Published: 06:00, 27 May 2021
| Updated: 14:05, 27 May 2021
A huge Brexit lorry park in Ashford is as bright as Wembley Stadium and has ruined the dark night sky for miles around, according to angry residents.
The controversial facility next to Junction 10a of the M20 operates 24/7 and the government says floodlights are required to ensure the site runs safely.
But frustrated neighbours say light pollution from the 66-acre plot in Sevington is “a hideous sight to see” and are calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to find a solution.
The government has previously refused to reveal details about the environmental impact of the project, arguing it would not be in the public interest to release the information.
But Anita Adams, who lives on the outskirts of Mersham about a mile from the site, claims it is clear all planning rules were “torn up” for Brexit and has branded the facility a “monstrosity”.
“I cannot begin to imagine how intrusive it is to those who live much closer,” she said.
“The site is situated at a high level so there is no getting away from it.
“When I think about Bluewater or even closer industrial sites in Ashford, they are usually placed at low level with adequate screening for both noise and light.”
Before the government snapped up the land in a secret deal last summer, there were rumours distribution giant Amazon would open a facility on the site.
In 2016, Ashford Borough Council approved plans for warehouses on the plot, but the name of the operator was kept under wraps.
Now, the site is being used for customs checks and Covid testing of truckers, with staff manning the facility around the clock.
Ms Adams added: “If the site had gone to Amazon or other warehouses, I have no doubt they would not be perched up high on a hill polluting the local area in the way that this site has been permitted to proceed.
“Living in Ashford, I do not doubt there was a requirement for this site and having it so close to the M20 makes perfect sense.
“It should, however, have been tucked away at low level, suitably screened to afford maximum protection from light and noise pollution.”
Ms Adams says she previously enjoyed “glorious” views of churches in Mersham and Sevington – the latter of which sits next to the lorry park.
“I would like to know what is going to be done about reducing the light pollution and when,” Ms Adams added.
“Even changing the colour of the super-white lighting to a softer, more yellow lighting would help.
“Do they need so many lights?
"These lorry drivers are professionals – do the facilities have to be floodlit like Wembley Stadium?”
'It’s a balance between safety and wanting dark skies...'
Linda Arthur, who lives close to the facility in Kingsford Street, Mersham, echoed the views of Ms Adams.
“Mersham residents are shocked and disappointed at the level of light pollution,” she said.
“We have completely lost the dark night sky.
“The light pollution can clearly be seen from the nearby villages of Aldington and Wye and the impact on wildlife and bats must be considerable.
“We urgently need some form of mitigation."
In response to the complaints, the DfT confirmed a detailed lighting survey is being carried out at the site, which is called the Sevington Inland Border Facility.
Bosses say findings and recommendations from the review will be available by the end of the month and they will then share an action plan with the affected residents.
In a statement, a spokesman added: “We are aware of residents’ concerns and have acted on feedback to minimise disturbance, by turning off the lights in one of the most public sections of the site as well as commissioning a detailed lighting survey to better understand the issue.”
Ashford MP Damian Green says he has received “one or two complaints about the fact it is very bright”.
“I’m afraid that – with all lighting – it’s a balance between safety and wanting dark skies,” he said.
“There are things you can do with the way lights are pointing and the type of lights you use, but for obvious reasons you don’t want large lorries driving around in the dark.
“I appreciate light pollution is another form of pollution that people quite rightly get annoyed about, so I think it is the right thing to do in providing some sort of cover or just using downward-pointing lights with less glare.”
ABC’s deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), who lives just a stone’s throw away from the site, says the situation has improved recently.
“It’s actually a lot better since they switched off the lights at plot F which is nearer to me,” the Cheeseman’s Green Lane resident said.
“Plot F is currently surplus to requirements as I understand usage at the inland border facility is lower than expected.
"Another area may become surplus shortly (and so the lights switched off) when Covid-19 testing is no longer carried out at Sevington, but I am not sure when that will be.
“Cllr Clair Bell [Kent County Council member for Ashford Rural East] and I met with the DfT and parish council representatives earlier this month to cover a range of issues including lighting.
“The DfT has appointed lighting consultants to see what adjustments can be made.
“It is hoped the outcome will be to angle lights away from properties, put some shades or baffles on offending lights to avoid light spill and look at reducing the height of columns where HGVs do not go.
“They shared the planting scheme and I hope that we make some suggestions on height and location of planting which will help.”
As well as the lighting issues, Mersham residents are still seeing lorry drivers arrive in their village as they try to find the facility.