Published: 15:00, 30 August 2021
| Updated: 14:40, 31 August 2021
Plans for a huge post-Brexit lorry park in Ashford were given the green light despite fears it could harm swathes of protected countryside, increase air pollution and disturb residents nearby.
Ministers signed off proposals for the 66-acre plot in late last year, months after construction had started in the summer, after accepting expert advice from consultants that there were no environmental grounds for blocking it – and suggested it could in time prove beneficial to the environment.
The site, which is officially called the Sevington Inland Border Facility and is open 24/7, is being used to carry out customs checks and other inspections, such as food, live animals and animal products.
It did not go through the normal planning process as it was considered by the government to be a scheme of national significance and was assessed as a Special Development Order (SDO).
Previously undisclosed information considered by ministers in relation to the impact of the lorry site on the environment and traffic has now been made public under the Freedom of Information Act after a request made by the Kentish Express, KentOnline's sister title.
A letter signed off on behalf of the local government minister Luke Hall explaining the reasons for allowing the lorry holding area acknowledged the site was close to several areas where the countryside was protected and designated as conservation land.
These included land that forms the Folkestone to Etchinghill Escarpment Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Stodmarsh SAC, and nearby wetland.
However, the proximity of these sites and concerns about air pollution and disturbances such as round-the-clock lighting and noise created by lorries were not considered strong enough reasons to stop the plans.
In the letter setting out the decision not to object to the Sevington Inland Border Facility, Mr Hall states that having assessed the sites and taking into account the temporary nature of the lorry park, he was satisfied that its impact could be mitigated.
It notes: “The project will give rise to a number of different adverse impacts through its lifetime including those associated with the use of natural resources and production of waste; impacts to receptors from increased noise, vibration and emissions to air.”
However, the minister also emphasised: “There is also likely to be beneficial impacts to localised biodiversity receptors from enhancement measures embedded into the design and long-term reinstatement measures for the benefit of biodiversity and landscaping.”
In other words, land and important habitats nearby could actually be improved after the site is closed in 2025.
More recently, nearby residents have complained about the site, which is off the A2070 link road, being lit up 24-hours.
But the decision notice downplays concerns about existing and future housing development, stating: “Significant cumulative effects with the residential-led schemes are unlikely due to the presence of existing and proposed infrastructure and transport infrastructure in the area, plus the temporary nature of the project’s five-year operation in the context of the lifetime of those residential developments.”