Published: 11:08, 11 April 2021
| Updated: 13:00, 12 April 2021
The Environment Agency has blocked the release of information about its views of a lorry park in Ashford on the grounds it could represent a global threat and might damage the environment.
It also cited commercial confidentiality and public safety to justify its refusal to disclose details of what - if any - concerns it had raised with the government about the proposed site.
The agency is an independent body that considers the impact of development and has powers to take action where there have been failures to comply with environmental regulations.
Responding to a request made under Freedom of Information law by KentOnline, the EA stated that disclosure of its views on the 66-acre post-Brexit park at Sevington represented a possible threat to “the world at large”.
It said: “Disclosure of these details would not contribute to sustainable development, nor to public health and safety; in fact we consider that the opposite is true, in that making technical detail available to the world at large would risk damage to the environment, and possibly a threat to human life and to property.
"Disclosure would adversely affect both public safety and commercial confidentiality.
"The disclosure of information relating to the construction, design, layout and operation of the Sevington Inland Border Facility is confidential and is capable of adversely affecting public safety.”
It said it had taken into account representations made by contractors it had commissioned to investigate the potential impact of the development of the site that became fully operational last month.
Its response said that having done so, it was invoking exemptions that permitted authorities to withhold information which “if disclosed would adversely affect the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information to protect a legitimate economic interest".
It elaborated the grounds of refusal by suggesting that while provision of information could “contribute to the debate of issues and lead to greater public participation in environmental decision-making, but here we do not consider that this is relevant".
The site is one of a number set up by the government as an inland border facility, primarily to carry out customs checks but it could also be used as a lorry park in the event of disruption at the Channel ports.
It operates around the clock with customs checks carried out in sheds.
The site did not require planning permission but instead was set up under what is known as a Special Development Order, effectively bypassing the normal consultation process.
The Department for Transport bought the site from the pension company Aviva but is not using the entire land for its holding facility.
The DfT has also rejected a separate request by KentOnline to release details about the environmental impact. It recently turned down an appeal made against its original refusal to disclose information, saying it was not in the public interest.