Exclusive: Brexit transition traffic management roles only just agreed

21/12/2020
Dominic Browne

The Government and the Police only secured final agreement on traffic management responsibilities for post-transition Brexit planning just days before the current border crisis.

With the UK due to end its transition arrangements with the EU on 1 January it has been preparing for the possible transport disruption from a 'non-negotiated outcome scenario'. 

However, it appears the traffic management roles relating to disruption from thousands of vehicles and HGVs crossing the channel every day have only just been finalised.

In a letter sent late last week to relevant authorities, the National Police Chief's Council lead for Civil Contingencies, DCC Paul Netherton, detailed the agreed traffic management roles of the Department for Transport, the Police, Highways England and Local Resilience Fora (LRF).

The roles relate to dealing with exactly the kind of crisis the UK is now facing after France announced a 48-hour travel ban from Sunday night on all accompanied transport from the UK. 

The measure was a reaction to revelations of a new strain of the virus, which is thought to be more transmissible though no more deadly. Latest updates suggest France could be preparing to lift the ban shortly.

Mr Netherton wrote a letter dated 17 December: 'Throughout the EU negotiations, I have been chairing a priority ports working group with representatives from police forces and relevant government departments.

'From the outset, it was clear that there was a need for clarity around where responsibilities lay for traffic management, particularly in relation to priority port areas.'

With the letter was an attached document that he said 'has been agreed' and is being shared 'to support your planning arrangements'.

The document, seen by Highways, outlines specific roles for different parties.

The DfT also 'owns transport-related risk entries in the National Security Risk Assessment and are responsible for working with national and local agencies and other Government departments to prepare for mitigating known risks'.

It states: 'While DfT has lead government department responsible for disruption to transport, others, including local highway authorities and Local Resilience Fora (LRFs), have lead responsibility for designing and implementing operational response plans.'

The document then sets out that DfT is the lead Government department for planning and coordinating, though borders and passengers disruption central case planning assumptions are handled by the Borders and Protocol Delivery Group.

It also highlights that the Strategic Co-ordinating Group (SGC, Gold Command Group) of the relevant LRF will provide strategic leadership throughout the course of an emergency or major incident. The Police, Highways England and local highway authorities sit on the SCGs.

The document does not appear to solve a responsibility overlap between Police and highway authorities that in councils have complained in the past has created problems through lack of communication. 

In line with normal practice, 'it will be the responsibility of Police forces to take decisions on whether roads need to be closed and/or traffic diverted in cases of emergencies, accidents or congestion'.

Police forces can take these decisions unilaterally although forces may wish to consult local authorities or Highways England.

However, Highways England has responsibility for the SRN and can also take decisions to close or divert traffic on the network 'in cases of emergencies, infrastructure failure or congestion' unilaterally.

'They have plans in place to mitigate the disruption to passengers and goods on their network and work with LRF members such as local authorities and the Police to mitigate these risks,' the document states.

In the same way, local highway authorities can take decisions to close or divert traffic away from their networks in cases of emergencies, infrastructure failure or congestion and can take such decisions unilaterally. 

The document identified 'disruption to people leaving or entering the UK and disruption to freight leaving or entering the UK as a result of changes to borders and customs regimes' as the main transport risks during the transition period.

In the event of localised traffic disruption, the DfT Departmental Operations Centre (DOC) would seek information from MHCLG RED, the Border Impact Centre and other government departments and agencies (including HMRC, Border Force, DHSC and Defra); the relevant LRF and ferry, port and other transport operators as needed. 

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