The Department for Transport has signed off on the purchase of a vast site in Kent for a Brexit border facility and confirmed that it will be partly used as a giant lorry park just days after the cabinet ministerMichael Gove insisted that was not the “intention”.
The facility needs to be in place to accommodate checks for up to 11,000 lorries going to and from Dover and Eurotunnel in Folkestone every day.
Rachel Maclean, MP and parliamentary undersecretary of state for transport, has also apologised to local residents in Ashford that they had to learn the news from the press.
“We sincerely apologise that information on this matter made its way into the press before we were able to communicate with you directly,” she said. “We have not been able to inform you of our interest in the site before now for reasons of commercial confidentiality.”
News of the plans for the 1.2m sq ft “Mojo” site between Sevington and Mersham villages came out of the blue on Friday night, infuriating the local Conservative MP, Damian Green, who told Gove on Monday it was “wrong-headed” to agree a secret deal with no consultation with locals.
He demanded to know what “environmental impact assessment” the government had conducted given the site was next to a planned housing estate and the local hospital.
“So many new houses are being built in that area and it will mean people are buying homes in good faith not knowing this was planned.
“It’s also close to the William Harvey hospital, where any disruption to traffic in the local area could literally be fatal,” he told Kent online.
Maclean has confirmed that the site will get approval via the secretary of state and not the usual local planning processes through what is known as a “special development order”, or SDO.
“We can however now confirm that the Department for Transport (DfT) has purchased the site and intends to make use of it in the context of our planning for the end of the EU transition period,” she said.
“Our use of the site will require further planning consent, which the government intends to pursue by means of a SDO process,” she added.
The site would be used both for customs clearance and as a holding pen for lorries if there was any congestion in Dover.
She said: “First, government departments envisage using it as a permanent site for facilities related to future border processes, notably HMRC (as an office of departure/arrival for goods moved under ‘transit’ arrangements) and Defra (as a border control post for goods needing sanitary and phytosanitary checks).
“Second, the site may also be used as a contingency lorry holding area for the particular, foreseeable risk of significant disruption at the end of the transition period.”
Locals expressed anger at the potential noise and air pollution with the “stop-start” of lorries through the night and constant noise of refrigeration trailers.
A Green party spokeswoman, Mandy Rossi, also expressed concern that the congestion on the roads would hold up ambulance services and could ultimately lead to the closure of the hospital as there is talk of a super-hospital to combine three A&Es in the county.
The customs clearance site is needed from 1 January next year, when the UK leaves the customs union and the single market and all those who trade with the EU will require customs declarations in addition to other paperwork.
HM Revenue & Customs estimates that 400m customs declarations will need to be processed a year but it only unveiled its detailed plans on Monday, less than six months before the most dramatic change to international trading systems since 1993, when the single market was introduced.
Maclean told residents there would be no problems if businesses did their bit and got Brexit ready.
“Significant problems at the border are not inevitable if businesses take the action necessary to prepare for the changes to come,” she said.
The government is expecting to purchase or lease between 10 and 12 sites across the country for Brexit border facilities, including sites near other ferry ports, including Holyhead and Portsmouth, in a £427m infrastructure programme. Gove confirmed on Thursday that the government had identified five sites in Kent where it intended to build new infrastructure to carry out checks
A DfT spokeswoman said: “This site will form part of our ongoing plans to help ensure the free flow of freight at the border as we make our new start at the end of the transition period.”