Tensions rising as Manston airport site reaches freight holding capacity

Manston lorry park at capacity in December Photo @Louis McLaren

Tensions are rising as freight drivers arrive at Manston in a bid to receive a lateral flow covid test but are being redirected to Operation Brock – a contraflow road layout on the M20 London-bound carriageway between junctions 9 and 8-  because the airfield site is now full.

Proof of a negative test is needed before drivers can travel into France.

Those on the M20 will be tested in situ. Testing will be supported by the military.


Euro Tunnel has issued a message saying: “Operation Brock is in place on the M20 where tests for all drivers are being carried out by British Health authorities. Drivers tested negative can then reach our terminal. Positive ones will be looked after by British authorities. If positive is confirmed after a second PCR test, they will have to isolate for 10 days in the UK where accommodation will be provided. Customers who arrive on our terminal without a negative test will be refused carriage.”

Unrest has also broken out among those already parked at the site with perimeter fencing broken down earlier today and protesting drivers bringing A299 traffic to a standstill.

Video Samuel Watson 

One Kent Police car is also reported to have sustained damage during the disturbance. Police say no arrests have been made but enquires will take place to identify those responsible.

The Manston airport holding site, which has been in use since Sunday night, is at capacity with 3,800 trucks and tempers are flaring.

Photo Gary Mills

Freight is currently parked there due to the closure of the UK-French border on Sunday night. The border reopened from midnight last night but drivers need a negative lateral flow covid test result before they can travel.

Rail, air and sea services resumed this morning (December 23), with all people travelling from the UK into France required to show proof of the negative test taken within the previous 72 hours.

The protocol agreed with the French Government will be reviewed on December 31, but could run until January 6. All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require the lateral flow test.

This can detect the new strain of COVID-19 and provide results in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test.

The French government will also carry out sample testing on incoming freight to the UK.

There are also reports of drivers heading to the walk-in test site at Margate and resulting distress on finding those tests are PCR and so require 24-48 hours before results are issued.

Photo Del Moorcroft
Photo Dan Thompson

A DfT spokesperson said: “As of 9.30am this morning there were 632 HGVs in Operation Stack, 610 HGVs in Operation Brock, and 3,800 vehicles at Manston. As remaining capacity at Manston is being reserved for testing facilities, any new lorries that are arriving are being directed to Operation Brock.

“We continue to urge hauliers not to travel to Kent until further notice as we work to alleviate congestion at ports.

“Testing has started.”

Standstill this morning Photo via Steve Carley

A Kent Police spokesperson said: “Kent Police received reports in the morning of Wednesday 23 December of disturbances involving individuals in both Dover and at the DfT-run lorry holding facility at Manston who are hoping to cross the Channel.

“One man has been arrested for obstructing a highway in Dover and remains in custody.

“Officers on the ground at both locations are working with partner agencies to make sure those hoping to travel to the continent adhere to the latest Government travel requirements regarding Covid testing.

“Kent Police continues to work with partner agencies to make sure those hoping to cross the Channel are informed of the latest procedures and requirements.”


The A299 Thanet Way is blocked and lorries are backed up to the Minster roundabout with the road between Minster and Jentex closed. Laundry Road is also blocked with HGVs,

Thanet Way near St Nicholas-at-Wade Photo Carl Hudson

The road is closed at Spitfire Way.

County Councillor Karen Constantine said she has requested a site visit to check driver welfare. She said: “For many months I have been raising my concerns about the impact of the use of Manston as a giant lorry park. My worse fears are now being realised. Thanet is rapidly becoming gridlocked impeding access to both QEQM, William Harvey and Kent and Canterbury hospitals. The road blocks are also creating delays for workers in essential services such as the NHS, care work, and the staff who have been deployed to get Covid testing underway are also hindered by the traffic jams. Meaning the lorry drivers will have to wait even longer to get results and to get going.

Laundry Hill Photo Pete Barnett

“It seems to have been completely forgotten that for many of the drivers struck in this blockage Christmas is tomorrow, December 24th. Especially for the polish drivers.  No wonder drivers are protesting, they are desperate to get back home to get their families.

“Kent County Council have really failed to understand the human side of this crisis. The emergency contingency planning has let a lot of people down. I hope now that the army are involved, with their superior logistics, Covid testing can quickly get going and we can get these workers back on the road.

“I have requested a visit to the site to check the conditions and welfare of the drivers and I am awaiting permission.”

Photo Pete Barnett

A special development order allows use of the Manston site as part of the Kent-wide Operation Fennel to hold up to 4,000 HGVs to help cope with possible post EU exit jams at the Port of Dover.

The deal with the Department of Transport for the site to continue to be designated as a ‘EU exit’ lorry park has been extended until the end of June 2021. After this it is expected that full custom controls will be in effect by July, negating the need for further use of the site,