The trial of a government plan for border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit has been branded a “waste of time” and “too little too late” by lorry drivers.
A convoy of 89 lorries took part in two test runs from the disused Manston airport near Ramsgate on a 20-mile route along the A256 to the port of Dover.
Although the Department for Transport said the trial went smoothly, the Road Haulage Association said it should have been carried out months earlier.
Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Of course it’s good to have a plan in place but today’s limited scope trial will need to be repeated to stress-test other aspects of the management of thousands of lorries properly.
“Today’s trial cannot possibly duplicate the reality of 4,000 trucks that would be held at Manston airport in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“It’s too little too late – this process should have started nine months ago. At this late stage it looks like window dressing.”
And Conservative MP for Dover, Charlie Elphicke, also criticised the trial, called Operation Brock,
“Routing lorries via Manston is not the answer,” he said.
“Far better to extend the tried and tested traffic management system on the A20 at Dover to Kent’s motorways.
“That way lorries can be effectively managed, got most speedily to the ports and all our motorways can be kept open.
“Manston should only be used as a last resort. Trying to explain to lorry drivers – many from overseas – to go there will be very difficult.
“The whole route plan is far too complex and will cause enormous confusion.”
Several drivers who took part in the test were also unconvinced.
Bow Dowle, 52, told The Times: “The road where we go is not suitable for 150 trucks.
“Locals use that road for work, for the hospital. There’s no washing facilities.
“If they hold us here if Brexit happens, where are the shops? Where’s the food? We’ll have to run across the dual carriageway to the McDonalds.”
Adam Carter, a driver with Int Logistics, told The Guardian: “It’s a waste of time. They should have done it in rush hour. You can see the traffic here is just average. This is not what it will be like in no-deal.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson told Yahoo News: “We are completely satisfied with the numbers that took part in today’s trial, which exceeded what was required.
“The trial has gone well, and will provide a strong sample to help us understand the effect of potential traffic on this route.”
The large convoy of lorries from regional and national haulage companies descended on Manston from 7am on Monday to form a queue along the runway.
Eddie Stobart led the convoy. Other companies taking part in the trial included Ramsgate-based White’s Transport Ltd, Salvatori Group from Canterbury and Swains in Rochester.
The drivers congregated in a large group before being directed by officials from the Department for Transport (DfT), Kent County Council and police officers.
Up to 150 lorries were initially anticipated to take part but only 89 were involved, the DfT confirmed after the first test.
Each driver participating in the exercise cost the department £550, their spokeswoman confirmed, meaning £48,950 was paid out.
The plans emerged last week after the DfT and council sent letters to hauliers explaining this was to “establish the safest optimum release rate of HGVs”.
A DfT spokeswoman said earlier: “We do not want or expect a no-deal scenario and continue to work hard to deliver a deal with the EU.
“However, it is the duty of a responsible Government to continue to prepare for all eventualities and contingencies, including a possible no deal.
“We will be testing part of Operation Brock to ensure that, if it needs to be implemented, the system is fully functional.”
Lorries taking part in the no-deal Brexit planning exercise were met with unusually light traffic because it had been publicised beforehand, according to the owner of a participating firm.
Tracey Ives, who owns haulier INT Logistics, said: “The roads were very quiet today.
“I would have thought we would have got a better, more realistic overview of it all if it hadn’t been advertised beforehand.
“It has been on all the media all weekend so everyone was aware it was going on.”
Ms Ives, whose firm has sent four drivers to take part in the exercise, added that the day has run “smoothly” and was otherwise well organised.