Published: 06:00, 31 December 2020
We have been bringing you a series of features looking back at our strained relationship with Europe and exploring how we reached this point. With a day to go, we meet those living in the shadow of Brexit.
"It's like the Joni Mitchell song: 'They've paved paradise and put up a parking lot'."
This is David Dunford's fear for the view from his front door after July 1 when a post-Brexit Inland Border Point Facility becomes operational.
The private land, often silhouetted by glorious sunsets, has been sold to the Department for Transport which plans to build a customs clearance facility there for 1,200 lorries.
Sited just two miles from the port of Dover and connecting Guston, the White Cliffs Business Park at Whitfield and Marlborough Road in the Buckland area of Dover, the land is already subject to a Special Development Order (SDO) and has been designated for commercial use for some time despite crops still being visible in the ground.
The residents have already accused the Department for Transport of using the SDO and commercial sensitivities as a cloak of secrecy.
Mr Dunford's wife Jane, who shares their St Martin's Road home, concedes that if the border facility is a done deal, villagers can't stop development.
But she is resolute that residents can fight to negotiate conditions to ensure an adequate green boundary to preserve the villagers' way of life and the habitat of wildlife.
She said the SDO legislation sets out that the boundary must be at least 25 metres from the boundary of the homes.
This is close to the homes at Cherry Tree Mews and St Martin's Road, as marked out by Mr Dunford.
But where no drawings have been released for the residents to respond to, they have no way of knowing if the DfT intends to build as close as 25m, and minister Rachel Maclean has not responded to KentOnline's questions on this.
Mrs Dunford said: "I've put together a proposal for the ministry of transport to make the buffer zone not 25m - which is all the legislation asks for - but 75m."
At the very least she wants a conservation area planted with trees and meadow grasses to be maintained three times a year to maintain some of the wildlife such as buzzards, hawks and various rare birds species that live in the area.
She said "This needs to contain trees of over 10ft to soak up some of the emissions which we're going to be subject to and to perhaps give us a slightly better outlook."
MP Natalie Elphicke has already called on the minister to ensure sensitive planning of the facility and an adequate boundary with screening.
And in turn Ms Maclean has committed to increased consultation with villagers but until they see the detailed plans, residents feel they can't even prepare to fight.
Ex-international lorry driver Mick Palmer fears his "home for life" will be blighted by lorries using the area to stop off and sleep.
Mr Palmer and his wife invested all their savings in their quiet country home in St Martin's Road.
He said: "It will become a lorry park and there's nothing customs can do to stop it.
"They keep telling us with the design of this property that it's not going to be truck stop. Well it will be a truck stop because the lorry drivers will come into this country, or come here to go out of this country, and they'll be out of drive time and they'll say 'I can't move, even though I'm cleared from Customs, because I'm up on my drive time.'
"So they'll park up here and Customs can't make them move."
Cllr Julie Gray of Guston Parish Council said they feel betrayed that the land is being described as commercial.
She said: "My family came to Guston in World War II, we've farmed Guston Court Farm ever since. "We've always grown crops in this field and it's always been agricultural use, it's never been industrial use.
"My main concern is the light pollution, the noise pollution, the impact on the village is going to be huge, but what happens to the North Downs Way? We have no bridleways around here. The roads are so busy.
"No-one's come to speak to us... [give us chance to] consider our options and it's literally right on people's doorsteps. There's no buffer to us at all."
Mrs Elphicke said: "While I completely understand that no-one wants a development near their own home, this is a nationally critical piece of infrastructure that is required to help make a success of Brexit and which will secure jobs and money for hundreds of local people.
“I continue to raise residents’ understandable concerns with Ministers and others in order to mitigate the impact of the proposed development on immediately adjacent homes.”
A letter to the ward councillor Cllr Martin Bates from the DfT's deputy director for future EU roads, Haroona Chughtai said the DfT is in the process of planning a timeline which will be followed by a 14-day engagement period for all stakeholders.
This will include a site plan, design and access plan and specifications about lighting.
She said: "I can accept that some residents will feel like we are being secretive with the information we chose to distribute, but I can assure you that we are trying to be as transparent as possible, however due to ongoing commercial negotiations we also need to be mindful of what we release into the public domain; therefore, some information will be quite limited at this stage."
She added they "absolutely respect" the areas of natural beauty. They will be taking extensive advice from Natural England and conducting noise surveys and the impact of the lighting on the residents will be tested and mitigations put in place if there is a significant effect.
She has vowed the customs site at Whitfield will not become a lorry park despite an ex trucker’s predictions that border staff will not be able to stop drivers resting there.
There will neither be the quantity of freight nor the facilities that would attract drivers to use the area as a stop off, according to Ms Chughtai.
She added: “There would be no incentive for the drivers to dwell on the site.”
Ms Chughtai pledged extensive traffic modelling would take place to ascertain what the pressures on the area will be.
“I would like to assure you that not all HGVs coming into the UK via Port of Dover will need to be sent to the Inland Border Facility, and not all of those that need to be checked will be done at the site as there will still be checks done at the Port of Dover as well.”
However she admits she has no figures to give councillors and residents to brace them for what is to come.
She added: “As part of the SDO process we will submit a traffic assessment and ensure that we provide robust mitigations for the duration of the operations on the site.
“Regular traffic monitoring is a statutory requirement under the SDO conditions which will help us adjust our operations to ensure any negative impact is reduced to acceptable levels.
“We will work with Highways England and Kent County Council to develop a temporary and specific strategy once the traffic modelling has been undertaken.”
In Ashford, a huge 66-acre lorry park next to Junction 10a of the M20 will open on January 1 – and has sparked just as much anger as the Guston plan.
Work started on the Sevington plot in July just hours after the government snapped up the site in a secret deal.
It is set to comprise two areas – one will be a holding area for up to 1,700 trucks, while the other will be a HMRC customs check facility.
But heavy rain, which has forced work to continue 24/7, will mean the customs side of the scheme won't be ready until late February.
Lorries will still be held on the Sevington plot if there is disruption at the ports
But neighbours living nearby who have already faced disruption during the construction programme fear it will only get worse when the site opens.
Rick Martin, chairman of Sevington with Finberry parish council, said earlier this year how 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?"
Mum Lisa Harvey, who lives in Nightingale Close, Sevington, fears the scheme will cause "a lot more traffic, noise and pollution".
"I'm not very happy, it just seems like it's one thing after another here in Sevington," she said.
"They are saying it won't be used as 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."