Fury mounts after trucks block A14

HIGH winds which close Felixstowe port have a knock-on effect which stretches far beyond its boundaries - causing chaos for residents and turning the A14 into a giant lorry and car park.

HIGH winds which close Felixstowe port have a knock-on effect which stretches far beyond its boundaries - causing chaos for residents and turning the A14 into a giant lorry and car park. Felixstowe editor RICHARD CORNWELL looks at the problems.

EMERGENCY services could find themselves stuck miles from the scene of a major incident in Felixstowe if the port was closed - because of lorries gridlocking the A14.

That was the fear voiced today in the wake of the latest failing of the Operation Stack system used to deal with trucks when high winds force Britain's biggest container terminal to close for safety reasons.

This week the A14 was again turned into a giant lorry park as trucks queued in both lanes, completely blocking the dual carriageway for four miles from the port to Trimley St Martin and Morston Hall.

Had there been a fire or explosion on a ship, a big chemical leak, or even a major incident on the Cavendish Park or Orwell Green housing estates, extra emergency crews from outside the town would have struggled to get through.

But today it emerged one of the major failings with Operation Stack and which caused the chaos in the twin Trimley villages was down to the Highways Agency.

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Signs on the A14 at Levington warning Operation Stack was running were still on after it was finished - so drivers decided to leave the dual carriageway and go through the villages instead, getting caught in 90-minute queues while the A14 stood empty.

Incredibly, the signs were still on saying Operation Stack was running 18 hours later.

Port officials have asked the Highways Agency to take urgent action to make sure the signs are more accurate, but also that they tell truckers to get into the outside lane to queue.

Many of the 4,000 visiting each day do not realise the procedure and by the time they approach the dock spur roundabout they find queuing lorries outside them and cannot change lanes, which causes the whole road to come to a standstill.

County councillor for Trimley and Felixstowe north, John Goodwin was incensed by the chaos this week.

“It was a disgrace - utterly abysmal,” he said.

“If there had been a fire in the Trimleys we would have been looking at the ashes by the time the fire engine arrived. What we would have done if there had been a major incident at the port doesn't bear thinking about.

“If the ambulance had been coming back from Ipswich to a heart attack victim, it would not have got through.

“They will wait for someone to die before they deal with this - we need to sort it out now before something happens.

“They want to swamp the Trimleys with housing and expand the port - which is the jewel in our crown and is hugely important to our economy - and this situation will only get worse.”

Chairman of the Save Our Hospitals Action Group, Roy Gray, who lives on Trimley High Road, said: “The traffic was solid for hours - it was unbelievable. I just kept thinking what would happen if there was a major emergency and how would anything get through to deal with it. There were police cars stuck in the traffic jams!

“It's time the port used some of the Blofield area for a lorry park to get some of these trucks off the A14.”

John Barker, chairman of Trimley St Martin Parish Council, said: “It was absolutely terrible - it was gridlock.

“I have written to the Port of Felixstowe to stress that the good relationship which the port has enjoyed with the Trimleys might have been damaged almost irreparably in the eyes of the community by these events.

“Urgent action is needed to ensure that there is no repeat of the failures we saw in Operation Stack.”

Felixstowe port corporate affairs manager Paul Davey said the port received regular weather bulletins and once wind speeds reached unsafe levels for cranes to operate - around 35mph - the port had to close. Managers liaised closely with Suffolk police over when Operation Stack should start.

The problems on Tuesday had partly arisen because of the large number of lorries visiting the port but also because of signage.

The port had written to the Highways Agency in January to highlight the problems and stress the need for signs to alert lorries to move into the outside lane - and is now writing again.

“We feel there should be something to tell hauliers to move into the outside lane early as that is where they will be queuing, and that then leaves the inside lane for cars coming to Felixstowe and Trimley,” said Mr Davey.

“Moving into the outside lane is counter to what lorry drivers normally do so they need to be informed as early as possible. If they do that then the road should not get snarled up and traffic should flow more freely.”

No-one was available to comment from the Highways Agency.

Do you think Operation Stack works? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

How Operation Stack works

When high winds close the port, parking areas inside the complex are used first - providing space for hundreds of trucks.

Once these are full, lorries are parked in the outside lane of the Port of Felixstowe Road between the dock spur roundabout and Dock Gate One - port-bound and then westbound, too, if space is still needed.

The third option - which has not been used - if more space is still needed is to send lorries back towards Ipswich to park on the old A45 Felixstowe Road at Levington.

Signs are placed on the A14 warning drivers and messages given out on radio stations and to haulage firms via e-mail advising truckers what is ahead and encouraging them to delay journeys or pull off en route.

CHAOS caused by Operation Stack has left residents furious.

Joanne Turney, of High Road, called for two new lorry parks to be opened.

She said: “The stench of traffic pollution was awful. The amount of lorries parked up along the roads is a disgrace.

“My main beef is that if the roads are congested and the lorries do block access to the port and surrounding roads - not to mention residential areas near Morrisons - then how is any emergency vehicle going to get through if needed. Yes, people can see what Operation Stack is trying to achieve, but unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of traffic it just is not safely workable.

“Why should residents be put at risk, and why must Trimley and Walton villages be swamped with traffic and pollution? People deserve better than this.”

Businessman Stephen Page, who was stuck on the A14 “car park”, as were deliveries for his company, said: “The situation over months now has become ridiculous and someone has got to get a grip.

“Anyone living in Cavendish Park will tell you that the port has become a real problem to them.

“Residents in Felixstowe are not second-class citizens who have to play second fiddle to commercial interests, no matter how big. Surely they have rights and entitlements of their own. Like the right to travel reasonably.

“If Tesco Copdock had been allowed to build a 50-space car park, to save money, you would have an equivalent situation of vehicles queuing on the A12/A14. This would be due to the fact that there would have been insufficient parking to cope with all reasonable circumstances, planned in.

“So, you have to ask the same question of the port - 'Is there enough parking space at the port to cope with all reasonable circumstances such as weather conditions? If not, why not?'

Gary Fayle, of Colneis Road, Felixstowe, said: “For the people of Felixstowe travelling home from work, windy days have been a nightmare. It would have been simple if the lorry drivers did not block both lanes - these lorries are becoming a blight on our towns.”