Published: 06:00, 27 November 2020
| Updated: 06:54, 27 November 2020
New drone photos reveal the true scale of a huge post-Brexit lorry park – as contractors start working through the night to finish the project.
The development, next to Junction 10a of the M20, is due to open on January 1 but the government is facing a race against time after heavy rain delayed construction of the 66-acre facility in Ashford.
Now the Department for Transport says its team is working around the clock to ensure the Sevington facility can open at the end of the Brexit transition period.
Upon completion, the northern section of the plot will be used for HMRC customs checks, with the southern part becoming a holding area for up to 1,700 lorries should delays arise for vehicles crossing the Channel.
But with less than six weeks to go until the start of the new year, residents living nearby have now been told work will be carried out 24 hours a day.
In a letter sent to neighbours yesterday, Haroona Chughtai, deputy director of the 'future EU roads relationship', says she "sincerely apologises" for any inconvenience the extra hours will cause.
"Thank you for your ongoing support and understanding to date with enabling the Department for Transport to ensure the Sevington Inland Border Facility is operational for January 1," she said.
"The on-site team have been working on Sundays since I last wrote to you on November 6.
"However, the weather has continued to impact significantly on the progress of the site.
"We are now looking to extend this further to include overnight working.
"The department has consulted with Ashford Borough Council which has accepted this.
"This will mean the on-site team will work overnight six days a week to enable the site to be operational at the beginning of next year."
The planned overnight works include surfacing and the construction of inspection sheds in the south-west section of the site.
Ms Chughtai added: "The surfacing crew will carry out 40 lorry movements per shift and that does mean reversing bleepers will need to remain in use.
"Every effort will be made to control the noise as much as we are able to with the crew being briefed at the start of every shift to ensure no unnecessary noise is being produced.
"The overnight resurfacing works will be carried out in areas away from properties.
"Moreover, we will have a sweeper in attendance for our operations with a potential second sweeper to pre-clean and keep the exit road clear."
But neighbours living nearby fear vibrations and bleeping noises coming from the site will travel even further at night.
Kingsford Street resident Linda Arthur – who is part of the Village Alliance campaign group which is fighting to protect a field next to the lorry park – criticised the extended hours.
"It is going to be terrible for residents, particularly overnight when they will have constant noise and movement of traffic," she said.
"They are using enormous floodlights that are dotted around the site and they travel a long distance – residents have floodlights shining into their bedroom windows.
"People who live in Church Road are extremely close to the site and it must keep them awake at night."
But Church Road resident Pat Gilmore, who moved to Sevington from south-east London with his wife, Maureen, says the overnight works won't annoy him.
"The whole thing is coming together – we are more pleased with it now than what we were," he said.
"There's so much machinery and so many people on the site – they've been doing 12-hour shifts and just getting on with it.
"If I had something bad to say about them, I would tell you, but they've been great."
Mr Gilmore – whose house overlooks the lorry park – says he thinks the government will hit its target of January 1.
"They do an awful amount of work in a week – you constantly see the lorries going in and out, tipping tarmac and concrete," he said.
"I don't really have a problem with what they are doing in the field, but my problem was the damage they did to the hedgerow in our road so they could get onto the site in July.
"But they've guaranteed they are going to reinstate the hedgerow and put it back to how it was.
"Come spring time when all the grass and vegetation starts growing, I think it will all look good – it's better than what we expected."
But the retired builder says that area has now been cleared and turned into a pond.
"The lorry park has to happen and it's the ideal place for it," he said.
"Once the security fence goes up around the main part of the site, we will be more secluded from the M20 than we were when it was just a field."
Ashford Borough Council deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) – who lives just a stone's throw from the site – says contractors have done "phenomenally well" since starting construction work in July.
"I am not surprised they are now going to a 24-hour operation," he said.
"Because to have any chance of getting it ready for January, they are going to have to do that.
"The lights are a nuisance – they are outside my bedroom window – but I pull the curtains.
"I was a bit annoyed that they don't switch off the bleeper on the vehicles, but they have to keep it on for the health and safety of the workers.
"And it's only another six weeks or so of building work and then it will all be done – we need to support them."
It is expected HMRC and Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will then continue to check lorries on the land until 2025.
When it opens in January, HGV drivers will only be allowed to access the site from Junction 10a – and will face a £300 penalty if caught breaking the rules.
Over the coming weeks, new traffic lights will be installed on the link road between the A2070 and Junction 10a.
The signals – which will form the access point to the site – will allow truckers to turn right when leaving the lorry park.
If the Sevington site isn't ready for January 1, part of the nearby Waterbrook Park will be used, but the estate is further from Junction 10a and will lead to more congestion on the A2070 dual carriageway.