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Brexit lorry test slammed by critics

A CONSERVATIVE MP has hit out at the government’s plan to use a disused airfield to ease lorry congestion if there is UK border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Charlie Elphicke criticised the idea as nearly 100 lorries descended on Manston Airport (pictured), near Ramsgate in Kent, this morning to test out using the runway as an HGV holding bay to prevent traffic jams on roads to Channel ports.

The trial, called Operation Brock, has seen lorries directed along the A256 towards Dover in a 20-mile journey which should take around half-an-hour.

The MP for the town lashed out at the plan branding it ‘too complex’ and likely to cause ‘enormous confusion’ for drivers.

Line them up: Scenes from the Manston Airport trial this morning

On Twitter, he said: ‘Routing lorries via Manston is not the answer.

‘Far better to extend the tried and tested traffic management system on the A20 at Dover to Kent’s motorways.

‘That way lorries can be effectively managed, got most speedily to the ports and all our motorways can be kept open.

‘Manston should only be used as a last resort.

‘Trying to explain to lorry drivers — many from overseas — to go there will be very difficult.

‘The whole route plan is far too complex and will cause enormous confusion.’

In response to the post, Dover resident Gary Moore said the town is ‘badly affected’ by truck traffic which can bring the whole road system there ‘to a standstill’, adding: ‘There has to be a plan that works.’

However, Ben Pearce, a driver taking part in the exercise, said the test ‘seems to be going quite well’.

He added: ‘It will give them a fair idea how the traffic will behave if they do use the space as a holding bay.’

The large convoy of lorries from regional and national haulage companies descended on Manston from 7am this morning to form a queue along the runway.

Eddie Stobart led the convoy. Other companies taking part in the trial included Ramsgate-based White’s Transport Ltd, Salvatori Group from Canterbury and Swains in Rochester.

The drivers congregated in a large group before being directed by officials from the Department for Transport (DfT), Kent County Council and police officers.

The first practice run began in rush-hour shortly after 8am, with four convoys leaving at intervals between 8.13am and 8.39am. The first of the convoys arrived in Dover at 8.52am where they were directed to do a loop around the Eastern Docks roundabout, travel along Jubilee Way and drive straight back to the airport.

The 20-mile journey takes around half an hour depending on traffic. So far traffic has been relatively light on the route and the first test did not appear to cause any queues or extra congestion, according to witnesses and bystanders.

Up to 150 lorries were initially anticipated to take part but only 89 were involved, the DfT confirmed after the first test.

Each driver participating in the exercise cost the department £550, their spokeswoman confirmed, meaning £48,950 was paid out.

The plans emerged last week after the DfT and council sent letters to hauliers explaining this was to ‘establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs’.

A DfT spokeswoman said: ‘We do not want or expect a no-deal scenario and continue to work hard to deliver a deal with the EU.

‘However, it is the duty of a responsible government to continue to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies, including a possible no deal.’

However, the exercise is ‘too little too late’, according to the Road Haulage Association’s chief executive Richard Burnett.

He said: ‘Today’s trial cannot possibly duplicate the reality of 4,000 trucks that would be 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.’