Thursday, 2 June 2016

Does the case for Operation Stack lorry park stack up?

Although it’s been announced Balfour Beatty has won the £130m contract to deliver a 3,600 space lorry park and alleviate Operation Stack, it appears the House of Commons' Transport Select Committee isn’t convinced about the business case, suggesting the project is being rushed.

Importantly for Kent, the committee’s report concludes the proposed Stanford Lorry Park: “…should not be looked at in isolation. The Government’s support for modal shift, improvements to rail freight, improvements to the existing road network, and a decision on the Lower Thames Crossing need to be considered alongside each other”. 

It added: “The Government should take a view on how these different improvements to the UK’s strategic transport infrastructure will affect each other and how they can be taken forward in ways that will deliver the best outcomes for the economy and for local communities.” 

This common sense conclusion should be warmly welcomed and might even lead to a bit of joined-up thinking – and joined-up roads, bridges and railways.

Proposals to build a permanent facility capable of handling up to 4,000 HGVs at Stanford, near Junction 11 of the M20, were announced by the Department for Transport last year and consulted on during December and January – the results of which are still to be published.

The committee’s report suggests ministers have yet to detail any analysis of the environmental and social costs the lorry park would have on the nearby area. Neither has it been explained whether it could be considered “a proportionate and appropriate solution” to the occasional road-freight problems seen in Kent.

Transport ministers have been asked by the committee to consider:
  • the cost-benefit ratios of alternatives to the lorry park
  • whether the lorry park is a proportionate and appropriate solution to the scale and frequency of disruption associated with Operation Stack
  • the environmental and social costs that the lorry park will impose on the locality
  • the value of any benefits the lorry park will bring locally and to the UK economy, and
  • the long-term costs of operating, maintaining, renewing and, eventually, decommissioning the lorry park

It appears the Select Committee's report suggests Highways England already has permitted development rights to build the lorry park under Section 115 of the Highways Act 1980, “without the obligation to follow any of the normal planning procedures that would otherwise apply”.

Although there is widespread political support for a solution to Stack – implemented for 28 days in 2015 at an estimated cost to the Kent economy of £2m per day – there are many who remain unconvinced this £250m investment in this location is the right solution. 

Taking the Mickey? 

Committee chair Louise Ellman said: “Ministers need to do more in order to justify this spending and should do more to demonstrate why a lorry park roughly the size of Disneyland in California is better than the alternatives we heard about during our inquiry.

“We are not saying the government should not press ahead with its proposal, only that it has more work to do to persuade us of the business case for this investment.”

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