Inquiry 'likely' over controversial lorry park plans

An inquiry is likely to be instigated by Kent councillors over the secrecy of a decision to create a major lorry park near Ashford ahead of December’s Brexit deadline. Frustrated members have complained about the lack of communication with residents and themselves over GBP45 million government plans to create a 2,000-truck site near Junction 10a of the M20 in Sevington.

Work on the site in Church Rd, Sevington, Ashford Picture: Barry Goodwin

Ashford Borough Council’s scrutiny committee is planning to investigate the hidden process, with a crunch council meeting scheduled on September 8. Cllr Brendan Chilton (Lab), the vice-chairman of the committee, said: “We need a customs point somewhere in Kent ahead of our exit from the European Union, but what I think people are really angered about is the fact they were not even consulted about this.”

Kent County Council’s (KCC) director for highways, Simon Jones, said an offer for the MOJO site was first received from the Department for Transport (DfT) in mid-July and an urgent decision was made.

His comments came in a KCC report published on Friday. However, the dossier reveals KCC has been supporting the Government on its search for customs checking and freight holding areas since 2019.

Cllr Brendan Chilton, parish & borough councillor for Stanhope said people were angry over the lack of consultation Picture: Andy Jones

Cllr Chilton, who is also the leader of Ashford council’s Labour group, said: “I have said we should conduct an inquiry into the events leading up to the decision to find out who knew what and when.” A cross-party consensus is emerging as Ashford council’s deputy leader, Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), said the committee should scrutinise the move and the next phases of the development going forward, particularly traffic impacts.

Cllr Bartlett, who also represents people living in the MOJO site area at district level, said: “A worrying trend is emerging where the Government has centralised things away from the county rather than consider the sensible views of people who live there.”

On Friday, DfT chiefs officially asked KCC, the highways authority, to manage the lorry park works, and KCC said all households close to the site were informed about the proposal by post. An initial government grant of GBP12 million will likely be given to KCC for the first phase of works, if approved by Maidstone County Hall’s highways boss Cllr Michael Payne (Con) in the coming days. The public cash would be used for a new link road on the A2070 and a new entrance to the Sevington site.

KCC will also be expected to hire a project manager, assistant project manager and contract supervisor alongside administration and communication support teams.

Where the post-Brexit lorry park will go

KCC bosses have also admitted that more sites will be required in the county to cater for an extra 6,500 lorries to manage border controls, including one adjacent to the Port of Dover. Manston Airport is also being considered. The MOJO site is likely to be completed by November to ensure the lorry park can be “properly tested” ahead of the UK’s EU departure on December 31.

So far, a temporary access point has been created from Church Road, Sevington while vegetation has been cleared and fencing put up. A KCC spokesman said: “Kent County Council is carrying out work on a freight holding area at Junction 10A of the M20 on behalf of the Department for Transport. “The site is part of a traffic management system that will help to ensure that the M20 motorway can be kept open to traffic at the end of the transition period, and that disruption for local residents, businesses and other road users is kept to a minimum, keeping people safe and the county moving.

“A range of sites are under consideration to be used by HMRC as an Office of Departure.”

“KCC is best placed to carry out this work on behalf of the government because we can use local contractors in its construction, and also ensure that the project is completed on time in order to minimise potential disruption.

“As the highways authority for Kent we can also use our local knowledge to closely manage how traffic from the site can have the least impact possible on the local road network. “It’s really important that residents, businesses and hauliers take action now and get ready for changes to border control and customs arrangement rules from January 2021 when the UK leaves the EU single market, and make sure they are ‘border ready’ to help minimise potential disruption.” A DfT spokesperson said: “Preparations for the end of the transition period are well underway to ensure the free flow of freight across our borders.

This includes exploring options for permanent facilities to complete new border process, as well as putting contingency plans in place to minimise any potential short-term disruption. “A range of sites are under consideration to be used by HMRC as an Office of Departure, where HGVs will stop temporarily to process their common transit movements and have their paperwork confirmed before continuing their journey.” Around 40 people protested against the lorry park development in Sevington on Saturday, raising concerns about potential habitat destruction and describing the scheme as an “unfortunate consequence of Brexit”.

Regular reports will be provided to KCC and shared with councillors via County Hall’s environment and transport cabinet committee.

The next virtual public meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, September 15 from 10am.

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