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Ashford post-Brexit lorry park confirmed as government apologises over secrecy

The government has finally confirmed it will build a huge post-Brexit lorry park in Ashford and apologised to residents for the project's secrecy.

KentOnline reported on Friday how ministers were looking at the 27-acre spot near Junction 10a of the M20 as they gear up for possible trade frictions when the transition period ends in December.

Lorries will be held at the site as part of the government's plan
Lorries will be held at the site as part of the government's plan

Letters detailing the project were expected to be sent to those living near the Sevington site at the weekend, but were never delivered, sparking anxiety among residents.

In the letter, which was finally sent to neighbours today, MP Rachel Maclean says there are two proposals for the land – a temporary holding area for lorries if there is disruption at Dover and as a location for border-related checks.

She confirmed the government has bought the land, saying: "We are aware you will have seen reports over the weekend concerning the government's interest in the site in Sevington.

"We sincerely apologise that information on this matter made its way into the press before we were able to communicate with you directly.

"We have not been able to inform you of our interest in the site before now for reasons of commercial confidentiality.

Where the post-Brexit lorry park is set to go
Where the post-Brexit lorry park is set to go

"We can however now confirm that the Department of Transport 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.

"Preparatory works will commence on the land this week, which will include securing the perimeter of the site, clearing the site of grass and vegetation and carrying out surveys."

The site has had planning permission since 2015 for an industrial estate, which was previously dubbed Stour Park but was rebranded as MOJO last year.

Mrs Maclean confirmed the government will not need to submit a planning application to Ashford Borough Council (ABC).

Instead, a Special Development Order (SDO) will be used, which allows the Secretary of State to grant planning permission.

The site in Sevington goes across 27 acres. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The site in Sevington goes across 27 acres. Picture: Barry Goodwin

She said: "Our use of the site will require further planning consent, which the government intends to pursue by means of a SDO process.

"Residents will of course have the opportunity to make their views on the use of the site known in that context."

Mrs Maclean said the government's plans have not yet been finalised but it is planning "two primary uses".

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.

The MOJO site was previously set to become an industrial estate. Pictured is a CGI of how the estate was planned to look
The MOJO site was previously set to become an industrial estate. Pictured is a CGI of how the estate was planned to look

"I would like to stress that there is no intention to develop the site as a permanent lorry holding facility for use in the event of cross-Channel disruption - this is not a revival of the previous plan for the site at Stanford West.

"Our intention is only to make use for these purposes of the western part of the site, which has previously been granted planning permission for commercial development.

"The MOJO site has been chosen due to its strategic location, with easy access to the M20, the primary corridor to and from key ports within the Dover Straits."

Mrs Maclean says the government "very much hopes to avoid significant traffic disruption on Kent roads at the end of the transition period".

She added: "Significant problems at the border are not inevitable if businesses take the action necessary to prepare for the changes to come.

The 'MOJO' site can be seen to the left of the A2070/Junction 10a link road in this photo. Picture: Ady Kerry
The 'MOJO' site can be seen to the left of the A2070/Junction 10a link road in this photo. Picture: Ady Kerry

"This is why the government has launched a new communications campaign, and why we are putting in place a range of support and guidance for traders, focused in particular at maximising the number who arrive in Kent fully 'border ready'.

"But a responsible government must prepare for the contingency of disruption in this key traffic corridor at the point of what will be a significant change in the nature of our trading relationship with the EU."

Mrs Maclean says more information will be provided to residents as the scheme "begins to develop and construction is due to begin".

"We will be working closely with community leaders"

She added: "Preliminary works will start this week to began preparing the site.

"While we do not expect the works will have a significant impact on the surrounding roads, we will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure any noise and disruption is minimised."

The government says "initial disruption" will be from Church Road into the southern part of the site until access is created from the A2070 Junction 10a link road.

While the site is being accessed via Church Road, traffic lights will be used during the day, but will be manually controlled "to minimise delays to residents living on the road".

The government is working to ensure the country is prepared to fully leave the EU at the end of this year
The government is working to ensure the country is prepared to fully leave the EU at the end of this year

Mrs Maclean added: "During works on the site, to ensure minimum disruption to the local community, working hours will be restricted to between 7pm to 8pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 5pm on Saturday, with no work on Sundays.

"The existing public footpath has been diverted to avoid the working area.

"Access along Highfield Lane will be restricted and this will be part of the site.

"Soil bunds will be created adjacent to local residences to reduce the noise impact from the site."

“I can see why they have plumped for here - when all the infrastructure is there already, why wouldn’t they use it?

ABC – which was only given a few hours' notice of the project last week – said it has been told the government has bought the site, but did not add any further comment.

Its deputy leader, Cllr Paul Bartlett, who lives just a stone's throw away from the land, thinks jobs created at the site will enable Ashford to “better weather the recession”.

He says the government’s project “ends the uncertainty residents have suffered since 2012” as there was a threat the previous industrial estate plan could have encroached across Highfield Lane and Blind Lane into Mersham.

The Conservative councillor also thinks the government’s chosen location makes sense as it is close to the new £104m Junction 10a, which only opened in October last year.

Cllr Paul Bartlett lives just a stone's throw away from the site
Cllr Paul Bartlett lives just a stone's throw away from the site

Cllr Bartlett said: “We do not want the site used as a lorry park such as was intended for Manston.

“We want the high-end use for HMRC, trading standards and scientific testing service.

“A HMRC clearance facility is vastly preferable to the warehouses proposed previously.

“The site in government ownership will be much more accountable to the public and we will be in a better position to oppose and challenge where things are not done in the right way.

“The government has chosen a site where diesel, petrol, rubber and other pollutants can be removed from the rain water run-off before it goes into the East Stour.

“This is because Highways England has put in an innovative system to deal with run-off from the new dual carriageway/M20.”

There are concerns Ashford will be unable to cope with the lorries heading to the site
There are concerns Ashford will be unable to cope with the lorries heading to the site

Cllr Bartlett says there isn’t the space at Dover to do the HMRC checks.

“It is far too congested, they needed to bring it away from there,” he said.

“I can see why they have plumped for here - when all the infrastructure is there already, why wouldn’t they use it?

“The HMRC offices are unlikely to be the towering units dwarfing the Sevington church spire as was previously intended.

“Working conditions and rates of pay will also be much more in line with the council’s expectations.

"The new jobs will enable Ashford to better weather the recession.”

The site is close to Junction 10a, which opened in October. Picture: Ady Kerry
The site is close to Junction 10a, which opened in October. Picture: Ady Kerry

In a statement, a Department for Transport spokeswoman said residents will be kept updated on the scheme.

"At the end of this year the UK will become a fully independent country and take back control of our borders," she 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.

“We will be working closely with community leaders to ensure local residents and businesses are kept informed as plans progress.”

Damian Green has raised concerns about his government's plan
Damian Green has raised concerns about his government's plan

Ashford MP Damian Green has described the scheme as "wrong-headed", raising concerns over the site's location and lack of consultation.

Since news of the government's plan broke, many on social media have called on Ashford residents "to suck it up", citing the town's voting share in the Brexit referendum in which 59.4% opted to leave the EU.

In the 2016 referendum, turnout was 77.1% with 69,828 votes cast out of an electorate of 90,516.

How is Brexit going to affect Kent? For all the latest news, views and analysis visit our dedicated page here

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