Published: 15:47, 08 October 2020
| Updated: 17:10, 09 October 2020
The former coronavirus testing centre at Ebbsfleet, closed to make way for a Brexit lorry park, is set to hold 256 HGVs for two years from January 1, it can be revealed.
The 24-hour site is expected to be up and running at Ebbsfleet International Station in 85 days' time - and residents are only now being consulted.
HMRC - which deals with custom checks - and the Department for Transport unveiled the proposals for 'car park D' as part of that consultation.
The government says the site will be needed for up to two years from January 1, 2021 after the European Union transition period ends if a deal has not been reached.
Around 143 staff are likely to be hired at the station, which will operate seven days a week. It will be made Covid-secure with hand santisier provided and social distancing measures in place.
Between the hours of 11pm and 7am, lorry movement will be limited to a maximum of 99 per hour at the former Covid testing site, which shut down unannounced last month and moved to Rochester.
Plans have been made to manage traffic travelling from different parts of the UK into Kent and the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands the customs checkpoint will be used as a "net" to catch lorries heading to Europe.
Hauliers will be encouraged to upload their paperwork online, before they travel from their depot, and will then be given a green, amber or red pass to show whether they can progress onwards to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
Drivers from Scotland, Wales, north England and the south will be expected to approach the site from junction two of the M25 at the Darenth Interchange onto the A2 before taking the A2260 and International Way to the site.
Those coming from London would head to the site from the west, travelling on the A2, while those from Kent and Essex approach from the east.
Dartford council's main opposition leader Sacha Gosine (Lab) said he was "worried" about the plans. He said: "I have previously talked about the traffic issues in Dartford. It will be mayhem as the infrastructure on these roads cannot cope with these lorries."
However, Dartford council's leader Jeremy Kite (Con) said he "sympathised" with HMRC and added: "If they don’t plan for a worst case situation they would face criticism but when they do, it obviously focusses upon a preparation that we all hope won’t be needed."
Boris Johnson's Government currently only has planning permission to use the Ebbsfleet railway site for Brexit purposes until December 31.
Government bosses intend to activate a special development order (SDO) which will allow them to press ahead with the scheme without needing approval from the local authority, Dartford Borough Council.
This comes two weeks after the special order was permitted in Parliament to build Brexit infrastructure, such as customs checkpoints, in specific local authority areas without requiring their permission.
Under the plans, a new road access point will be constructed on International Way, approximately 400m north of the A2260 and B259 roundabout in an effort to reduce queue lengths near Swanscombe and the motorway.
However, Cllr Kite said one of his "concerns" related to the safety of pupils studying at the neighbouring secondary school, Ebbsfleet Academy, in Southfleet Road, with 700 pupils being taught there.
"This has come out far too late in the day."
He added: "One thing we will all have particular interest in is the the forming of a new access gate not least because it isn’t too far from a busy local school.
"We will be making representations about that to ensure it is done properly and safely."
New road signs will also be put up directing lorry drivers to the "inland border" entrance and outside the site entrance to advise HGVs about the use of custom facilities and relevant contact details.
Eurostar, who announced last month they would not be running trains from Ebbsfleet or Ashford until 2022 due to the impact of Covid-19, has said it is too early to comment on whether the lorry park plans will impact its service.
Car park D offered cheaper parking for station users.
Ebbsfleet International said: “Car park D was a relatively underutilised space in comparison to the other car parks at Ebbsfleet International, and we are pleased to be able to the support the system post Brexit.
“Ensuring our customers are not financially impacted is our number one priority. We are offering a voucher scheme to our regular car park D customers, which will allow them to park in car park’s A,B and C at no additional cost. We will also be offering a dedicated help centre during this time.”
Ebbsfleet residents received a letter from HMRC yesterday about the plans to use the site as a temporary customs checkpoint.
Cllr Gosine (Lab) described the consultation as merely a "paper exercise" and ahead of a public discussion on the subject at Dartford council's full council meeting next Monday, he said: "This has come out far too late in the day."
But, Cllr Kite said he was "pleased" with the engagement and said: "The benefit of capturing the views of people and local representatives close to the area is they are best placed to bring local knowledge to the planning."
Dartford residents can give their views and comments in an online public consultation which runs until Wednesday, October 21 here.
A KCC spokesman said the project would be run by HMRC.
He added: "KCC will be responding to the letter from government to ensure a minimum impact on the local communities, in particular motorists, cyclists and pedestrians that use the main route past the site."