The government is refusing to disclose how much it has paid the owners of a former airport in Kent to use it as an emergency lorry park during Operation Stack.

The decision not to release the total amount paid to date by the DfT to Manston Airport came after Highways England admitted that it had spent almost £13m on the planned lorry park at Stanford West, before the idea was dropped last November.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that it had withdrawn the plans as the government was unlikely to win a judicial review scheduled for December 2017.

The decision was met with disbelief by haulage groups, with the RHA criticising the government for creating a “complete disaster for hauliers coming over from the Continent”.

In response to a Freedom of Information request  via the website WhatDoTheyKnow into the costs of using Manston Airport as an emergency stacking area, the DfT said it remained committed to a permanent alternative to parking HGVs on the M20.

This meant that releasing figures “could prejudice future negotiations to build a permanent lorry park for use during Operation Stack”.

Manston Airport was meant to be a short term measure while a permanent lorry park was constructed.

It readied the site in August 2015 in case it needed to relieve pressure on the M20, despite concerns raised by Kent police.

In response to the FOI request, a DfT policy adviser said: “The department has not said it is not pursuing a long term site to be used as part of Operation Stack.

“Highways England will now develop new plans for a permanent solution, including a lorry park, to cope with disruption on Kent roads caused by cross-channel disruption as well as providing daily parking for lorries."

He added: “A consultation is set to take place next year, ahead of a planning application in 2019.”

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Figures released to the BBC showed about £12.9m had been spent on Stanford West, with around £50,000 spent on consultation.

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “The need for long term improvements to how traffic is managed when cross-channel services are disrupted is as present as ever.

“The work we have done since 2015 will be useful as we take a fresh look at our plans for a lorry area near the M20.

“The amount we have spent so far is appropriate for a project at this stage of its development, and we expect the final cost to be in the region of the £250m originally allocated to the Stanford West scheme by the government.”

Folkestone MP Damian Collins said: “One of the reasons that we haven’t seen a full scale Operation Stack in the last couple of years is because of extra lorry waiting space that has been created at the Channel Tunnel and Port of Dover sites.

“This is already filling up and the amount of road freight on our roads is still growing.

“The problem remains that if we want to keep the M20 motorway open in both directions, when delays would necessitate the introduction of the Operation Stack measures, we need an off road area to hold the lorries that are waiting to cross the channel.”