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Government accused of continued secrecy over Inland Border Point at Whitfield as consultation is launched

People living next to Whitfield's Inland Border Park are still reeling at the secrecy about the plans - yet the government is asking for their views in a formal consultation.

The 1200-capacity facility will serve as a customs clearance point, where lorries diverted from the port will wait to have their paperwork and cargo checked by Customs and Defra.

Built on land connecting Whitfied, Guston and the Buckland area of Dover, it is expected to be operational by July 1 and will be temporary until 2025, claims the Department for Transport (DfT).

The government department launched a consultation on Wednesday - a standard process for stakeholders before permission can be given, but residents in Guston living next to the facility still haven't been sent detailed plans showing crucial points of how it will affect their homes which overlook the boundary by a matter of metres.

Jane Dunford of St Martin's Road, Guston has been complaining of a lack of transparency since November after residents became aware of the plan in October.

Now she says the situation is "disgusting", where she and fellow villagers have just 20 days to respond to a scheme where key components remain secret.

In a letter to transport minister Rachel Maclean, residents and parish councillorsoutlined suggested measures that would mitigate the impact on their way of life in November.

Replacing one nightmare with another: Jane Dunford wants a buffer zone of at least 75m but is appalled at the intention to re-route a byway in the buffer zone
Replacing one nightmare with another: Jane Dunford wants a buffer zone of at least 75m but is appalled at the intention to re-route a byway in the buffer zone

These included an adequate boundary of 75m - 50m at the least, with a natural buffer zone for privacy, security and to soak up the noise and light pollution from the 24/7 facility.

Mrs Dunford told Kentonline: "They have told us they are looking at our demand but can't yet say what buffer zone will be in place as the plans have not been submitted.

"It’s all a nightmare.

"The map we have shows no detail.

"It’s disgusting. How can we comment fully on them?

"It could be this close": David Dunford stands 25m away from the current boundary to show how close the back end of the Inland Border Point (IBP) could be from homes
"It could be this close": David Dunford stands 25m away from the current boundary to show how close the back end of the Inland Border Point (IBP) could be from homes

"The MP is no help, she is 'for' the facility. Fair enough, but still refuses to come and stand where we are and really support us publicly with getting a decent buffer zone."

In November we photographed Mrs Dunford's husband David stood 25m from the bundary of their homes. This is the minimum distance the DfT must allow between the two boundaries.

Vague plans show the Customs and Defra buildings and bio-labs will be built in the field to the front of the cottages in St Martin's Road (shaded blue in the picture below).

But there is no information on the scale and design of these buildings, or the size of the environmental buffer zone requested by the residents.

Mrs Dunford anticipates even more disruption for St Martin's Road, where a re-routed byway will replace the North Downs Way, which currently runs through the middle of the site as part of a wider 153mile network from Farnham in Surrey to Dover and Canterbury.

This layout plan of the border park shows the buildings used by Customs and Defra will be directly in front of homes in St Martin's Road, Guston
This layout plan of the border park shows the buildings used by Customs and Defra will be directly in front of homes in St Martin's Road, Guston

She says "They're replacing one nightmare with another" where noisy off-roaders could churn up the very buffer zone they've been fighting for to reduce noise from the customs site.

Walking group the White Cliffs Ramblers have specific safety concerns abut this and are backing residents in their campaign. They have shared their 1400-signature petition and will be meeting to discuss it on January 27.

White Cliffs Ramblers committee member Tony Bristow said: “The devil will be in the detail, we intend to monitor the situation closely.”

A statement said: "The group fears the plan will impede access to part of the North Downs Way National Trail, and lead to that section of it being re-routed.

"That part of the trail is used by many hikers and Rambler groups as well as local people.

The new inland customs clearance site is very close to homes at Dover Road, and St Martin's Road Guston
The new inland customs clearance site is very close to homes at Dover Road, and St Martin's Road Guston

"The group is worried that the safety of walkers and other users of the path may be compromised by heavy goods vehicles entering and leaving the lorry park, and the application does not show what will happen to the section that is affected."

Dover Road resident Stuart Bishop said: "We feel the most frustrating part of the consultation period is that they are disregarding all previous efforts made in terms of previous emails, comments and suggestions and making everyone start again.

"This will mean many people’s complaints and objections previously will not be heard and therefore potentially a lesser amount of objections may be put forward than has been already and the danger of points being missed.

"We hope it will be listened to and a more appropriate site considered, however as there continues to be deception on part of the Special Development Order SDO regarding planning permissions we are concerned this is merely an exercise for the DFT and they will do what they want as they have already demonstrated."

Earlier this week Guston Parish Council managed to persuade Kent County Council to withdraw plans for the Dover Fastrack, described by Stuart Bishop as "another monstrosity" affecting Guston.

What Dover Fastrack transport service was due to look like before the plans were withdrawn by KCC
What Dover Fastrack transport service was due to look like before the plans were withdrawn by KCC

It came after the authority discovered the DfT was planning to "piggy-back"- on the the £16m green bus and cycle route planned to connect new homes at Whitfield with the leisure centre, the castle, the town centre and Dover Priory.

Parish council cairman Tracey Creed said: "On Tuesday last week, during a meeting with DfT, it was disclosed that the KCC planning application for the Dover Fast Track is actually entwined with the development of the Inland Border Facility.

"Our findings have disclosed that the HGV’s entering and exiting the IBF site will actually be using the Dover Fast Track road through Guston.

"We are really angry as a parish council as when we met with DDC to discuss the Dover Fast Track in Aug/Sept 20 we were assured that the new road through our village would be used for the Dover fast track bus, pedestrians and cyclists thus allowing a greener form of travel. On Tuesday, it was discovered that the HGVs would also be using this new road for the entrance and exit of the IBF.

"Nothing green about it!

"In addition, DDC planning department disclosed that in order for the Inland Border Facility to get going prematurely on construction, without the signing of the Special Development Order by the Secretary of State, they have piggy backed the Dover Fast Track planning application.

Buildings to be used by Customs and Defra will be on the left of this picture, in view of homes in St Martin's Road, Guston
Buildings to be used by Customs and Defra will be on the left of this picture, in view of homes in St Martin's Road, Guston

"This would provide the DfT with planning authorisation to start construction on their site exit and entrance of the IBF and the road infrastructure by B&Q.

"Guston Parish Council have contacted planning and have made a formal complaint. This has lead to the withdrawal of the Fast Track Application from the planning application hearing on Wednesday, yesterday.

"Guston Parish Council have therefore managed to delay 2 major planning applications in the village, 1 with KCC and 1 with the department for Transport. However, we know that we cannot hold them off for long."

The Department for Transport has not commented on the residents' specific concerns but said: ”The White Cliffs site in Dover will allow the Government to set up an inland facility with easy access to the Port, which does not itself have the space needed for extended checks.

“We understand concerns about resulting disruption, which is why we are working with the relevant authorities and our principal designer to ensure the surrounding roads are not negatively impacted by increased HGV traffic.

“The development of this site, which will bring local jobs, will require additional planning consent and we are giving residents the opportunity to express their views as part of that process.”

The consultation document says it will not be used as a lorry park and the DfT must provide a plan for what state the land will be left in after December 2025.

The consultation for the Inland Border Facility started on Wednesday. Comment on it here.

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