Thanet council says plans are in place for no-deal Brexit disruptions in the district but authority resources “will be stretched” in a worst case scenario.
Speaking at full council last night (September 5) authority leader Bob Bayford said central government proposals to use the Manston airport site as a 6,000 capacity lorry park to cope with possible gridlock if the UK exits the European Union without a deal, will place a “disproportionate burden” on residents, businesses and council staff.
In January a special development order designating the Manston airport site for use as a lorry park came into effect. The order ‘augmented’ the deal to use Manston as a short-term solution for Operation Stack which was first struck with then-site owners Stone Hill Park in August 2015.
The aim is to park the lorries up at the site and so reduce pressure on the M20.
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.
The work was part of plans for Operation Brock – the updated version of lorry queuing system Operation Stack.
No deal Brexit preparations will also 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.”
Cllr Bayford said Thanet council, Kent Police and neighbouring Dover council have all expressed concerns over the lorry park plans and the subsequent 6,000-8,000 drivers that will be on site.
He said: “We are fully aware that these plans place a disproportionate burden on the district residents, businesses and even our own staff.
“Whilst we understand that the UK preparing to leave the EU is of national importance, this cannot be at the detriment of our district, and we have worked tirelessly to make our concerns heard both in the Department of Transport and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“The proposed Operation Brock plans, especially regarding Manston and the potential impact on all our communities, needs to be fully recognised by the Government and the allocation of resources needs to reflect the increased risks faced by our district.
“We have submitted our assessments of the local costs of implementing plans regarding a no deal Brexit, Government have so far awarded £270,000 in relation to these costs. However, it is disappointing that they have done this without aligning the funding with the likely level of impact on each district.”
Cllr Bayford said a Safety Advisory Group has been set up, with input from government, to assess the impact of the lorry park and ensure effective management plans for the site.
These range from traffic flow controls to welfare procedures for the significant number of lorry drivers expected.
The Department for Transport has announced that Kent County Council will receive funding to carry out maintenance at the Manston site and make changes to the traffic management system to help with the turnaround of lorries.
In February Ramsgate Port was allocated £136,362 as part of Government Brexit resilience plans.
The written ministerial statement was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and said the funding was to allow ” increased resources to work through the immediate impacts from Brexit, such as ensuring the port’s resilience and potential impacts of greater traffic to surrounding communities.”
A further £70,000 was allocated to the council at the end of August “to buy in additional staff and specialist expertise where necessary.”
The government says local authorities with ports will be more affected than the majority of councils after the UK leaves the EU, and so will need increased capacity and specialist capacity to put plans in place and manage changes.
A document by the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) says Kent regularly sees 10000 freight per day cross the channel, but plans must be developed to provide capacity for managing queues that may build to 10-12000 vehicles post-Brexit. Operation Fennel is the multi-agency KRF plan to manage traffic on the major roads leading to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
The document also says there is a high risk of prolonged disruption of one or more channel crossing routes for a period of more than three months.
KRF says this could cause disruption on the major and minor road network; noise, air pollution and waste stockpiling; impacts on local businesses and the tourist industry; impact on the distribution of medication within NHS around the county and delay imports and exports, including food, medicines and medical consumables.
Thanet Brexit preparations
Cllr Bayford said other action to brace Thanet for no-deal Brexit includes drawing up duty rotas to ensure top officers are aware of all arrangements for a no-deal Brexit; completing a detailed community impact assessment; developing a Brexit specific risk register and having a full communications strategy in place to coordinate messages to the community.
Cllr Bayford added: “We will engage with local business, a process which is being led by our Strategic Partnerships Manager. We have assigned a Brexit lead who is overseeing the range of activities required to ensure that the multiple work streams are well coordinated. We will also be testing our business continuity plans with specific reference to Brexit.
“We have actively engaged in Operation Lundy, the multi-agency test for the plans and ensured that our feedback is incorporated into further development of those plans.
“Whilst, we have and will continue to do all we can to mitigate against and prepare for a worst case scenario, it is fair to say that if this does happen council resources will be stretched. However, I can attest to officers’ professionalism and total commitment to the residents of the district. We will all need to pull together as a community to get through what will undoubtedly be uncharted waters.”
Hospital gridlock measures
This week it also emerged that the East Kent Hospitals trust has booked hotel rooms for staff who may not be able to get into work due to no-deal Brexit gridlock.
EKHUFT told health publication HSJ that it had “booked a small number of hotel rooms close to our emergency hospitals as a precautionary measure, for an initial two-week period [after 31 October]”.
Health service bosses have also discussed using police to get patients through unusually heavy traffic to hospitals in Ashford and Canterbury.
Thanet councillor Karen Constantine said: “I do not criticise the NHS managers for taking the extraordinary step of booking hotel beds in Ashford for staff, post Brexit, due to ‘gridlock’ fears. But I am astounded that such a plan has had to be developed in the first place. This is an extremely costly response to the concerning and confusing state we are in due to the ongoing Brexit crisis.
“How on earth will our NHS services manage Brexit roadblock, especially front line staff? How will patients manage getting to and from the William Harvey Hospital from Thanet? How will patient transport be run effectively? What will happen in the event of an emergency?
“What will happen if this situation persists when our acute stroke service at QEQM is closed and moved to Ashford?
“No one is certain of what Brexit will bring or when it will happen. Whilst we live with this uncertainty I believe the NHS should ‘halt’ the stroke service reconfiguration. The people of Thanet are being forced into a lose – lose situation. Access to health care is been turned into a lottery!”
Cllr Constantine has written to Kent health service bosses Caroline Selkirk and Rachel Jones and will raise further questions at Kent County Council.
Brexit row in Parliament
Owing to the failure of the UK and the EU to reach a Brexit deal, the UK was granted an extension for leaving the EU until October 31.
A vote this week to give MPs the chance to introduce a law postponing the UK’s departure until January 31 in the event of a no deal scenario resulted in 21 Tory’s voting against PM Boris Johnson who wants exit on October 31 with or without a deal. The final vote was 328 to 301 – meaning defeat for the PM. Thanet MPs Craig Mackinlay and Sir Roger Gale voted with the government. However Sir Roger has since said he is considering his position and could even stand at the next election as an Independent.
The EU (withdrawal) bill is now to be considered in a Committee of the whole House this evening. It could then be voted on again by MPs on Monday and presented for royal assent.
Boris Johnson has made the decision to prorogue parliament ahead of exit day. He wants to suspend Parliament for five weeks before the Queen’s Speech on October 14.
He also wants a snap General Election to take place on October 15 but this has not received the necessary two/thirds backing in Parliament and Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Plaid Cymru say they will vote against it or abstain when it goes to another Commons vote on Monday.
MP Craig Mackinlay is backing the snap election date, saying: “The House of Commons no longer reflects the will of the people of this country who gave that clear message to MPs that we should respect the 2016 referendum vote. This Parliament serves no further purpose. It is time for a general election.”