No deal Brexit preparations will include customs administration being carried out at the Manston airport site.
The government’s HMRC department says it is the only site of its size available in Kent and “its owners are content to have it on standby for use if there is any serious travel disruption.”
The site already has a special development order designating it for use as a lorry park to cope with possible post-Brexit jams at the Port of Dover came into effect.
The order ‘augmented’ the deal to use Manston as a short-term solution for Operation Stack which was first struck with site owners Stone Hill Park in August 2015 following a Summer of disruption due to French strikes and growing migrant camps in Calais.
The aim is to park lorries up at the site and so reduce pressure on the M20. The government extended the deal in November 2017 to run until the end of 2019.
The new order extended the deal until December 31, 2020 with additions to allow work on the site to create a new access, add temporary hardstanding and modifications to the new entrance and create lining and signage.
Some £4.9million was earmarked to be spent on the work to increase capacity at the site to hold 6,000 – rather than the initial projection of 4,000 – lorries although preparations were scaled back following the decision by European Union leaders to grant the UK a six-month ‘extension’ until October 31 on its departure from the EU.
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now stepped up planning and funding for the no-deal scenario.
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK will be leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the circumstances and the Government has plans and contingencies in place for the UK border to continue to operate with the minimum of disruption.
“This includes introducing simplified UK customs procedures and opening a small number of additional locations, such as Manston Airport, to handle customs administration removing pressure on existing border infrastructure.”
The Government has actively reviewed plans to develop a more resilient infrastructure solution for transit movements in Kent with HMRC working closely with Department for Transport and local agencies to expand capacity in Kent.
Former landowner Stone Hill Park retains its contract, and payments, with the Department for Transport for use of the Manston site as a ‘Brexit’ lorry park and would be responsible for providing equipment if the site is used for the parking up of HGVs.
The site was bought last month by RiverOak Strategic Partners for their cargo hub proposal.
It is also understood that Thanet council has written to central Government asking for additional funding resources to prepare for a no-deal situation.
A source said issues highlighted include the possibility of police not taking on an enforcement role in regards to the HGV’s ‘stacked’ at the site which ‘may necessitate Army involvement.’
Kent County and Thanet district councillor Karen Constantine said the proposals raise many concerns, adding: “A while ago I put a question to Cllr Paul Carter KCC at the full Kent County Council meeting, I asked if Manston could potentially be used as an additional custom point. I was reassured at that meeting that there were no plans to use Manston in that way.
“I’m not particularly surprised that my initial ‘suspicion’ about the long game for Manston have proved correct. Manston, with it’s ready made hardstanding, and amenities can be put to use to be a home for both a customs point and as a holding area for many thousands of lorries that may, get caught up in Brexit customs issues. If delays occur at our border.
“The thought of having thousands of lorries, confined within a space such as Manston is sobering. We have had years to make adequate plans and yet our Government and Kent County Council have failed to do this.
“To say this situation may require the involvement of troops is disturbing to say the least.
“A further issue that could severely impact Thanet residents, is the potential grid lock that could leave the Isle cut off. One immediate concern is the access and egress of our ambulance service and others travelling to access health, education and work.
“I shall press again for reassurance and sight of all contingency plans.”
Thanet council has been asked for comment and is yet to confirm.