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Opinion: 'What next for white elephant Brexit lorry park off M20 at Ashford?'

From up above, it resembles a sports stadium, void of spectators or athletes. Or a motorway service station, similarly vacant without a car or a lorry in plain sight.

It is neither. In fact, the images taken by drone are of the Ashford Inland Border Facility, built at some considerable cost to the public purse to deal with post-Brexit requirements for lorries to be checked for what goods they are either bringing in or taking out.

Sevington inland border facility in Ashford Picture: Barry Goodwin
Sevington inland border facility in Ashford Picture: Barry Goodwin

It was considered such an important part of the UK’s contingency plans post-Brexit that it didn’t go through a potentially lengthy planning process that ordinarily would happen.

The urgency to get it built meant it was able to bypass that by getting a Special Development Order - accelerating the process in a way that left residents feeling rather more than slightly miffed.

But the government was certain the facility could ease the passage of HGVs to and from the Channel ports.

In a press notice, it announced that “over 500 new port health roles are being created to facilitate the new checks on imports of animal products from the EU from April 2021, with £8.8 million invested in Ashford Borough Council and Dover District Council.”

But just at the point where the bulldozers were due to move in and when the Dover MP Natalie Elphicke hailed the new facilities by digging - symbolically - the first sod, the government announced it was pulling the plug on both Dover and Dartford.

Lorries queue at the Port of Dover, Eastern Docks, Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin
Lorries queue at the Port of Dover, Eastern Docks, Dover Picture: Barry Goodwin

Red faces all round but the site at Sevington was retained and remained operational. Sort of. But two years on from being open for business, it is beginning to look like a white elephant.

Activity is very far from the projection of an estimated 124,000 checks on imports a year. Across its 230 acres, days go by without much visible activity. Defra, the government department in charge, admits it now has “no current operations” at Sevington “except a small presence” which “was temporarily available for holding pets during the Ukraine response”.

Well, the dogs have at least been given plenty of space to run around.

And as they do, government officials are working out what should happen next. In his brief spell as Brexit Opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg delayed for a fourth time the introduction of full border checks on imports from the EU - on the basis it would save £1bn a year.

That’s one way of spinning it but it looks increasingly unlikely that it will be kept for the reason it was created.

In having capacity to hold 1,700 lorries, there is the obvious idea: a lorry park at times when it might be needed to stop the M20 getting clogged up.

That or a monster-sized children’s ball park. Or a luxury kennel.

What do you think? Comment below or email opinion@thekmgroup.co.uk We're always looking for diverse views on the biggest issues. Get in touch if you'd like to contribute

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