Published: 20:22, 14 September 2020
| Updated: 16:39, 15 September 2020
Ebbsfleet International station will be used by Boris Johnson's Government for Brexit, it has emerged, after its sudden closure as a coronavirus test centre.
HMRC - which deals with customs checks - has been seeking to use the railway land, which is located between Dartford and Gravesend, if the UK leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal in December.
A Kent County Council (KCC) letter has been leaked which shows that the Ebbsfleet Covid testing centre closed two weeks ago because it would be needed for Brexit purposes.
The document reads: "We have also been notified that the Ebbsfleet testing centre has closed, as the site is required by HMRC for EU Exit."
Precise use has not been confirmed but it is believed that one of Ebbsfleet station's car parks would hold up to 80 lorries at a time and a booking system implemented for slots. The cabinet office has been approached for comment.
Dartford councillor Sacha Gosine (Lab), who represents the area at district level, has written to local MP Gareth Johnson (Con) raising concerns. He said: "The infrastructure at Ebbsfleet cannot cope with lorries."
Cllr Gosine said it would be a "logistical nightmare" for officials and warned that it would cause chaos on the M25 if there was a crash near the Dartford Tunnel leading to traffic piling up.
Dartford council's main opposition leader added: "We are talking about pandemonium for the rest of Dartford and its residents."
In September 2019, planning permission was granted which allows use of the Ebbsfleet site temporarily for customs clearance until December 31, 2020.
At the time, work had started at one of the car parks at the station but this has been put on hold amid the pandemic.
Ebbsfleet station had been used as a Covid testing site between April and September, but earlier this month testing staff were told "out of the blue" that the site would be closing.
It had capacity for about 2,000 tests a day and about 15 people lost their jobs. A new coronavirus test centre has opened in Medway - off Curtis Way Coach Park, Rochester.
Cllr Gosine says the pandemic should dominate the focus of the Government rather than removing an existing Covid site as Whitehall bosses continue to come under fire for problems with its track and trace system.
He said: "What are we doing Brexit for if everyone is dead?"
KCC, the local highways and transport authority, was approached for comment but said this was a matter for the Department for Transport, while Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite (Con) declined to comment.
Former KCC highways boss Cllr Bryan Sweetland (Con), who represents a division in Gravesham, said: "There is scope for a lorry park at Ebbsfleet but I would like to see more details before giving a view one way or the other."
The Dover-Calais crossing is used by about 10,000 lorries a day.
Other customs sites have already been chosen. These include a £45million lorry park on a 27-acre site off Junction 10a of the M20 in Sevington to hold up to 2,000 trucks.
However, construction has paused after workers found the remains of a Saxon Wall close to Church Road on a section of land not far from the A2070 dual carriageway.
Despite this, it is hoped the MOJO site will be completed by November to ensure the lorry park can be "properly tested" ahead of the UK's EU departure on December 31.
Other sites earmarked include the empty Manston Airport near Ramsgate - to be used for up to 5,800 trucks - and a field next to the White Cliffs Business Park in Dover for 1,200 trucks, less than a 10-minute drive from the coast.
Eurostar has recently announced that trains will no longer be stopping in Kent, including Ebbsfleet and Ashford, until 2022 due to the impact of the coronavirus on its business.
A government spokesman said: "Regional testing sites were set up at great speed and selected for their immediate availability, security and access. The regional testing site at Ebbsfleet has ceased operations and a new regional testing site is operating at Curtis Way, Rochester. The relocation will allow the network to continue operating as long as needed.
"In July 2020, the government committed to spending £470m on new border infrastructure to support ports in building extra capacity to meet the new control requirements where there is space to do so, and, if necessary, to build additional inland sites across the country where checks can take place.
"Final decisions on inland sites will not be made until we have established the extent of new infrastructure that will be delivered at ports."