Calais migrant crisis prompts plan to turn Kent airport into lorry car park
The M20 in Kent was open in both directions and Channel tunnel trains running on Monday morning as plans were being developed to avert further delays being caused by desperate migrants in Calais.
There were some delays to the cross-Channel service, but drivers reported clear roads to Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal – in marked contrast to the clogged roads across Kent in recent days.
Preparations for the next crisis in Calais continued, with the UK Department for said to be set to sign a contract with the owners of the mothballed Manston airport in east Kent to use it as a lorry park.
Sections of the M20 have been reduced to a standstill in recent weeks after attempts by migrants to storm the Eurotunnel freight terminal in Calais shut down the service. Strike action by French workers in the port of Calais has also caused massive disruption.
Operation Stack, the contingency measure that turns the M20 into a de facto lorry park, has been lifted since Saturday morning, according to Kent police.
An announcement on plans to use Manston airport as an overflow for Europe-bound lorries caught up in delays was expected to be made later on Monday, reported. According to the news site’s sources, the airport’s owners and DfT officials are set to sign a three-month deal to provide space for several thousand vehicles.
Very little work would need to be done to adapt the site, which has been closed since May 2014, since its three-lane runway is hard enough to bear the weight.
The roads minister, Andrew Jones, announced on Friday that a car park at Ebbsfleet International railway station in north Kent would be used to provide spaces for up to 1,000 lorries.
But local opponents warn that the Manston airport plan would simply shift the problem to another part of the county. Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP for South Thanet, tweeted: “I reject any proposals #Manston as lorry park. A256 inadequate, shift of problem #EastKent unacceptable.”
Despite free-flowing roads leading towards the Eurotunnel terminal on Monday morning, lorry drivers were still being warned of delays to the service in both directions “due to an incident on the terminal”.
There were two departures an hour on the Europe-bound service, and just one an hour leaving from Calais for the UK. Drivers in Calais faced six-hour journeys from check-in to arrival in the UK.
John Keefe, Eurotunnel’s UK spokesman, said migrants had made further attempts to break through the fences of the service’s Calais terminal overnight, but most were repelled by police.
“It’s very much the same as it was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before,” he said. Despite that, the tunnel had managed to maintain a normal service over what was the busiest weekend of the year so far, he added.
Keefe said the indications were that the attempts to break into the terminal were being coordinated by people-smuggling gangs. However, increased security had brought a change in tactics. “On Saturday night we saw a very, very interesting moment because we had migrants protesting rather than seeking to make it across,” Keefe said.
“When they were held back by police they started chanting and it was a protest in that sense. They were eventually moved away by police and they moved to the access route to our freight area where they started a sit-down protest. This is very, very clearly something which is coordinated and sending a message. Is it because we are starting to reinforce the terminal? Is it that they are about to change approach in any major way? We don’t know but it’s intriguing.”