Monday, September 5, 2016

UK Freight Transport and Road Haulage Interests Rail at French Truck and Farm Blockade

Migrant Situation Prompts Walking Motorway Blockades Toward Calais
Shipping News Feature
FRANCE – Two of the UK’s logistics industry bodies have expressed their concern regarding the blockade of the Nord Pas de Calais by French hauliers supported by the regions farmers. Both the Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) have raised points which illustrate the dangers and inconveniences an ongoing protest is likely to have. Dozens of trucks supported by as many as 100 agricultural vehicles were gathered to drive in two slow, converging convoys, one northward from Boulogne, the other southerly from Dunkirk to blockade the Port of Calais and the Eurotunnel terminal at Coquelles.

Spokesmen for the protestors say they will not cease until the French authorities give a definite date to permanently close the migrant camp known as the Jungle which currently houses around 9,000 people all desperate to get to Britain. Attacks on UK bound lorries have escalated again in recent weeks and at night the A16 motorway often resembles a war zone with youths throwing everything from stones and bricks to wooden and metal staves at the trucks in order to stop them.

The latest tactic has been to try and cause cars to crash thus stopping all traffic to allow the migrants a chance to climb aboard the trucks and stowaway. An FTA delegation met with David Sangard, President of Calais-based Carpentier Transport & Logistique, on Friday to understand the scale of the protest and how it will affect its members who regularly use the route. Mr Sangard, one of the organisers of today's action, stated that the situation in the region was crippling his business, costing him over €250,000 in 2015. He commented:

"It is regrettable that we have to resort to such action, but we have been pleading with the French authorities to find a solution, including dismantling the migrant camp. This is the last straw, it is the equivalent of pressing the nuclear red button in order to be heard by the authorities."

The FTA is concerned that traffic will be brought to a standstill, and motorists stranded on the road could face attacks from migrants attempting to board their vehicles to get to the UK. Chris Yarsley, FTA EU Affairs Manager, said:

"While the FTA does not support this kind of direct action, we do share the concerns of those protesting that something needs to be done to solve the ongoing migrant crisis in Calais. Having visited the area last week, I have witnessed the increased violence and understand the danger that drivers face on a daily basis."

For its part the RHA expressed disappointment that the policy of the protestors had changed from their original intention just to have a go slow and the intention now was for a more prolonged protest until the matter had been resolved to their satisfaction. Concerns included the fact that a lengthy action continuing to block the French A16 motorway, would mean subsequent tailbacks in England on the M20 and might even mean the deployment of Operation Stack. Commenting, RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said:

"l was present at Friday's meeting in Calais at which the Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve gave his assurances that the 'Jungle' would be dismantled by the end of October this year. We understand that the hauliers and local businesses present had been given, in the past and in their eyes, false promises by the French government and were somewhat sceptical that the Minister would deliver. Their subsequent decision was that the planned action would take the form of a go-slow, not a blockade.

"It seems certain that traffic crossing from the UK will find it almost impossible to leave the Port as access to the A16 is denied. The inevitable repercussions of this will surely mean that the authorities on this side of the Channel will have no alternative but to deploy Operation Stack. This will bring yet further misery to hauliers bound for mainland Europe and of course for the people and businesses of Kent. It appears that the proposals made by the Minister were not enough to placate local Calais businesses and hauliers.

”We have been told that those taking part in the protest are in it for the long haul and they will stay there until they see action to dismantle the camp. While we understand the reason for the action, we cannot condone it. The knock-on effects for hauliers, Kent and those returning from their holidays on the Continent will also be in it 'for the long haul' but certainly not as a matter of choice."

Hauliers are advised to take alternative routes to the continent wherever possible until the situation resolves itself. The presence of agricultural workers alongside hauliers is a significant development, French administrations habitually have capitulated when the farming lobby becomes involved in any national protest. The farmers say they will no longer tolerate the extensive damage to crops and farms in the region which the presence of the migrants has caused.

Photo: Hundreds of demonstrators walk the A16 motorway preceding a convoy of trucks with no visible sign of a police presence.