it will no longer be going ahead with the plans for a £250 million park near Hythe just days after saying it was still “fully committed”.
It means plans will be taken back to the drawing board with options due to be presented to the public next year and submitted in 2019.
But it has today told the High Court it will no longer be defending a judicial review against the plans for the proposals near Stanford and has scrapped the plans entirely – sparking a wave of reaction across Kent.
The DfT said it had been trying to bring in the lorry park as quickly as possible and meet “environmental obligations” but found this was not possible.
Despite scrapping the huge 3,600 space park, the door has been left open for a lorry park in Kent to form part of the new plans now due to be drawn up.
This has been handed over to Highways England to carry out and the DfT said a lorry park would be part of those plans to provide daily parking for lorries.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said the government will be “reassessing the scope, scale and location of our solutions” to Operation Stack.
He added: “It will take into account changes since the original concept of the lorry park was promoted, in particular the UK’s exit from the European Union but also the need for ‘business as usual’ lorry parking in Kent.”
Roads minister Jesse Norman said: “We know how seriously the lives of Kent residents and the prospects of businesses were affected when Operation Stack was implemented in 2015 and we remain fully committed to a permanent solution.
“However, we need to go through the proper procedures to ensure our plans, which include a lorry park, best fit the needs of Kent and the freight industry.
“In the meantime we are developing an interim measure to keep the M20 open to traffic in both directions if Operation Stack is implemented – ensuring disruption is kept to a minimum.”
The lorry park, which was announced two years ago by former chancellor George Osborne in the 2015 autumn statement, has drawn huge local opposition.
It also drew criticism from the parliamentary Transport Select Committee in June 2016, when the plans were described as “rushed” through by the government.
The committee added it had not proven the case for a lorry park adding the plans had been produced in response to the summer of Stack in 2015.
The new plans will be put out to public consultation next year.
The latest timetable would include submitting a planning application in 2019 for the new scheme.
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately said the announcement did not necessarily spell the end of a lorry park in the area.
“It is crucial that we solve this problem. The DfT is not defending the judicial review but they are moving ahead with a lorry park under normal planning processes.”
The DfT says its “interim innovative plan” will be developed by Highways England for drivers to carry on using the M20 until a new solution is found and approved.
One way is suggested to see a dual carriageway created on the M20 using moveable or steel barriers to safely stack lorries in the centre of the motorway whilst keeping the road open.
The final decision will be made in early 2018 and implemented in March 2019, the DfT said.
The government still has an agreement in place to use Manston Airport for lorry parking.
Highways England project director John Kerner said: “The disruption that people in Kent suffered in summer 2015 underlines the need for long term improvements to how traffic is managed when cross-channel services are interrupted.
“Improvements at the port, and changes we have made to traffic management on the A20 near Dover, have delivered real improvements and have also helped prevent Operation Stack from being implemented.
“Along with our partners we are better prepared than ever, but a better plan for dealing with more widespread disruption is still needed.
“Now that the government has withdrawn the decision to build a lorry area at Stanford West, we have been asked by the Transport Secretary to immediately develop both an interim and a permanent solution to reduce the local traffic impacts if there is cross-channel disruption.
“Highways England is committed to delivering the government’s aim of finding a solution that makes Operation Stack less disruptive for people and businesses in Kent, and the improvements we are taking forward will help to do just that.”