Published: 14:50, 30 July 2020
| Updated: 17:27, 30 July 2020
Michael Gove should visit the site of a post-Brexit lorry park in Kent to explain what the government has planned, says a shadow cabinet minister.
Labour's Rachel Reeves is demanding clarity after work started on the 27-acre spot next to Junction 10a of the M20 in Ashford.
On a visit to the Sevington site today, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster called on the senior Conservative to meet with concerned residents.
She says neighbours needed more warning of the government's plan for the land, which is to be used as a customs checkpoint and temporary holding station for up to 2,000 lorries once the Brexit transition period ends.
"People feel desperately let down that with no consultation or prior warning, the bulldozers turn up and that's the first they learn of it," Ms Reeves told KentOnline.
"People recognise there is going to be change - they voted in Ashford to leave the EU, but change should be done in conjunction with the local community; it shouldn't just be put on them.
"Local people have the best knowledge of what might work and might be able to offer some input, but the government hasn't even bothered to come down here.
"I don't think Michael Gove has bothered to come and see this site or talk to the local community.
"I think it would be wise if he did that and he might learn something, or find ways to make the plan work better."
Ms Reeves was joined on the visit by Kent's only Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who represents Canterbury and Whitstable, and Cllr Dara Farrell, leader of the Kent Labour group.
The Leeds West MP says she wanted to visit to "see for myself the impact it will have on the local community".
Ms Reeves added: "I think it is very wrong that developments like this happen with no consultation.
"It's not like Brexit was a surprise - we voted to leave the European Union four years ago, we left in January this year and the transition period ends in December.
"There has been plenty of time to prepare for what happens at the end of this year, but the government seems to have left it all until the last minute.
"It is now building this emergency lorry park in Kent, but very little information is known.
"The local community knows nothing about whether lorries will be arriving at day or night, and what is being done to mitigate the impact on noise pollution and air quality."
Ms Duffield says she thinks it will be a "good move" for Michael Gove or Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to visit the site, which was previously earmarked for a huge industrial estate.
"This is a government decision and it seems to be leaving local councils to pick up the pieces and explain things to residents and I think that's quite cowardly actually," she said.
"The government needs to come down and reassure local people about what its plans are.
"As the only opposition MP in this county, I am going to be asking the awkward questions that possibly some of the Conservative MPs don't necessarily feel comfortable asking.
"But it is obvious the local MP here isn't happy either and none of us feel we have any firm answers.
"The chamber of commerce doesn't know what to tell its local businesses, we don't know what to tell our commuters, because nothing is firmed up.
"We don't even know what this is actually going to be for - is it just a lorry park, is it a customs place?
"It's not that clear and it's more rumour at the moment - and I think that's the worry."
Cllr Farrell - who lives in the town and sits on both Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council - says he has concerns over the impact on the road network.
"There's a lack of answers at the moment about what happens when there's traffic problems between Junctions 10a and 9," he said.
"Whenever there's any disruption, all of the lorries and the majority of traffic goes down Brookfield Road, which has a great impact on residents there as the road wasn't built for that level of traffic.
"This will compound that issue if so much freight is getting sent down it because inevitably there will be problems between the three M20 junctions from time to time.
"Now is the time where we need concrete proposals about how this is going to work in practice as we move closer to when this becomes operational in January.
"But looking at a field with two diggers in today, it's quite concerning actually."
In a letter sent out to residents earlier this month, Conservative MP Rachel Maclean confirmed the government will not need to submit a planning application to Ashford Borough Council (ABC).
Instead, a Special Development Order (SDO) will be used, which allows the Secretary of State to grant planning permission.
Ashford MP Damian Green - who previously described the lorry park plan as "wrong-headed" - said the fines will provide "essential protection for the town".