Helen Whately – 2018 Speech on Lorry Parking

Below is the text of the speech made by Helen Whately, the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, in the House of Commons on 30 January 2018.

A few weeks ago, in the early hours of the morning, a car carrying four men crashed into a parked lorry on the edge of the A2 just south of Faversham. Three of the men were killed; the other was seriously injured. We might never know exactly what happened, and I am absolutely not blaming the lorry driver, but that stretch of the A2 is a well-known spot for what we call lorry fly-parking. Fly-parking is when lorries park in lay-bys or on slip roads, hard shoulders, pavements or verges, often at the edge of busy roads such as the A2, the A20 and the A249 in my constituency. Sometimes they also park up quiet country lanes or in industrial estates and housing estates. In general, these are places where lorries should not be parked for more than the few minutes that might be needed for a delivery or an unexpected stop. Sometimes they park legally, and sometimes illegally. Sometimes they park perfectly safely, albeit inconveniently, but at other times, unfortunately, they park dangerously.

This was not the first fatality in my constituency involving a parked lorry. A 74-year-old woman died after crashing into a lorry parked on the hard shoulder at junction 7 of the M20 a couple of years ago. Whatever the cause of the latest crash, this horrific accident should focus our minds on the problem, focus our attention on the need for more lorry parking spaces, and focus our energies on ending lorry fly-parking. Lorry fly-parking is dangerous. There is a danger to other motorists from lorries lined up, bumper to bumper, in lay-bys, sometimes jutting precariously out into the road. There is a danger to the police officers who risk their lives walking along the hard shoulder at night with hundreds of cars speeding by as they move alongside illegally parked trucks. There is also a danger to the lorry drivers themselves when they are in charge of a heavy goods vehicle but have not had a proper rest. A busy roadside with traffic thundering past is hardly a good place to get a proper night’s sleep.

The haulage industry is, rightly, tightly regulated. Drivers must record their hours on a tachograph and take breaks every four and a half hours. When the time comes to stop, they have to stop, but the roadside is not only a bad place to sleep, but a pretty bad place to stop off in general for a driver, as it has no security, no facilities, no showers and not even toilets. That is hardly helpful for an industry that would like to attract more women. From the point of view of most of my constituents —those who are not lorry drivers—they see extra litter and pretty disgusting other stuff on the roadside, and anyone who needs to pull into a lay-by on a main road can forget it, because they are already full.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. Northern Ireland is heavily reliant on cargo being freighted by ship and then by lorry, so this issue concerns us greatly. We must ensure that there are safe and secure areas for lorry drivers to park, not only to enable them to stay within their hours under EU legislation, but to keep them and those who come into contact with them safe. Does she ​agree that we should look into providing parking facilities so that those living in residential areas do not have to listen to idling lorries and so that those who drive the lorries can be safe?

Helen Whately

I completely agree that this is about making things better for residents and ensuring that lorry drivers have the facilities that they need. I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for bringing a Northern Ireland perspective to the debate.

Lorry parking is not a new problem, but it is growing worse and it is time to fix it. So what is the answer? Everyone we speak to, including the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, Highways England, local councillors and our constituents, will give the same common-sense answer: we must build more lorry parks. That seems deceptively simple. We know that there is demand for more truck stops. For instance, Kent County Council’s surveys show that we have around 900 lorries a night parking inappropriately. Lorry parks in Kent are turning lorries away. Ashford lorry park turned away 252 trucks in a single night last year, so the demand is clearly there. Kent County Council has been taking action by identifying possible locations for new truck stops and talking to lorry park operators to gauge their interest. Indeed, the Ashford lorry park just yesterday submitted a planning application to expand from 390 to 600 places. Those extra places will be helpful, but the number still falls far short of the 900 extra places needed in Kent. As freight volumes continue to grow with the growing economy, one can predict that that shortfall will only increase.

However, that prompts a question: given that commercial operators run service stations and lorry parks in the UK, why have more truck stops not stepped up to serve the demand? What can we do to ensure that the shortfall in parking places is met, and quickly? What conversations has the Minister had with lorry park operators about what is stopping them expanding? What investigations has he made to determine how we can encourage planning applications for truck stops that can make their way successfully and speedily through the planning system? I recognise that fast-forwarding planning for lorry parks is difficult, given the experience in Kent with the Operation Stack holding area, but when we get that vital lorry holding area, will the Government ensure that it can also be used for overnight lorry parking? I want lorry parking to be included in all major road improvements—specifically the lower Thames crossing—not just in Kent, but across the country.

Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)

Just as in Faversham and Mid Kent, my constituency experiences a lot of lorry traffic and much of its economy is based on logistics. The Department for Transport focuses heavily on rail—often for good reason—but with the majority of haulage and freight travelling by road, does my hon. Friend agree that the Department needs to consider both rail and road provision? When looking at road provision, the Department needs to consider not just the infrastructure of the roads themselves, but lorry parking and good-quality facilities as a priority.

Helen Whately

I thank my hon. Friend for making the point that investing in road infrastructure, as we are doing in this country, goes hand in hand with planning for where lorries will park and the facilities that drivers ​will need. No major road investment should be planned without facilities for the motorists and lorry drivers who will use the roads.

As we provide more parking places, we must ensure that drivers use them, and I welcome the signals the Government have been sending about effective enforcement. For example, they have supported the enforcement pilot that is currently under way in Ashford, where lorries are being clamped the first time they park illegally. The pilot has successfully reduced reoffending and the message is getting through, because only one lorry has been clamped twice and all fines have been paid. My hon. Friend the Minister has kindly contributed to that success by allowing the local authority to increase the fines that it can charge, meaning that the council is no longer left out of pocket when lorries are clamped, and I thank him for that. If the clamping pilot continues to get results, I hope that it can be rolled out across Kent and then throughout the country. Eventually, we should have a complete ban on lorries parking for long breaks outside truck stops. However, as drivers have told me many times, it is only reasonable to enforce a ban on lorry fly-parking if there are enough legitimate places for lorries to park.

As I have said, Kent is disproportionately affected by lorry fly-parking because most of the UK’s road freight travels along the M20 and then across the channel or, alternatively, down the M2 and A2 and then down to the channel crossings in Kent. The Port of Dover handles 10,000 HGVs a day. Although we feel the problem so particularly in Kent, it is a national one, and I know from colleagues that there are lorries lining up on many trunk roads across the country. Perhaps at some point in the future we will have self-driving lorries, which I assume will not need to stop to sleep, but that is not going to happen for some years—probably some decades—so we must do something about the issue in the meantime. My hon. Friend the Minister gets that, as did his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), and I thank them for the hard work that they have put in so far.

To conclude, may I just say to the Minister that if we are to achieve the vision of a dynamic country that is fit for the future, we need the right infrastructure to keep the economy moving? The current situation is unacceptable for lorry drivers, for other motorists, and for residents who live in the places that have become improvised truck stops. It is also dangerous. We need more lorry parks, better facilities for drivers and effective enforcement. In that way, we can end lorry fly-parking and make our roads safer.