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Labour calls on Environment Secretary George Eustice to order publication of 'secret' report into impact of lorry park in Ashford

By: Paul Francis pfrancis@thekmgroup.co.uk

Published: 12:00, 18 April 2021

Updated: 14:12, 19 April 2021

The government is facing new calls to order the release of information about the impact on the environment of the 66-acre lorry park in Ashford.

Labour has formally called on ministers to intervene and to release the information, overriding a decision by the Environment Agency to reject a Freedom of Information request by KentOnline, claiming that it was not in the public interest to disclose it.

The new lorry park at Sevington from the air. Picture: Esprit Drone Services

The site off the M20 is being used to check hauliers have the right customs papers to travel to the continent and now operates round-the-clock following the decommissioning of the Manston airport site, which was also used to carry out checks.

Among the grounds cited by the agency was that releasing the information would pose a global threat and could endanger the public.

Labour shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard has now tabled a question to ministers formally requesting the documents be published.

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He said: “It is wrong to block the publication of this assessment and absurd to do so on these grounds. Tarmacking over huge swathes of land is clearly going to have an impact on the environment.

"People deserve to have all the facts about the impact this lorry park has had after the Conservatives' incompetent handling of our withdrawal from the European Union."

George Eustice. Picture: Tony Flashman

In a question, he urges the Environment Secretary George Eustice “if he will make public the Environment Agency's impact assessment of the Sevington Inland Border Facility in Ashford, Kent".

The post-Brexit site operates around the clock as one of the government’s inland border facilities, primarily to carry out customs checks and give clearance to HGVs en route to the Channel ports.

It became fully operational last month and has recently seen an increase in activity following the closure of the Manston airport site.

In its refusal notice, the Environment Agency stated: “Disclosure of these details would not contribute to sustainable development, nor to public health and safety; in fact we consider that the opposite is true, in that making technical detail available to the world at large would risk damage to the environment, and possibly a threat to human life and to property.”

It elaborated the grounds of refusal by suggesting that while provision of information could “contribute to the debate of issues and lead to greater public participation in environmental decision-making, but here we do not consider that this is relevant".

"They will have done an assessment and, on the whole, having lorries is not likely to improve the environment so I imagine it was quite negative."

Ashford MP Damian Green says there is no reason why the Environment Agency should not publish its assessment.

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He said: “I see no reason why it should be kept secret; it is not particularly confidential.

"They will have done an assessment and, on the whole, having lorries is not likely to improve the environment so I imagine it was quite negative.

“My main concern for the future is that they stick to the deal arranged with the Department for Transport that the other half of the site between it and Mersham is turned into a long-term screen area which will be of huge benefit to the people of Mersham and Sevington as some compensation for having the lorry park on their doorstep.”

On the timescale for lifting Operation Brock and why it remained in place, Mr Green said: “It is a question I ask of ministers on a weekly basis and I am told by ministers ‘we are getting there’."

Read more: All the latest news from Ashford

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