Fury as government refuses again to fund £4m plans to avoid ‘total gridlock’ in Portsmouth

FURIOUS senior leaders charged with planning for disruption in Portsmouth after a no-deal Brexit have said the government is jeopardising contingency plans.

By Ben Fishwick
Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 9:24 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 9:26 am
Portsmouth International Port. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Portsmouth International Port. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Hampshire’s local resilience forum has put in place a system of checkpoints to hold lorries headed for the port if new customs checks lead to a delay at Portsmouth International Port after Britain’s exit from the EU.

But just a fraction of the cost has been met by the Department for Transport - which has refused to agree the forum’s plans for a ‘reasonable’ worst-case scenario.

On Monday the department wrote to the forum outlining it would not support Operation Transmission – the name given to the plan to hold lorries to avoid clogging up Portsmouth.

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Speaking on Monday to MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Portsmouth council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson criticised the department.

He said the forum, headed by Hampshire chief fire officer Neil Odin, said no-deal Brexit plans had been ‘hampered by poor engagement’, with traffic modelling requested in November 18 only provided in February – to the Channel Islands not Portsmouth.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There’s the chance of really significant problems but with no help or support from government. All our requests for help and support from government to get us ready have been rebuffed and we’ve had to find £4m from our own reserves.’

Planners fear any delay at the port will lead to lorries backed up on the M275 and M27. There will be checkpoints on the A31 and at Tipner West.

Gosport MP, Caroline Dinenage, alongside MPs from across south Hampshire met with Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, to discuss recent concerns surrounding Portsmouth Port in the event of a no-deal Brexit earlier this year. Concerns were raised earlier this month, at a meeting of the Local Resilience Forum, regarding the impact a No-Deal Brexit could have on movements at the Port and congestion on surrounding roads. The areas MPs met with the Minister to ensure that the Government were working to ensure major traffic congestion would not be caused on local roads following a No-Deal Brexit. They were assured that the Department of Transport have looked very carefully at this, that very few additional ferry movements to Portsmouth are projected and that ferry companies have reassured them that the proposed increases would be manageable. Caroline commented: It was very useful to meet with Chris Grayling to ensure that the Department of Transport are taking our concerns seriously. I was pleased to be reassured that there are no plans to shut any roads and that predictions that the M3 might be affected are wholly inaccurate. I have, however, asked the Secretary of State to double check their profiling to be absolutely certain, as Portsmouth Port is very small and the location means that traffic difficulties can easily occur. The Secretary of State advised that he will be writing to the Local Resilience Forum in person to address and allay their concerns.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson told MPs the forum was ‘extremely disappointed’ that the DfT would not support the no-deal traffic plan and ‘total gridlock was a real possibility’.

He added: ‘All the way down the line the Department for Transport, in the view of our local resilience forum... has behaved very, very badly and we’ve had no support from them at all.’

The contingency plans, due to start yesterday, have been put back to April 11 after prime minister Theresa May said she is seeking an extension to Britain's departure.

Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council have allocated a combined £4m. It will cost £30,000 a day to run the checkpoints.

It comes as extra ferry sailings commissioned by government, some of which will sail from Portsmouth, will also bring extra traffic to the city.

In his letter to the department, Neil Odin from the forum said: ‘Your letter says DfT cannot support the funding for Op Transmission, but does not state the course of action the two councils (Hampshire and Portsmouth) should take now, after investing significant sums in the set-up for Op Transmission.

‘As above we would all welcome clear communication regarding what we should do instead. Simply suggesting there might be some funding after the event if there was financial hardship is not useful for critical decision making.’

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We continue to work closely with local resilience forums, including the Hampshire and Isle of Wight LRF,to help them prepare for any potential impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU. 

‘Leaving with a deal is still our priority, but as a responsible Government it is only right that we push on with contingency planning.’

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan, who has been briefed on the plans, said: ‘Despite me sending letters, asking parliamentary questions, requesting adequate funding and lobbying ministers in the House [of Commons], [transport secretary Chris] Grayling and his department [are] failing to listen to legitimate concerns from our city, and failing Portsmouth people.’