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Dover delays ease but disruption could continue for weeks

Published 24/07/2016

Queuing traffic on the A20 near Dover in Kent
Queuing traffic on the A20 near Dover in Kent

Delays for travellers heading towards Dover have eased but motorists have been warned to expect some disruption for weeks to come.

Holidaymakers faced hours on gridlocked roads this weekend as some spent the night in their cars as they tried in vain to get to the port.

By Sunday afternoon Kent police said the situation had returned to normal, with those on the roads facing a wait of about 30 minutes on the A20 approach to Dover.

UK Border Force officials have been drafted in to work with French border police after the Government admitted motorists had suffered "extraordinary disruption" as the great summer getaway began on Friday.

At one stage there were 12-mile tailbacks and people endured 15-hour waits.

Police said the disruption is down to a "vast volume of holiday traffic" coupled with delays caused by heightened security at the border in the wake of terror attacks.

Increased checks were put in place by French authorities at the port but questions have been raised about staffing levels to deal with the huge number of people travelling at this time.

After complaints that just one French officer was available to check in coaches on Friday night into Saturday, port authorities said six booths - four for cars, one for coaches and one for freight traffic - were manned overnight into Sunday.

Police said the "large volume" of holiday traffic coupled with heightened security checks "could however mean some delays over the next few weeks".

They had initially predicted severe disruption could last into Monday.

Water supplies were dropped along the jam by police helicopter on Saturday, as motorists rationed their food and drink during the standstill.

A Sikh humanitarian relief organisation also pitched in with the effort, delivering nearly 6,000 bottles of water along with snacks to the stranded motorists.

Motorists set to travel to Dover are still being advised to take food and water with them in case of delays.

Conservative MP for Dover Charlie Elphicke, who was stuck in traffic for around two hours on Friday evening, said there had been a lack of forward planning which led to "poor transport management" and urged the Government to apologise for the "traffic nightmare".

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham accused the Government of being "caught ill-prepared once again", warning the Prime Minister should have expected heightened security checks in France.

Following a day of disruption the Home Office announced late on Saturday that it would be sending the UK Border Force to help French border police, and said police would be "proactively managing traffic" to get people moving.

Among those affected by the disruption was multiple sclerosis sufferer Tanya Cudworth whose journey to Dover from Tunbridge Wells took 20 hours.

The 50-year-old, who was travelling to a Frankfurt clinic to undergo stem cell treatment for her condition after raising £5,000 for the trip, described the experience as "absolutely horrendous".

Highways England said they had been working hard to keep people informed of progress on their routes.

Some of those caught in jams had complained they were waiting in queues with little knowledge of when they might reach their destination.

A spokesman said: "We sympathise with those trapped in the traffic. We are working with our partners around the clock to minimise the delays as far as possible.

"Our electronic message signs are warning of the delays all the way up to the Midlands, we are tweeting regularly and have issued press releases to local and national media, and website channels.

"We urge people to plan their journeys and check road conditions before setting out."

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she sympathises with those caught up in the chaos, but said security is "paramount".

She said: "The security of our citizens is paramount, and as France acts to meet the heightened security pressures it faces we are also taking all necessary action to ensure the border between our two countries remains secure - whilst also ensuring goods and passengers move as quickly and efficiently as possible between them.

"I sympathise with everyone who has been affected by delays at the Port of Dover, and have been working with colleagues across Government to do all we can to support the French border authorities to speed up their security checks.

"Border Force officers have been working around the clock to assist their French counterparts - and we stand ready to assist in any other way needed. Highways England has also worked all weekend - alongside Kent Police, Kent County Council and the Port of Dover - to assist motorists caught up in the delays."

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