Published: 11:36, 10 December 2020
| Updated: 11:44, 10 December 2020
Government officials are continuing to block the release of information about the impact of post-Brexit lorry park holding sites, saying it is not in the public interest.
Work on what are described as 'Inland Border Facilities' began in the summer at two sites in Ashford – the 66-acre MOJO plot at Sevington and another 'back-up site' at the nearby Waterbrook Park.
The Department of Transport is using powers to construct the developments, which will be used for customs checks and for holding lorries in the event of disruption at the Channel ports, without going through the usual planning process.
Under the powers for Special Development Orders, there is no requirement to submit environmental impact assessments before any ministerial decision, as there is under normal planning procedures.
That request was rejected in September and now an appeal against the refusal to disclose information has also been thrown out.
The DfT maintained its argument it would not be in the public interest for the information to be released as the government was still considering the policy of using the site, which is capable of holding 1,700 HGVs.
Its response said: “A final decision has yet to be made by the minister.
"You are probably aware that the ICO (Information Commissioner Office) makes it clear that one of the factors that is a key indicator regarding the formulation or development of policy is that a final decision will be made either by the cabinet or the relevant minister.
"It is clear, in this instance, that the policy has not been finalised and that implementation has not commenced. This is essentially a live policy issue.”
While the DfT acknowledged that were documents that covered impact assessments and traffic modelling, they were unfinished and “still in the course of completion".
It argued officials required “a safe space within which to develop and engage with relevant stakeholders to formulate and develop their policy approach. Exposing that policy consideration and development greatly risks that safe space and creates a potential ‘chilling effect’ of inhibiting openness in future policy.”
The decision not to disclose impact assessments was criticised by Ashford Green Party co-ordinator Mandy Rossi.
She said: “Does this mean that if, once the environmental impact assessment has been fully undertaken, and all other consultations have been completed, that if there are issues they will undo work that has been completed, bearing in mind that there are just four weeks to go before Brexit? I seriously doubt it.
“The damage has been done. The site is now just a mass of concrete.
"The noise, light and air pollution during the construction and no doubt into 2021 once it becomes an active customs site, will have a huge impact on our local environment at a time when councils across the country, and the government itself, have made commitments to tackling the climate emergency."
If the Sevington site isn't ready for January 1, the Waterbrook Park spot will be used, but the estate is further from Junction 10a and will lead to more congestion on the A2070 dual carriageway.
In its response, the Department for Transport did reveal the groups and organisations it had spoken with about the lorry park site, a list that was also withheld under the initial request.
The full list was: