Controversial plans for a huge Brexit clearance fleet in Dover with a capacity of 1,200 trucks have been drastically cut back, a major victory for local opponents.
Devastated homeowners have spent seven months battling plans that old farmland has been concreted, an ancient Roman road destroyed and nighttime light and noise pollution caused to families living just 25 meters away.
But at a meeting last Friday, representatives from HM Revenue and Customs confirmed to the local parish council their U-turn.
Instead of 1,200 trucks, the site will only accommodate 96, with 20 additional locations for reverse trucks, and will occupy only a quarter of the original space.
HMRC officials told locals they had ‘learned the lessons’ from the vast Brexit truck fleet 22 miles from Sevington, near Ashford.
In a letter to residents, Guston Parish Council said, “HMRC has confirmed that the lighting will be moonlight. “
He has also moved the site 450 meters away from homes and plans to build two-meter “bunds” or man-made hills to mitigate noise and disturbance of field views for residents.
“We think this is a real result for us,” said one of the members of Guston’s parish council who had been one of the leaders of the opposition.
“Clearly we still have concerns about what will happen to the remaining three quarters of the site and the site design, but overall we are pleasantly surprised and happy that they are engaging with us. Said the adviser, who did not want to be named, said.
Sarah Gleave, a member of the Dover and Deal Green party, said she was concerned that the road infrastructure and the single track could still be a nightmare for locals and the environment.
Construction is not expected to start until February or March, which means it is unlikely to be ready until summer, six months after Brexit controls are fully implemented.
This could result in lorries being diverted to the Ashford site, closer to the Eurotunnel exit at Folkestone.
Gleave believes there is still time to move the site to a safer site further inland where the A2 has a two-lane road.
Earlier this year, locals said they felt betrayed and trapped by the government’s “lies” about the plans. A mother shared how she moved to this quiet village because her autistic son found light and noise difficult.
His neighbor Mick Palmer said he “would not trust” the government because of the way it forced the plans on residents without warning on New Years Eve. But his wife, Jill, said: “It ‘s is such a relief that they don’t experience it. It’s always going to be there but it’s not going to affect us as much. “
The site is needed to respond to additional procedures caused by Brexit, including customs formalities and physical health checks on food and animal imports.
But under the new plans, only HMRC checks will be carried out at the site, with two separate sites for other checks, according to knowledgeable sources.
The most disruptive element of the truck fleet, involving physical health checks on chilled and frozen food, will be moved to an undisclosed site in nearby Whitfield, currently being negotiated by public procurement officials.
Local sources say one option discussed is an empty warehouse that could be converted into a refrigerated loading dock where trucks with suspicious goods could be unloaded for inspection.
A third site, described as akin to a “roadside farm” will be used to carry out checks on live animals, such as cattle imported for breeding and racehorses returning from meetings. in France.
Tim Reardon, secretary general and head of EU exit at the port of Dover, has raised concerns that the government may not be ready for October and January, deadlines for the entry into force of the last Brexit checks.
“Building infrastructure takes time and the government needs to factor this into its timetables for new border controls,” he said. “It also needs to tell the logistics industry which domestic border sites will be available and when, so the army of companies that make up the UK’s supply chain know what they’re dealing with.” “
HMRC also confirmed to locals that the site will now be ‘long term’, but the contingency planning approval covered by the Special Development Order will only last until December 2025 and a full planning consultation. will take place if the site is required from 2026..
A government spokesperson confirmed the downsizing of the White Cliffs site and that sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) control plans for food and animals at the site had been abandoned.
“We have reviewed the plans for the border facilities in Kent needed to undertake customs, sanitary and phytosanitary inspections on EU goods, as it is important that we have appropriate facilities that provide value for money to taxpayers. », They declared.
“HMRC is working closely with the Planning Authority on the submission of a Special Development Order for the White Cliffs site for customs controls, and as part of that there will be a public engagement period. estimated at two weeks.
“For SPS controls, our modeling shows that we can meet the requirements with the facilities in Sevington and a new, smaller site in Dover. We are working closely with Dover Port Health Authority to finalize these plans. “
They said HRMC had now taken over the Ministry of Transport site and would continue to engage with the local population at all border control sites.