Gridlock caused by Operation Stack 'a nightmare' for Kent

Operation Stack generic Image copyright PA
Image caption Operation Stack will remain in place all weekend, causing gridlock on other roads in east Kent

Drivers of Kent are facing gridlock on the roads all weekend as Operation Stack remains in place on the M20.

The motorway is shut coastbound for the 20th day in three months as lorries queue because of delays crossing the English Channel.

Vanessa Challess, from Maidstone, who is eight months pregnant, fears what will happen if she needs to get to hospital to give birth.

"It could take me hours to get to hospital whilst in labour," she said.

"The NHS has decided that high risk Maidstone women can't give birth in their home town.

"I therefore changed trusts to give birth at the William Harvey at Ashford, thinking it was a jaunt down the M20.

''The police will not allow an escorted trip down the middle of Operation Stack and tell me to call an ambulance, but I will then have no choice on where I give birth

"We will be stranded without a car and the ambulance may well face its own delays."

'Endless queues'

Matthew Balfour, Kent County Council's cabinet member for transport, said the situation in Kent was a nightmare.

"All the roads in east Kent get completely blocked up so people can't go to the shops, they can't get to the doctor, the hospital.

"They can't pick up their children, queues are endless and it's really insufferable.

"And it means that people who run shops in the towns and the villages don't get their trade because people stay at home."

He said the chaos was costing a estimate £1.5m a day for Kent's economy.

Image caption Osteopath Francesca Murphy said gridlock caused by Operation Stack was affecting her practice

Franscesca Murphy, an osteopath in Hollingbourne, near junction eight of the M20, said patients could not get to their appointments.

"It's having an effect on the practice with patients cancelling," she said.

"I'm losing money and losing business."

Tourist attractions Leeds Castle and Dover Castle, both accessed from the M20, said they had seen a drop in visitor numbers in the past month.

Sarah Codrington, head of marketing at Leeds Castle, said travel bulletins and overhead gantries on motorways saying that junction eight was closed were having a negative impact.

Dover Castle said pre-booked groups were cancelling their visits.

Image caption Leeds Castle said motorway closure signs were putting visitors off the attraction, near Maidstone

A summit meeting in Maidstone on Friday agreed to look at setting up a contraflow on the M20 to keep local traffic moving while Operation Stack was in force.

Mr Balfour said the emergency services' Gold Command would be discussing it on Monday morning and it was hoped it would be operating next week.

The contraflow plan was welcomed by drivers' organisation the AA.

"Getting some traffic moving southbound on the London-bound carriageway would certainly ease up conditions for Kent drivers," said spokesman Paul Watters.

Highways England said it was looking at the feasibility of the contraflow.

"Our highest priority is to ensure it could be done safely and we will be working with Kent Police and others in the operational coordination group to consider how it could be achieved," said a spokeswoman.

"We will report back through the Kent tactical co-ordinating group as soon as possible."

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