London: The Department of Transport is carrying out a live trial of an emergency traffic congestion system to be used in Dover in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with 79 lorry drivers participating.
The trucks started their journey at the disused Manston airport north of the port near Ramsgate at 7am on Monday and were due to make their way to Dover and return for a second test run at 11am.
The challenge facing the government and Kent county council was evident at dawn as an argument broke out between marshals over where the trucks were due to go.
In the three-stage process, tests were due to be held again just after 8am on a second holding area on a closed off lane on the southbound carriageway of the A256.
The Road Haulage Association described the test as “window dressing”, saying it could not be “mimicking the reality of 6,000 trucks” that would be held at the airport in the event of no deal.
The Department of Transport had hoped for 150 trucks to take part in Monday’s test, but only 79 turned up, including several from the Eddie Stobart haulage company.
“This is designed to test what happens if and there is no deal and Operation Brock is implemented,” said a spokesman referring to the code name for the Brexit traffic management plan.
Kent county council, which is participating in the test, has warned of chaos in the event of no deal with side-roads across the county backed up with 10,000 trucks a day that use the Dover and Eurotunnel transport services to France.
A no-deal Brexit could cause major disruption across Kent, with gridlock on the roads around Dover, rubbish not being collected, children unable to take exams and rubbish piling up on streets, the local council report warned last month.
In a 17-page report, the council, which is expected to bear the brunt of a no-deal Brexit because of the critical Dover-Calais trade route, said it might have to deal with 10,000 lorries parked or stacked on its roads if the UK crashed out of the European Union.
The convoy of 79 lorries will travel through Dover town in the third stage of the test.
“We want to see the impact on Dover as well. Any lessons learnt from today will be carefully considered and mitigating measures looked at,” said the spokesman for the Department of Transport.
The use of Manston airport, which was used to test the bouncing bomb prior to the Dambusters raid on Germany during the second world war, will be used as a lorry park for months if there is no deal.
It will be capable of handling 6,000 lorries at a time but other depots around the country will be need to form a network of holding pens to prevent gridlock in other hotspots around distribution centres in the Midlands and down the M1 and M2 corridors.
Kent county council has also started to map social care workers and clients to try to address travel issues for vulnerable residents. Where possible, council staff will be allowed to work from home for three to six months to reduce the burden commuting puts on transport infrastructure.