Dover is one of the busiest ports in the world and it is a crucial part of the UK’s import and export infrastructure; with the main link to and from the port being the M20, traffic can often build up. For regular motorists, this is certainly an inconvenience, but for HGV drivers, the sheer volume of vehicles throughout this corridor is becoming more than that.
Recently, the Ashford Truckstop in Kent has had to turn away over 250 HGVs in one evening as they had reached capacity much earlier in the day. Despite being able to accommodate 300 vehicles, up to 100 truck drivers are arriving each night being told there is simply no more room. Regulations ensure that drivers take sufficient rest breaks to maintain road safety, and as such they cannot spend the whole night driving around the area from one truckstop to another hoping for a vacancy. If they do not park up when they are supposed to, they risk their livelihoods and road safety.
So, drivers have been parking where they can, in laybys or industrial estates. What else are they to do in a situation like this? Here is where Kent County Council steps into the picture. They recently brought into practice an 18 month trial of hunting down HGVs that are parked in laybys and residential streets and clamping them. They will only release the vehicles once an outrageous £250 fine has been settled.
Chief Executive of the RHA, Richard Burnett, has stated, “with Christmas just over seven weeks away, the levels of traffic journeying across the Channel will increase dramatically and the amount of HGVs on Kent roads in particular will intensify. But what are those drivers, unable to get into a lorry park to do? The refusal of local authorities to acknowledge this serious problem are simply putting the safety of drivers and their loads at risk. What employer would ask their staff to spend the night, in the car, in a layby?”
Mr Burnett is spot on, drivers are being trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they arrive in the area in the evening, the chances of there being a space available are low, and so they have no choice; restricted by laws to take breaks, they need to park somewhere, there is simply no other option. Since the council has bowed to public pressure and has resorted to handing out fines, they are clearly aware that there is a problem. Why else would HGVs be parking in these places? Instead of targeting them with fines, could the council not use their resources more productively? Encouraging landowners to open up to paying vehicles? Fining vehicles does not make them disappear from the roads of the county, new parking sites would.
Darren Smith, the manager of the Ashford Truckstop, has noticed the demand for parking spaces first hand, with his site operating at 97% capacity for June and July this year. He is looking to grow the site and said that “an extra 300 spaces will solve the problem of lorry parking in Ashford. We haven’t got the room at the moment, which is why we want to solve the problem by building a brand new site.”
If we are to assume the worst case scenario for Brexit, whereby no customs agreement can be reached, then we are really going to have a problem on our hands. Traffic in the region would queue for miles waiting for customs and border security checks and there simply is nowhere for them to stop. This small part of the country is one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the motorway network and investment is drastically needed to ensure a smooth road ahead for UK haulage.