A furious Conservative MP has demanded to know why he was not told about plans to turn a motorway in his constituency into a “parking lot” to handle the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Tom Tugendhat told the Commons that work on the M26 in Kent started on Wednesday night, even though he was given assurances that nothing was in the pipeline.
Highways England has confirmed to Sky News that as part of “wider resilience planning”, the Department for Transport has asked it to “develop plans to utilise the M26 to hold heavy goods vehicles, should further capacity be required in the future”.
There will be overnight closures on the motorway until Monday and in the run-up to Christmas between 19 November and 21 December while the work is carried out.
Diversions will be in place via the M25 and M20.
A Highways England spokesman said: “We will be undertaking site surveys on the M26 during October leading to the installation of two gates in the central reservation to support the safe management of freight in the future, if needed.”
There are concerns a “no-deal” scenario could result in long delays at Dover for cross-Channel traffic.
The Road Haulage Association warned in August that such an outcome would be “grim” – and would see Kent “become the UK’s biggest lorry park”.
Rising to ask a question to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in the Commons, Mr Tugendhat said: “It’s come to a pretty pass when a member finds out that works have begun on a motorway to turn that motorway into a parking lot without consultation either with the local community or with surrounding members.
“The M26 works started last night. I wrote to [Mr Grayling] in April asking whether or not this would happen.
“I was assured the works were not planned and only yesterday was it confirmed to me that Highways England had said that is exactly what was planned, despite having told me the reverse a week earlier.”
He urged Mr Grayling to explain how the planning permission was granted with “no consultation”.
Responding to Mr Tugendhat, the transport secretary did not deny the works were related to “no-deal” Brexit planning and said he was happy to meet with the MP.
Mr Grayling added: “I do not expect any of the contingencies that we have in place for a no-deal Brexit to be needed because I’m confident we will reach a sensible agreement.”
There will be overnight closures from 10 to 15 October between 10pm and 5.30am and from 19 November to 21 December between 10pm and 5am, with Friday night closures during the latter period between 11pm and 6am.
Sky News reported in May that the government plans to section off the entire southbound carriageway of a 13-mile stretch of the M20 in Kent to hold about 2,000 lorries in the event of severe cross-Channel congestion.
The plan, codenamed “Operation Brock”, will be delivered in time for Brexit day next March.
Though the Government denies any direct connection with Brexit, this interim solution was earmarked for delivery before any possible change to customs arrangements in March.