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Pressure on Environment Agency to share report on Sevington lorry park in Ashford

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The government is being urged to consider releasing information about the impact of the Sevington lorry park on the environment after the release of reports was blocked.

The Environment Agency has turned down a request made under Freedom of Information legislation for details of any concerns it raised about the Ashford site, the first Inland Border Facility set up to conduct customs checks on hauliers.

The lorry park in Ashford from the air. Picture: Esprit Drone Services
The lorry park in Ashford from the air. Picture: Esprit Drone Services

KentOnline sought information but was told in a formal refusal notice that disclosure would represent a global threat. The EA argued releasing its views on the 66-acre post-Brexit park at Sevington represented a possible threat to “the world at large”.

It said: “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.”

Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), the deputy leader of Ashford council, said he had written to the Department for Transport urging officials to release information in the interests of transparency.

“I genuinely believe we need to see some positive engagement on this; it is no good just clamming up. The Environment Agency has been reasonably helpful in the past; I find this [response] out of character and I hope we can pressurise them to provide some element of the information in the days ahead.”

Cllr Paul Bartlett
Cllr Paul Bartlett

The Ashford Green party also criticised the decision. Cllr Steve Campkin said: "The people of Ashford have a right to know what's going on. The government has circumvented due process at every step of this development, imposing it on our community by means of a Special Development Order rather than going through the standard consultation process.

"Now it seems determined to obfuscate the true scale of the issues it is causing. I regularly speak with people in Sevington and Willesborough and the increase in air, noise and light pollution, as well as the effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of residents cannot be understated.”

The 66-acre site operates round the clock and has recently seen an increase in its use after the Department for Transport decommissioned the Manston site which had also been used to check HGVs.

Meanwhile, Kent Police has also refused to release details of its views on the site, saying that it would not be in the public interest to disclose a three-page letter it had written in response to the scheme.

Cllr Steve Campkin
Cllr Steve Campkin

It said doing so would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs, arguing: “The consultation relates to planning for EU transition, which is a hugely emotive and political issue, particularly for people living in Kent, whose lives are frequently disrupted by delays at local ports. It is therefore particularly important that the consultation process is as efficient as possible and free from speculation."

It went on: "The timing of such a disclosure must be considered, the UK has only very recently left the EU. Issues relating to border delays are very much live and of public concern. Whilst the factors favouring disclosure are recognised it is felt that disclosure of the requested information at this

time would be particularly detrimental to the effective conduct of public affairs since any disclosure of information would impact on related current and future consultation processes and would undermine and inhibit those processes.”

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