Holidaymakers and other travellers stuck in queues heading towards Dover are owed an apology after planning failures led to chaotic conditions, the area’s MP said. People were stuck overnight and others have been stranded for hours in tailbacks on Saturday as they made their way towards the Channel at the beginning of the summer holidays.
Increased security checks were put in place by French authorities at the port in light of recent terror attacks, but questions have been raised as to staffing levels in place to deal with the huge increase in people travelling during the great summer getaway.
Port authorities said French border control booths at Dover had been “seriously understaffed overnight”, claiming coaches were at one point having to wait 40 minutes each for all passengers to be checked in.
A spokesman said concerns about staffing levels were raised with the Government earlier in the week, and said those had been passed to French authorities.
But Conservative MP for Dover Charlie Elphicke, who was stuck in traffic for around two hours on Friday evening, said there had been a lack of forward planning which led to “poor transport management”.
Kent police, who alongside the coastguard and county council are delivering more than 11,000 bottles water to travellers, said the disruption is down to a “vast volume of holiday traffic” coupled with delays caused by heightened security at the border.
People travelling have been advised to take food and water supplies, check ahead before setting out, and to make alternative arrangements if possible.
P&O Ferries said it would hold sailings to ensure customers stuck in queues could travel while Le Shuttle, which runs the passenger service at Folkestone, has warned of a 90-minute wait for check-in.
Those stuck on the roads described the situation as “tragic” and said people had been given little information.
Many people stepped out of their cars and children were playing football to entertain themselves, said Sonia Tutt who is travelling as part of a convoy headed to Luhmuhlen in Germany.
The 38-year-old, from Hythe in Kent, had been stuck in traffic for more than three hours.
Mrs Tutt, who is travelling with more than a dozen people, including her 14-year-old twin daughters to the Mounted Games European Championships, said their expected 10-hour journey is set to take much longer.
She said: “Situation is tragic! And I’m carrying horses on board, we have had no help or information, very poor situation.
She added: “Everyone is out of their vehicles, kids are playing football. There’s not been one police car or anything. Even when we went to join the motorway there was no indication that when you joined you were likely to be sitting here all night.”
Dale Savage who was caught in the delays for 12 hours en route to his brother’s wedding, told BBC Breakfast: “There are a lot of kids here, a lot of young children – a lot of people want to go on their holidays.
“There are no real frustrations, the real problem was no one knew what was going on – were not quite sure why we were being held there – wasn’t sure whether it was an accident or something had happened further down in the port.
“There was a bit of a camping spirit going on, very much like Glastonbury earlier on in the year, but without the benefit of having a band to see at the end of it.”
Mr Elphicke said the situation was “completely unacceptable” and should have been predicted.
He said: “The Department for Transport and Home Office knew there would be heightened security checks in place in France. They should have been prepared. They weren’t.
“The families stuck in this traffic nightmare should by now be across the Channel enjoying their holidays.
“They are owed an apology, as are the people of Dover who once again have to put up with traffic chaos in the town.
“The Government needs to take control of the situation on the road and help families and vulnerable people stranded in the tailbacks.
“The extra French border checks are no excuse for poor transport management.”