Published: 14:26, 21 July 2020
| Updated: 16:12, 21 July 2020
Dejected residents living close to where a huge post-Brexit lorry park is being built say the realities of Britain leaving the EU are now sinking in.
Work started on a 27-acre site near Junction 10a of the M20 in Ashford last week – just hours after the government snapped up the site.
Ashford MP Damian Green says up to 2,000 lorries could be temporarily held on the land after the Department for Transport bought the spot to ensure the free flow of freight once the Brexit transition period ends.
But neighbours living close to the site, which is overlooked by the historic Sevington church, were only given a few hours' warning before work began on Thursday.
Rick Martin, chairman of Sevington with Finberry parish council, says people are concerned about what effect the project will have on house prices and quality of life.
He said: "Brexit was the will of local people – 59% in Ashford voted Leave, in line with 59% in Kent overall – and many are now sadly realising the reality of what their vote entailed for their local area.
"There is understandable anger and bemusement about this sudden announcement, principally over the secrecy and lack of public consultation, the inevitable pollution and traffic.
"While there is a strong argument that the site will bring jobs to the area, is the disruption it will bring a price worth paying for this boost to the local economy?
"There is a feeling that Kent will bear the brunt of dealing with imports at the site, which will be distributed throughout the UK – why can’t there be a series of smaller HGV parks along the motorway network?"
In a letter sent to residents last week, the government says it is planning "two primary uses" for the 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.
MP Rachel Maclean also apologised to residents that they had to learn the news from the press.
Mr Green says the letter is a "step forward" as it confirmed what the plan for the site is, making clear it will not become a permanent lorry park as was planned for the Stanford site near Hythe.
But Lisa Harvey, who lives in Nightingale Close, Sevington, says residents are not looking forward to further works in the area, which has already faced years of disruption due to the £104m Junction 10a project.
Mrs Harvey has lived in her home – which is just a stone's throw from a new roundabout on the A2070 – with her husband and three children for 18 years.
"I'm not very happy, it just seems like it's one thing after another here in Sevington," she said.
"It's going to cause a lot more traffic, noise and pollution.
"They are saying it won't be used a lorry park in the long-term, but I think once it's there and there is a need then they have an argument to continue using the site for a while.
"It's all been kept very quiet and just landed on us; they should have given us a chance to oppose it or at least look at what they plan to do there."
In the letter sent out last week, Mrs 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.
But Pat Gilmore, who moved to Sevington from south-east London with his wife, Maureen, says he was shocked to see work starting last week.
"I woke up last Thursday and didn't know what was going on," he said.
"I had traffic lights going up right outside my house and, although it's not my road, I could have had a bit more warning.
"We only had the letter the day before – I couldn't believe it."
Mr Gilmore, who has been in the village for more than a decade, lives close to where contractors have created a temporary entrance to the site off Church Road.
The makeshift entrance will continue to be used until a permanent entry point is created off the new link road between the A2070 and Junction 10a.
"It has to happen for Brexit, but on the other side of the field there are no dwellings and no residents to annoy so they could have started work from that side," Mr Gilmore said.
"Why they couldn't have gone in from the A2070 link road I do not know – they've taken out a hedge to get on there which we planted years ago.
"I moved down here for the quiet life – it would be nice if we could put it back to the way it was."
Since 2015, the land has had planning permission for an industrial estate which was previously dubbed Stour Park but was rebranded as MOJO last year.
Mr Green – who last week described the project as "wrong-headed" – met with Michael Gove yesterday afternoon to discuss the plan.
"I took the chance to repeat my concerns, which they know very well, but also to get facts as to how it'll work," the former deputy Prime Minister told KentOnline today.
"They say it's part of an emergency insurance plan in that they reckon they can hold 2,000 lorries at the port itself or using Dover TAP [Traffic Assessment Project], another 2,000 with Operation Brock and 2,000 on the MOJO site.
"What I was insisting on was that should be the third of the three options.
"You can imagine circumstances where lorries will be going through the Channel Tunnel or the port, there could be a tailback of a few thousand but by using the other sites first Ashford's wouldn't be used at that level of traffic."
Mr Green says the government is launching an app for lorry drivers to use to ensure they have the correct paperwork.
"They are going to set up a series of advice points around the national motorway network so lorries can check that their papers and cargo are in order," he added.
"The app will be for drivers to show what papers they've got before even coming into Kent just to streamline the process.
"What they want to do is to be able to check very early in the journey that the cargo has the right clearance so they can get back to the depot if there is an issue."
While preliminary works are carried out on the MOJO site – which Amazon was previously linked to – the government says "initial disruption" will be from Church Road into the southern part of the land.
Temporary traffic lights are currently being used during the day in the road and are being manually controlled "to minimise delays to residents".
But Mr Martin says there is "understandable concern about inevitable pollution from the site".
He said: "What’s the plan for surface water and diesel run off from the lorries?
"The site is the gateway to Ashford – it is on high ground and is clearly visible from the Wye Downs, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
"For this reason, the site needs to be well designed and the adjacent area needs to be extremely well protected from light, air, and noise pollution.
"Traffic is also a big concern about the McDonald's roundabout on the A2070 as it has been snarled up in recent weeks through simply closing one lane for roadworks.
"There has to be a robust traffic management plan in place for moving lorries between the site and the M20 in a way that causes minimal disruption for local traffic.
"Some conspiracy theorists are even suggesting that a lorry park was the real reason for building Junction 10a."
"Residents need clarity on the detail of what the site is going to do – and they need it now!"
Kate Stewart, who runs Ransley Turf in Kingsford Street, Mersham, says the government's project has happened "very, very quickly".
The Junction 10a scheme had been discussed for more than 10 years before work even started, but contractors have moved in on the MOJO site within days of the project's emergence.
"We've not had a great amount of information about it which is a bit more disappointing than anything," she said.
"If we knew more about what was going on then we could give more of an opinion on it.
"I do think there should have been more consultation – we did get the letter apologising for that, but we'd already found out beforehand.
"They've put quite a few measures in place from what I understand, as they've done with Junction 10a, such as the acoustic fencing so from that sense they are doing what they can.
"But at the end of the day, it was a nice area with lots of wildlife and open space so it is a bit of a shame to see it go."
In a full council meeting last week, Ashford Borough Council leader Gerry Clarkson says a permanent lorry park "is not something we would support in any way, shape or form".
But Mr Martin says residents are calling out for more details to be provided by the government.
He added: "It is perhaps typical of the way the government has handled Brexit that their own local MP, Damian Green, isn’t in favour of the plans – and didn’t even seem aware of them before they were announced.
"With this in mind, residents need clarity on the detail of what the site is going to do and the impact it will have on the local area – and they need it now!"
In Ashford during the 2016 referendum, 59.4% opted to leave the EU.
Turnout was 77.1% with 69,828 votes cast out of an electorate of 90,516.