Lorry park plans for the Manston airfield site have been ‘stepped down’ by the government following the majority MP vote in favour of the plans for the UK to leave the European Union on January 31.
The order ‘augmented’ the deal to use Manston as a short-term solution for Operation Stack – the forerunner to Operation Brock – which was first struck with former site owners Stone Hill Park in August 2015 following a Summer of disruption due to French strikes and growing migrant camps in Calais.
The aim was to park lorries up at the site and so reduce pressure on the M20.
The new order extended the deal until December 31, 2020 with additions to allow work on the site to create a new access, add temporary hardstanding and modifications to the new entrance and create lining and signage.
Some £4.9million was earmarked to be spent on the work to increase capacity at the site to hold 6,000 – rather than the initial projection of 4,000 – lorries as part of Kent County Council and the Department of Transport’s Brexit contingency plans.
The Manston site was first stood down in May following the coming – and going – of the original EU exit date of March 29, revised to April 12 and then extended until October 31.
It was announced Operation Brock – the Kent Brexit resilience plan which included a contraflow system on the M20 – would be activated on October 28. This was again stood down as yet another Brexit date came and went.
With MPs now backing the EU Withdrawal Bill in a vote last month the government says the prospect of a no deal Brexit has been put on the backburner.
This has resulted in the standing down of the M20 barrier and decommissioning of the M26 plans under Op Brock and the ‘stepping down’ of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer – the codename used by the UK Treasury for cross-government no deal Brexit contingency planning. These included the Manston lorry park proposal.
A Government spokesperson said: “In light of the successful vote at Second Reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, we have decided to step down Government’s preparations for leaving the EU without a deal. We are confident that we will ratify the Brexit deal by 31 January.
“This will allow Government to focus on the people’s priorities in 2020, including the NHS and levelling up innovation, infrastructure and opportunities across the country.”
The spokesperson confirmed that the operational phase of Yellowhammer will not be stood up in January; new spending to prepare for leaving the EU without a deal on January 31 would not be authorised; civil service staff will not be surged into no deal planning roles in order to be ready for January 31 and plans to increase readiness for January would not be taken further.
A Highways England spokesperson said the key part of Operation Brock are being stood down but added: “Ensuring the smooth flow of traffic through Kent is a top priority and we are keeping the deployment of Operation Brock under continual review.
“We are in constant contact with the Government and our partners in Kent about when and how the Operation Brock barrier should be removed and will have more information soon.”
It is understood staff at the Manston site were notified of the operational decision on December 26 and were awaiting a final payment.
County coucillor Karen Constantine says she has been informed that 80 staff at Manston were stood down, “equating to a significant redundancy in Thanet.”
She emailed the two Thanet MPs and county council leader Roger Gough for confirmation and details of any planned action but says she had no response.
She added: “I am disappointed that KCC Leader Roger Gough didn’t get back to me, despite saying he would. We need KCC to lead on economic growth and that includes protecting existing employment opportunities.”