A £130 million (€168.34 million) contract to build a lorry area in Kent, UK, close to the M20 motorway running from London to the South Coast, has been awarded to Balfour Beatty, although the project is now facing criticism from a Parliamentary Committee.

The contract – awarded by the government-owned Highways England – would cover the development of the proposals during the early contractor involvement (ECI) phase of the project and also the construction of the lorry area, subject to a government decision to proceed. The contract is a key part of the overall £250 million (€323.63 million) lorry area, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the autumn of 2015.

The lorry park is being proposed to help with Operation Stack, which is when lorries are parked along the motorway in cases of emergency when services across the English Channel to mainland Europe – the Channel Tunnel and ships from the Port of Dover – are disrupted.

In the House of Commons, the Transport Committee – a Commons Select Committee – said that the case for the lorry area had not yet been made.

It said that although the government was right to seek a solution to the disruption caused by Operation Stack, 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.

The committee found that the government’s decision to proceed was rushed in reaction to the events of the summer of 2015 when Operation Stack was used longer than ever before.

The government has set aside a budget to build a permanent lorry park near junction 11 of the M20, capable of holding around 4,000 large goods vehicles.

Unprecedented

The Transport Committee pointed out that this would require an area of land equivalent in size to 90 football pitches (about the same size as Disneyland in California). It would be on a scale unprecedented in Europe, with just one other lorry park in the world rivalling it for size.

The committee called on Transport Ministers to demonstrate the necessity of building the lorry park, including the cost-benefit ratios of alternatives to the lorry park, and whether the lorry park was a proportionate and appropriate solution to the scale and frequency of disruption associated with Operation Stack.

It also called for a look at the environmental and social costs that the lorry park would impose on the local area, the value of any benefits that the lorry park would bring locally and to the UK economy, and the long-term costs of operating, maintaining, renewing and, eventually, decommissioning the lorry park.

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the committee, said, “The disruption caused by Operation Stack affects many people in Kent but this is not just a local issue. The routes to Dover and Folkestone are important nationally – they carry more than 80% of the road freight entering or leaving the UK.

“The government has settled on a lorry park as the best solution but what they are proposing is on a vast scale and could cost up to a quarter of a billion pounds.”

She added, “We are not saying that the government should not press ahead with its proposal, only that it has more work to do to persuade us of the business case for this investment.”

Efficient approach

Balfour Beatty, meanwhile, said it would use its technological expertise across the project, including the latest building information modelling (BIM) to define the most efficient approach to design and the construction programme, avoid programme and utility clashes, improve the works sequence, and optimise the design of the structures while reducing time on site and cost and enhancing safety.

Leo Quinn, group chief executive, said, “Balfour Beatty’s expertise in major infrastructure projects and longstanding relationship with Highways England will be crucial for the safe and successful delivery of this project.

“The M20 lorry area will provide much needed relief to Kent’s road networks while supporting local economic growth and development.”

If it goes ahead, the lorry park is expected to be partially open by the summer of 2017.

Balfour Beatty said the early award of the contract would minimise potential delays to the work starting on site once the location was finalised and a decision to proceed was made.

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