Thursday, August 6, 2020

UK Government Publishes Latest Plans to Avoid Post-Brexit Congestion for Road Haulage Drivers

Fines, Banishment from Kent for Wrong Documents, Proposed Systems and a Consultation
Shipping News Feature

UK – EUROPE – Earlier this week the Department for Transport (DfT) published its latest information regarding proposals to adapt the infamous 'Operation Brock', the plan to control traffic on the link roads between the Channel Strait ports and the rest of the country. Having had to withdraw its plan for a lorry park at Stanford West due to its own failings, the back-up is to use the Kentish motorways as a truck park in busy times.

The government document is actually a consultation (HERE), and indeed the closing annexe offers all the questions to would be respondents, however there is an air of finality about the whole matter, and sections of it have already prompted a negative response. The strongest feeling that one gets when reading the questions is however that perhaps it was composed by someone who really doesn’t know exactly the nature of, and what to do, about the problems likely to arise.

The section which has aroused the most ire before even getting under way is the second question i.e. Do you agree with the principle of making use of the Smart Freight Service mandatory, including the £300 fine, for HCVs (any vehicle over 7.5 tonnes gross) travelling through Kent and the Short Straits? If not, why not?

The Road Haulage Association’s (RHA) chief executive Richard Burnett condemnation of the idea that planning to minimise post-Brexit border delays includes such on-the-spot fines for truckers who approach the new border without the correct paperwork, or who attempt to circumvent Operation Brock queues was unequivocal, calling it ‘impractical and counterproductive’.

The plan so it seems is to compose three statutory instruments (SIs) for presentation to Parliament in the autumn. These mandate a traffic officers ability to ‘request documentation relating to origin, destination and goods’ which seems simplicity itself but ignores whatever else may be required, as with the old pre Common Market paperwork or even the T documents for the first few years after Britain joined up.

After a considerable amount of waffle about what Operation Brock would have done had it been needed (it wasn’t because of the extension of the transition period) the document goes on to list the extensive range of possible documents actually potentially required. Some are electronic e.g. a master or movement reference number (MRN) from an import declaration, and some physical (carnets etc,).

These details will surely depend on the deal on trade finalised with the EU, or not as seems most likely. Those drivers without the documents get the £300 fine. The SI’s also enforce the routes which can and can’t be taken to the coast (Operation Fennel routes), and keeps trucks off the M20 between Junction 9 and Junction 13 unless their papers are in order and they display ‘a permit issued after using an approved route’.

What is certain is that there are going to be problems and delays, the complexity of the vast number of differing categories ensure this. What strikes one reading the requirements is that the idea of the EU being a unified state is simply a joke, different member countries all have different import requirements for goods entering from outside the bloc, and all the required documents need to be correct to avoid delays at the ports.

The government plan to deal with the possible congestion? Moveable concrete barriers kept alongside the motorway to shunt into place as required. This offers parking for up to 2,000 HGVs, no mention however of toilets, drinking water etc. all the problems we have seen time after time as drivers are stranded, sometimes for many hours, at the side of motorways.

The government assures the logistics industry that all problems will be resolved by way of its ‘Smart Freight Service’ (SF) which is intended to simplify and automate the process of establishing the border-readiness of any vehicle. It says the system will ask questions relating to the expected EU import controls at the border to ensure the HCV driver has the necessary documents before they travel. The service will include an online portal for registration of goods movements and an operator application to check compliance with the service.

For the end of the transition period, two key products are being developed to 'upstream' the border-readiness checking process to the point of loading:

  • a web-based portal for the SF service (the ‘SF portal’) which enables the HCV driver, or someone acting on their behalf, to self-declare if they have all the documentation they need to take goods across the Short Straits
  • a mobile application (the ‘SF app’) which enables enforcement officials to confirm that a vehicle is registered on the SF portal, and to see the outcome of their self-declaration

The government admits that with 80% if drivers using the Short Straits not being British it will need to offer the service in a plethora of different languages. The driver should then be able to log in to check that the vehicle is ready to ship. The SF portal will respond using the traffic light system of Green - for ready to go, Amber - paperwork declared but a MRN barcode to be obtained from the relevant office and Red - vehicle cannot be taken to the port as something is missing.

The Red result ‘may’ be able to tell the driver what is wrong (sounds a bit vague!) and the SF portal is likely to not be the only bit of bureaucracy needed to export the vehicle without delays. The traffic light system will be enforceable in Kent but only advisory across the rest of the country. All this then leads to a ‘Kent Access Permit’ (KAP), valid for one trip in 24 hours, travel without one and you get a fine (again).

Fines are for the driver, not his employer and failure to pay may result in confiscation of the vehicle. Drivers not complying with the regulations may be compelled to leave Kent or, congestion permitting, be sent to an off road holding site to put things in order.

So far we have only really looked at queuing up export vehicles. With parking in the Port of Dover for 1,000 lorries and another 400 at Folkestone import vehicles must also be considered. If ferries continue to arrive with import vehicles and these are delayed for any reason those spaces will fill very quickly.

You will have realised by now that there is not only a lot for road haulage operators and drivers, plus freight forwarders and customs agents, to study here, but also many gaps to be filled in by government. Our suggestion is that all stakeholders read the document via the link in the first paragraph before answering the questions in the consultation and adding their own comments to the authorities.

Photo: The original Operation Brock plans from March 2019.