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Brexit lorry park plans for Manston Airport risks lives, Thanet council warns

Huge concerns have been raised about the dangers of using a former airport as a Brexit lorry park for 4,000 vehicles.

Fears from council chiefs centre on the devastating outcome should there be a Covid outbreak at the site in Manston, as well as the risk to life if roads to hospitals in Margate and Ashford become blocked.

A trial run was carried out in 2019. Picture: Paul Amos
A trial run was carried out in 2019. Picture: Paul Amos

The Department for Transport wants to use the currently vacant site near Ramsgate as a holding area for HGVs should there be delays at the Port of Dover when new border controls come in on December 31.

Plans also include using the A299 and the A256 to manage lorries if congestion builds up on the M20.

A special development order is in place allowing the site to be used until June 2021 as part of Operation Fennel to hold the HGVs for up to 48 hours.

But members of Thanet District Council have warned of some potentially catastrophic outcomes.

They warn that roads could become heavily congested, blocking major routes to the QEQM hospital and William Harvey, while also pointing out the overwhelming pressure on health services should there be a Covid-19 outbreak at the lorry park.

The former Manston Airport site. Picture: Alan Langley
The former Manston Airport site. Picture: Alan Langley

The council has always been opposed to the plan due to the "disproportionate burden" it would cause on the district and says more information is needed before they can support it.

Leader Cllr Rick Everitt, speaking at a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee, says members are collectively voicing concerns for Thanet.

"If these lorries come and the plan works as the government thinks it will work, that's one thing," he said.

"If it goes wrong, I want to make sure this district council has done everything it could to mitigate the impacts on our residents.

Cllr Rick Everitt
Cllr Rick Everitt

"I say that particularly around the Covid situation because we all know that currently we've got one of the highest rates in the country and QEQM is coming under stress.

"Hopefully by the time we get to January that situation will have alleviated to some extent, but we don't know that and what we can't have is a Covid outbreak at the airport among lorry drivers impacting on the health service provision for our residents."

Cllr Everitt spoke to the Department for Transport on Tuesday, raising his concerns.

"We have been actively pressing for the information we need to assess and try to mitigate the risk to residents and our economy," he said.

"I am reassured by the promise that we will get it, but time is short. In particular we need to be clear that the plan will not detrimentally affect public health and safety at a critical time in combating the current public health emergency.

Aerial views shows the work to increase lorry holding capacity at Manston Airport for Operation Brock back in 2019. Picture: Swift Aerial Photography
Aerial views shows the work to increase lorry holding capacity at Manston Airport for Operation Brock back in 2019. Picture: Swift Aerial Photography

"We will continue to do everything we can to work collaboratively and play our part to support wider national efforts to minimise disruption to the UK, but we must also speak up for Thanet and do all we can to prevent our area becoming collateral damage if things go wrong.

"Our position remains that we do not support the use of the Manston site as part of an untested, and therefore unproven, plan which could have significant impacts on residents, services and businesses."

Also speaking at the council meeting was Cllr Paul Moore, who warned of possible dangers.

He said: "The people who have laid out the parking facilities at Manston have put the vehicles too close together, and should there be an incident in one HGV, there's a potential for it to spread rapidly to the adjoining lorries.

"If you have 4,000 lorries up there that's 8,000 drivers potentially as a lot of the European ones have two drivers.

Cllr Paul Moore
Cllr Paul Moore

"They (fire crews) had an exercise up there and it's common knowledge that it didn't run too well.

"The lanes for emergency vehicles weren't wide enough and the turning circles at the end of each lane weren't wide enough for an emergency vehicle to turn safely.

"All these things need to be taken into consideration because if you've got a serious incident there those are the things that are time critical for us."

He added: "A fire appliance carries 1,600 litres of water and when they did the exercise for a lorry fire they were waiting 10 to15 minutes for a water supply.

"You consider that in an area of 200 to 300 lorries - that will soon get out of control."

A Kent Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: “We are working closely with partners within the Kent Resilience Forum and government departments to ensure all necessary safety measures are in place at Manston.

"We engaged in the planning process for the site, where we set out our expectations to site developers, and we are also working closely with the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate, which has fire safety enforcement responsibility on site.

"As a fire and rescue service we have tried and tested plans in place which enables us to respond effectively to a wide range of scenarios, and we will continue to work with site developers to manage any risks."

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