The Department of Transport will provide roadside Portaloos for lorry drivers caught short in long queues caused by Brexit border delays, MPs have been told.
Transport minister Rachel Maclean told the transport select committee that temporary toilets would be installed on the roadside in Kent and elsewhere as part of planning for the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has warned that in a “reasonable worst-case scenario” up to 7,000 lorries could face two-day delays in Kent while waiting to cross the Channel.
The lack of roadside facilities in Kent has long been a complaint of the haulage industry and local residents.
Select committee member Karl McCartney MP said that in lay-bys in Kent “there’s a proliferation of bottles that look like they’re filled with Irn-Bru, but aren’t”.
“We have detailed plans that we’ve worked up for provision of not only Portaloos but other facilities for drivers, not only in Kent should there be stationary traffic, but also in a range of other areas around the country,” Ms Maclean told the Transport Select Committee.
The minister said temporary outdoor shower and washroom facilities would also be provided, and would be kept open even if coronavirus closes existing service stations.
“Drivers have got access to the full suite of facilities at existing service stations and truck stops including toilets, showers and refreshments.
“But in addition we have taken into consideration the situations where those facilities would need to be closed because of COVID.
“Even in that situation we will continue to provide washroom facilities in line with Public Health England guidelines.”
Asked if she was confident that the end of transition would not see chaos on the roads in Kent, Ms Maclean warned “there will be unknown unknowns”, but said previous planning undertaken for earlier missed Brexit deadlines would help alleviate pressure.
The portable toilet plan was revealed as representatives of the haulage industry said long delays were inevitable when the transition period ends.
The industry is still waiting for the launch of software designed to handle the multiple processes that will replace the current open customs arrangements for EU member states.
There is also concern that with just 11 weeks to go coronavirus has slowed down the training and recruitment of customs agents many hauliers and exporters will rely on to navigate the new red-tape required by Brexit.
Asked if delays were inevitable, Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, told MPs: “My view would be yes.
“We are trying to align thousands of businesses and people all at the same time to understand the processes, and then at the flick of a switch start to manage those processes.
“If we can’t fill out the customs declaration in the first place, what does UK business do in terms of exports, what do traders do if they can’t find an intermediary or get the paperwork complete or if there are mistakes with that paperwork?
“When those vehicles are checked to see if they have got the correct paperwork are they returned in France because it’s with the vehicle but not filled out correctly?”