Published: 14:17, 10 August 2020
| Updated: 11:34, 11 August 2020
Plans to store piles of earth in a field next to the site of a post-Brexit lorry park have been described as "environmental vandalism" by angry residents.
The Department for Transport wants to put soil on land alongside its newly-acquired 27-acre plot in Ashford as it continues to work on the controversial holding area project for up to 2,000 trucks.
Bosses say they plan to keep the height of soil stockpiles to a minimum, but frustrated neighbours say storing earth in the field near Junction 10a of the M20 is not welcome.
The government sent a letter to residents on Friday explaining the Sevington works, which will see part of the hedgerow in Highfield Lane removed to create an access point.
But parish councillor Stewart Ross, who lives nearby in Kingsford Street, says bosses are "spoiling the countryside".
"It's environmental vandalism," he said.
"They are dumping it on what is effectively a virgin field - crops are growing on it at the moment but it will be no use to man or beast once they've put poor quality soil on it.
"The worry is that it is the thin end of the wedge."
Residents living in Mersham have long feared the land – which separates the village from the lorry park site – would be developed.
Mr Ross, who has lived in Mersham for 35 years, added: "The land is not in Ashford Borough Council's Local Plan and we want assurances from the government that the land will not be developed.
"I think there is general concern about what is going to happen because the government seems to be ploughing on without any real consultation.
"The communication has been very poor.
"You would have thought they would hold a public meeting to relay to residents what they are planning to do, but there has been nothing like that at all.
"It has all been done very stealthily."
On Saturday, the Village Alliance campaign group launched a petition calling for a green buffer zone to be created on land between Mersham and the lorry park site – part of which is where the government now wants to store the topsoil.
The group is urging Ashford Borough Council (ABC) to use its strategic gap in perpetuity policy, which protects ancient settlements and countryside from encroachment.
But in the letter sent to residents on Friday, Haroona Chughtai, deputy director of the 'future EU roads relationship', said "there is no planned development" for the land, which is to the east of the lorry park.
He said: "However, you will start to see movement of vehicles and machinery over the coming months on that parcel of land – starting from Wednesday in a limited capacity – as the Department for Transport intends to store topsoil from the western parcel on it temporarily, limited to 12 months.
"The department is very conscious of any potential visual impact of storing a significant amount of earth and therefore our plan is to keep the height of soil stockpiles to a minimum wherever possible.
'We are very conscious of any potential visual impact'
"To transport the material from west to east, the plan is to crossover at certain sections of hedgerow running down Highfield Lane.
"We are not yet in a position to do so due to ecological reasons, and so in the meantime this will be achieved by using the turning circle at the northern end of Highfield Lane through an existing access from the west field to the east."
When built, the DfT is planning "two primary uses" for the Sevington site - a temporary lorry holding area in case there is disruption at Dover and as a border control post to check truckers have the correct paperwork.
Bosses say they won't need to submit a planning application to Ashford Borough Council, but will use a Special Development Order (SDO) instead, which allows the Secretary of State to grant planning permission.
To sign the Village Alliance's green buffer zone petition, visit bit.ly/31GtkkU
Signed petition forms can be left at Mersham Village Stores, The Royal Oak or the Farriers Arms until Sunday, August 30.
If you need your form collecting, or any further information, phone 07732 382624.
Signed petitions can also be sent to thevillageallianceTVA@gmail.com
If residents have any queries about the planned works at the MOJO site, they should email RoadsEUExit@dtf.gov.uk