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February 22, 2019

UK truck tests for no-deal Brexit branded 'window dressing'

UK truck tests for no-deal Brexit branded 'window dressing'
'Lorries leave Manston airport in south east England for a trial to tackle post-Brexit traffic queues which Dover port has warned could lead to chaos ' - By: AFP Glyn KIRK

Dozens of trucks took part in a government exercise Monday for coping with possible Channel gridlock caused by a no-deal Brexit, assembling on a disused airport runway that could be turned into a giant lorry park.

But haulage groups labelled the exercise "too little too late" and "window dressing", while a local MP said the plan was "too complex" and would create "enormous confusion" for lorry drivers.

Nearly 100 lorries descended on Manston airfield in southeast England, which has been identified as a possible holding facility under contingency plans for leaving the European Union without a divorce agreement on March 29.

As part of the test, the vehicles then made two trips in convoy to and from the port of Dover -- a 20-mile (32-kilometre) journey -- along a route far less used by trucks than the main highway from London.

"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," said Richard Burnett, head of the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

"It's too little too late -- this process should have started nine months ago. At this late stage it looks like window dressing," he added.

The RHA are among the industry bodies advising the transport ministry and local officials ahead of Brexit, and helped attract truckers to the one-day trial.

A ministry spokeswoman said 89 trucks participated at a cost of 550 pounds ($700/610 euros) per driver, or £48,950 for the whole fleet.

"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," she said.

Toby Howe, senior highway manager at Kent County Council, told AFP the government was considering holding up to 6,000 lorries at Manston, "if necessary".

Howe said the aim of the exercise was to work out how quickly the trucks could leave the airport and how long it would take them to arrive in Dover.

- 'Least worst option' -

But Charlie Elphicke, the local ConservativeMP for Dover, criticised the plan as "too complex" and residents have voiced concern about traffic jams.

Dover handles some 10,000 heavy goods vehicles every day and there are concerns that increased checks on the border will create congestion on roads in the county of Kent.

It currently takes only two minutes for a truck to complete the formalities.

A mere two-minute addition would cause jams of more than 17 miles (27 kilometres) in Dover and similar chaos in Calais and Dunkirk, the Port of Dover warned on its website.

The Freight Transport Association, which also liaised with hauliers for the trial, said avoiding a no-deal Brexit was of "vital importance".

"Using Manston can never be a 'good' arrangement,just a part of the least worst option in the event of the ongoing disruption at Dover that no deal... would cause," it added in a statement.

Meanwhile at the nearby port of Ramsgate, dredging is under way to prepare the harbour for use in case of delays at Dover after March 29.

A solitary dredger was at work in the harbour on Monday, piling up spoil on the dockside.

The truck park stood empty, unused for several years.

"It's a bit of a fiasco," said Ramsgate resident Peter Elston, 63, a retired train driver walking his dog along the cliffs overlooking the port.

"It's much too late. I can't see it happening by the end of March, I can't see it working but it would be brilliant if it did."

Peadar Kelly, 47, a cab driver, said he had mixed views as the port would bring jobs and investment but change the quality of life.

He said Ramsgate felt quiet "like the end of the universe", whereas Dover had become "a passing-through area."

Katie, 30, said: "They thought they'd definitely get a deal and didn't need to do preparations and now they realise they have to do something.

"It's all so chaotic."

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