Home Secretary moves to create Calais ‘secure zone’

The announcement in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, that a new ‘secure zone’ is to be created in Calais in a bid to stop migrants attempting to access lorries bound for the UK has been welcomed.

Besides identifying that the new zone, which will have capacity for 230 vehicles, would transform the protection offered to drivers and their vehicles by “removing them from the open road where they can become targets for migrants”, the Home Secretary also confirmed that between 21st June and 11th July a total of 8,000 migrants had attempted to cross the Channel in an attempt to enter the UK.

Following the Home Secretary’s statement, representatives of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) presented evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, also at the House of Commons, about the deepening crisis in and the experiences of their members.

BIFA's director general, Robert Keen, described Ms May’s announcement as very welcome, adding: "Only a month ago, we called for some additional action from the authorities in France and the UK to step up their protection of the routes across the Channel and fulfil their obligations to let trade move unhindered before serious damage is done to this strategic freight route.

"If the new secure zone helps to protect hauliers, it is great news for our members that are engaged in cross channel trade."

James Hookham, the FTA’s deputy chief executive, who reported to the Home Affairs Select Committee, identified that the measure would allow UK drivers to queue and get out of their cabs without fear of intimidation.  He said: “At long last something is being done in order to protect drivers, but we still need the French to step up their policing of the area and address the issue of the migrants camped out in Calais.”

“Calais is a vital trade gateway, with £89 billion passing through the port every year. We cannot allow the migrants to put this in jeopardy – already millions of pounds have been lost in delays, damage to vehicles and spoiled cargoes.”

The Home Affairs Select Committee also heard evidence from Richard Burnett, the RHA’s chief executive, who outlined that loads contaminated or tampered with by illegal stowaways sometimes had to be destroyed.

Mr Burnett commented: “The owners of goods have to take the drastic action of scrapping loads as they cannot take the risk that they have been contaminated or damaged.  With something in the order of 10,000 loads moving every day across the Channel, even if only 1% are tampered with or soiled, at a loss rate of about £30,000 per trailer, this equates to about £3 million a day equalling £1 billion a year.

“That’s a massive and unacceptable cost to our economy and many hauliers are having to absorb large parts of that cost.  On top of that are the other enormous costs of vehicles unable to work as a result of being caught for days on end in Kent’s Operation stack and penalty payments for lack of delivery. In addition, the stress caused to drivers is incalculable.”

However, with regard to the creation of the new ‘secure zone’ in Calais, Richard Burnett is concerned that facility will not be ready for some time.  He recently travelled to Calais to see for himself what hauliers are facing on a day to day basis.