A Bill to create a legal framework for the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles in Great Britain will have its second reading on 5 March 2024.
What’s the problem?
88% of HGVs travelling from Great Britain to mainland Europe use the Dover Strait Port Group. The M20 is the main freight corridor to the Channel Tunnel. It is also used by up to 70% of traffic heading for the Port of Dover (which then takes the A20 coastal route from Folkestone to Dover), because of the inferior standard of the more direct A2/M2 route to Dover (the approach to the Port on the A2 has a number of sections that comprise a single carriageway). On average, some 10,800 road-freight vehicles cross the Strait of Dover each day (5,400 in each direction), around two-thirds of them travelling by ferry and one-third through the Tunnel.
According to Highways England, there is a shortage of lorry parking spaces in Kent:
- A number of commercially operated sites exist but these are often full with lorries being turned away. For reasons of safety lorry drivers are subject to strict rules on how long they can drive between breaks, and how long these breaks must be, and if no formal parking is available drivers stop where they can. The shortage of spaces leads to inappropriate lorry parking, sometimes known as ‘fly-parking’, where lorries park in areas not intended for them, such as the motorway hard shoulder, rural verges, local streets and so on.
- Sometimes such parking is illegal and the authorities can take action. Elsewhere it is not illegal but can be highly disruptive to the local road network, towns and villages and local roads. It can cause damage to verges and pavements and residents are subject to noise and visual intrusion. Litter and waste can be a particular problem given that often no toilet facilities are available to lorry drivers. [Highways England, Managing freight vehicles through Kent, December 2015]
Research by AECOM in 2005 found that almost half of the drivers it surveyed stated that the main reason they parked overnight in Kent was to do with running out of Drivers’ Hours; this increased to 65% of Central European Drivers. At the time concerns over immigrants getting into vehicles in France, while the vehicle was parked was the number one reason for 20% of drivers.
A 2011 study by AECOM for the Department for Transport recorded 280 sites across England allowing overnight HGV parking. These sites had a total capacity of 13,173 parking spaces; of these 1,992 spaces were in the South East. On-site utilisation for these spaces was 71%, with a further 1,167 vehicles parking in industrial estates and lay-bys. This resulted in a total number of vehicles in excess of capacity of 590 – the second highest in England. The total number of associated crimes was 348.
Parking enforcement & HGV bans
Goods vehicles with an operating weight exceeding 7.5 tonnes, are prohibited from parking on verges, footpaths or the central reservations of roads under section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as amended.
The maximum penalty for committing an offence under section 19 is a £1,000 fine (level 3 on the standard scale). Parking in breach of section 19 is also a non-endorseable Fixed Penalty offence, for which the fine is £30 (£40 in London).
Otherwise, parking by goods vehicles is permitted except where there are local authority-enforced parking restrictions in place.
Local authorities can use their powers to make Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to ban vehicles weighing more than 7.5 tonnes from individual roads or zones. They can also be used for limited parking restrictions. TROs are enforceable by local authorities rather than the police.
Some areas, such as Ashford in Kent, have sought to develop an innovative mixture of solutions to HGV parking problems, including clamping persistent offenders and pursuing offenders abroad.
Penalties for foreign hauliers
There are difficulties in enforcing civil offences (i.e. parking, moving traffic violations, non-payment of congestion charge etc.), against foreign-registered HGVs.
The SPARKS Network of cross-border traffic enforcement enables local authorities in the UK and other European countries to collaborate to resolve issues concerning cross-border enforcement. London was one of the pioneering areas for this programme.
In addition, in 2008 the Labour Government legislated in the Local Transport Act 2008 to make it easier for local authorities to obtain information to enforce fines etc. against foreign vehicles and owners. This came into force in February 2009.
For criminal offences, the UK has a graduated fixed penalty and deposit scheme for foreign drivers, whereby enforcement agencies can stop drivers who commit motoring offences on UK roads and take a deposit from those that are unable to provide an address in the UK (because they cannot enforce actions once they are returned home). In its first three years in operation (2009-12) £5.6 million were paid in deposits [HC Deb 2 July 2012, c441W].
Parking & rest facilities on the Strategic Road Network
In preparing what became the Road Safety Act 2006 the then Labour Government took note of recommendations from Brake, the road safety charity, and others that tiredness was a serious problem for those travelling on the strategic road network (motorways and major A roads) and that the Government should create rest areas similar to the French aires.
Accordingly, section 55 of the 2006 Act contains a measure allowing the Government of the day to pilot the use of rest areas directly accessible from the motorway network. According to the impact assessment for the Bill, the cost of providing a pilot site would be about £3 million, with annual running costs of around £300,000 (for regular cleaning of toilets, litter clearance and landscape maintenance). The plan offered no commercial opportunities and would have had to be publicly funded. Concerns about this were expressed as the Bill went through Parliament.
A subsequent consultation was published in April 2010, with the outcome announced in June 2011. The then Minister said that there was strong support from the haulage industry for the development of truckstops and that proposals for dedicated truckstop facilities would be considered in the context of existing and/or proposed rest facilities on the strategic road network, and determined on their individual merit. In particular, where there was evidence to demonstrate that demand for lorry parking exceeded supply, the development of truckstop facilities at existing service areas would be viewed favourably. [HC Deb 22 June 2011, cc17-20WS].
There has been a long running campaign on the issue of rest facilities by the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Unite and an offshoot of the British Toilet Association. A petition led by Blue Arrow called for easy access to clean and well-maintained toilets at companies visited; more facilities along routes (motorway services not being enough) and provision in laybys.
Operation Stack & a new lorry park
Operation Stack is implemented when either of the cross-Channel services is severely disrupted, for reasons such as bad weather, operational problems, industrial action and demonstrations, and, in recent instances, migrant action at Calais (Coquelles). It involves the emergency use of large stretches of the M20 motorway (in south east Kent) to park freight traffic bound for the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover. When the M20 is in use for Operation Stack, other traffic must be rerouted onto the local road network. This includes both local traffic and non-freight (largely tourist) traffic heading for the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel.
In the summer of 2015, as a result of severe and protracted disruption to both ferry services and the Channel Tunnel, Operation Stack was deployed on an unprecedented scale. In consequence, the local community in south east Kent experienced a very significant level of disruption and inconvenience. The Transport Committee launched an inquiry into the issue, including the Government’s proposal to mitigate the problem by constructing a permanent off-road lorry park.
The Committee observed that Operation Stack leads to some parking in illegal or otherwise inappropriate locations (fly-parking) by non-compliant drivers. Fly-parking by lorries is also a major, chronic problem in Kent quite separate and apart from Operation Stack. Fly parking is a particular problem for Highways England, since much of it occurs in locations for which the organisation is responsible (for instance on hard shoulders and under motorway bridges). The Committee heard from some, including local-government bodies, for whom the potential use of the lorry park as a solution to fly-parking was a significant reason for supporting it.
However, it also heard strong counter arguments. It was pointed out to the Committee (and not only by opponents of the Stanford lorry park) that parking capacity to address fly parking is needed across much of Kent (if not the rest of the country), rather than concentrated in a single location. This is because drivers stop and take breaks wherever they happen to be when they are at risk of exceeding their legal hours. In addition, the provision of further paid-for parking capacity would not address the problem of those drivers who fly-park in order to save money. The Committee also heard that enforcement measures (including Traffic Regulation Orders) would be necessary, as well as further parking spaces, if the problem of fly parking was to be effectively addressed.
The Committee concluded that the case for a lorry park had not been made and that the decision to “proceed at pace with its proposal for a lorry park had left behind some of the usual best practice when spending such large sums of money” [Operation Stack: case for £250m lorry park not yet made, 1 June 2016]. Notwithstanding this, on 6 July 2016, the then Secretary of State for Transport announced that Stanford West near M20 Junction 11 in Kent would be the proposed site for the major new lorry area [DfT, Transport Secretary announces proposed site for Operation Stack lorry area, 6 July 2016].
A Government Bill to regulate pedicabs in London will have its second reading in the Commons on 28 February 2024.
There will be a Westminster Hall debate on victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system on Tuesday 30 January 2024 at 9.30am.