Charlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal.
It seems every summer there is travel chaos in Kent. Every year it’s the same old story – whether it’s caused by French workers striking, bad weather, or even migrants storming the Port of Calais. And every year the authorities act all surprised as the wheels fall off yet again. But few in Kent were surprised when once again Dover was plunged into traffic chaos last weekend. Fourteen-hour queues built up at the port, while the people of Dover suffered – trapped by the gridlock coiling through the town.
Deep down we know that if this happened at Heathrow there would be uproar. Ministers would loom large on our TV screens, moving heaven and earth to sort it out. But it’s somehow seen as okay for tens of thousands of holiday makers and truckers to be stuck in the sweltering heat all day long without water, food, information or toilet facilities. You can’t help but get the impression that travelling from the Channel Ports is looked down upon and far less of a priority than the elite jet-set.
Yet we live in a new world where the barbarians have stormed the gates to take back control. Where we Conservatives rightly underline how Britain must work for everyone. There must be a change in attitude. Britain needs to work for the people who live in Dover and the people who were stuck in the queues, too. Moreover, those lorries are not to be sneered at – they are the economic lifeblood of the nation. Let’s not forget that last year’s fiasco cost the British economy £1 billion.
For sure, this time the delays were caused by French border officials. Yet our Government was warned this situation was developing. It should have been prepared. It should have had strong contingency plans in place. After all, this happened last year, didn’t it? But the Government was caught sleeping at the wheel. The response was embarrassingly poor. We cannot treat people like this. Nor can we afford the international trade damage to the British economy done by this annual fiasco.
We should rethink plans to invest billions of pounds in hub airports that will benefit the elite and international airlines but do little for Britons. We should invest more in infrastructure that will make a difference to travelling Britons and to our economy – starting with roads in East Kent and the Port of Dover. Because we cannot have this keep happening every year. We must keep order at the border.
We should start by ridding Dover of gridlock. We can no longer tolerate tailbacks in the town. Port traffic should be moved into a tunnel. This would mean the people of Dover would be able to move around. While Dover town centre could once again be connected with its stunning seafront. Dover would be transformed – the pride of the White Cliffs and a jewel in the crown of the nation.
Road capacity has to increase. Dover is the busiest ferry port in the world. Incredibly, the A2 into Dover from the north is just a single-track road. Meanwhile, the M20 peters out at Folkestone and turns into an A-road. We need full motorways, able to handle port traffic at all times.
After last year’s annual Kent traffic crisis, the Government finally agreed to build a car and lorry park. It’s still on the drawing board. They need to stop dithering and get on with it. We need the park to get traffic off the roads when disaster strikes. In fact we should be prepared to build a larger park – twice the size. That way the people of Kent will be able to go about their business while weary travellers can get food and water, and go to the toilet.
Finally, it’s time we had major investment in the port and town of Dover. The British Government has handed over tens of millions of pounds to Calais to help bolster their borders. Now it’s time for investment at home. The port must be able to hold more traffic and do security checks more efficiently. The Government must help connect our town to our harbour. Yet investment cannot stop at the seafront. It needs to be used to transform our town centre and give us the foundations upon which to build something truly great – to create Destination Dover. Our town has a proud history. Now it’s time to build its future.
To keep order at the border: Dig a tunnel. Fix our roads. Bust the gridlock. Invest in the Port. And make Dover the destination it deserves to be. Our Conservative Government has a huge opportunity to make positive change here and it should take it.