The Operation Brock system installed to manage the traffic chaos expected in Kent post-Brexit will now itself cause a year of disruption as the barrier is moved from the edge to the middle of the motorway.
The scheme, at an estimated initial cost of £35m, was designed to ease blockages on routes to and from Channel ports with a counter-flow system to queue up lorries held up by border and customs requirements.
The steel sections originally used were replaced with a movable concrete barrier from 2020, intended to minimize disruption by reducing set-up and de-activation times.
Now that barrier itself must be moved, according to National Highways, to the central reserve while it tackles drainage issues on the highway.
Work to move and store the barrier will cause parts of the M20, which links London to Folkestone, to be closed overnight from the end of January, with lanes closed on both sides for 40 weeks.
The concrete barriers span a 16 mile stretch of the Kent Motorway and are currently stored on the hard shoulder bound for London.
While queues never reached the worst forecast of 13,000 lorries, the system was briefly revived last July when the start of the school holidays raised fears of congestion around the Channel ports.
Last October, it was revealed that the government retained emergency powers to implement the system in the event of future border disruptions.
National Highways said they would need to carry out a major drainage upgrade and earthworks to allow the Brock Barrier to be stockpiled on the central stockpile. The work could last up to 12 months, he said.
Confusingly, the Brock barrier will be placed on the freeway to seal the necessary works until October. National Highways said this “won’t mean Brock’s contraflow system will be active” – but it could be. The measure “will provide a more efficient and cost-effective way to be able to deploy the countercurrent quickly and efficiently when needed,” the agency added.
Reduced speed limits will also be in place on parts of the M20 for the duration of the works.
Advisers said they did not fully understand the reasons for the latest developments in Operation Brock, the deployment of which has long been a source of irritation for locals and motorists.
Ashford Borough Council Deputy Leader Paul Bartlett told Kent Online he thought there were security concerns, adding: ‘It seems extraordinary that it’s taking 12 months. They sent a very long letter about it, but it doesn’t give much information about why they’re doing it.