A Department for Transport spokesman hailed today’s no deal Brexit tests with 89 trucks, routing lorries from Manston Airfield through Kent to the Port of Dover, as a success even though fewer lorries than expected took part.
The plan for the system being tested is to hold up to 4,000 trucks at Manston Airfield that will then be released in relays to make the 20-mile journey to Dover via the A256, which connects Manston to the port.
According to the Road Haulage Association, it had been asked by the Department for Transport to find hauliers willing to take part in two tests, one at 8:00 a.m. during rush hour and one during the off-peak period at 11:00 a.m.
“The tests were to test traffic flows and so the number of trucks was not important,” a Department for Transport spokesman told FreightWaves. He added that, “We were never going to get 4,000 trucks to test the operation, but we needed to know how the traffic flows would work.”
Road Haulage Association spokesman Paul Mummery played down the role of the association in the tests, saying that its role was to find truck drivers to take part. He went on to say that the numbers involved and the success of the tests were “operational matters” and could only be answered by the Department for Transport.
However, the association’s chief executive Richard Burnett was less coy, claiming the exercise was merely “window dressing.”
Burnett said, “It’s good to have a plan in place, but today’s limited scope trial will need to be repeated to stress-test other aspects of the management of thousands of lorries properly. Today’s trial cannot possibly duplicate the reality of 4,000 trucks being held at Manston Airport in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It’s too little too late – this process should have started nine months ago. At this late stage it looks like window dressing.”
Former Conservative member of Parliament and now a life peer, David Willetts, told the BBC that during the 2015 French drivers’ strike there were 7,000 trucks delayed on the British side of the Channel for an average of 35 hours each. He said it was more likely that delays would happen at French customs than at the British border. However, hauliers were skeptical; one haulage company owner expressed dismay at the possible delays, saying that “it costs £400 per day to keep one lorry stationary… we’ll all be broke before long.”
Initial expectations had been that 200 drivers would take part in today’s tests according to the Road Haulage Association’s sister organisation the Freight Transport Association, but the Department for Transport denied this, saying that there were “only around 10 trucks fewer than expected,” though the department’s spokesman conceded that the expectation had been for 100 to 150 vehicles in total.
Meanwhile, transport minister Chris Grayling has admitted that the contracts awarded to three roll-on/roll-off ferry operators are not expected to relieve the congestion within the Dover Port and Channel Tunnel area, but he said that it would allow the government to provide essential supplies in the event of a hard Brexit.
“In total, the additional freight capacity delivered by these three contracts will be equivalent to around 8 percent of normal flows across the Dover Straights. While this will not be sufficient to mitigate the full level of disruption possible in a worst-case scenario, it will enable the government to provide essential capacity for the highest priority goods including medical supplies,” said Grayling.
Government has earmarked around £107 million for three ferry operators to increase their operational capacity in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The three ferry operators, DFDS, Brittany Ferries and Seaborne Freight, operate vessels out of a number of ports along the east coast of Britain. Seaborne Freight’s service, from Ramsgate to Ostend in Belgium, is due to start operations in March.