By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Additional reporting by Kathy Bailes
A highways boss has revealed the creation of a Brexit lorry park housing up to 4,000 HGVs at Manston Airport will ‘not be inevitable’.
Cllr Michael Payne (Con), cabinet member for transport at Kent County Council (KCC), indicated that negotiations around the use of the Manston Road site in Ramsgate had still not been finalised.
Talks are taking place to extend the deal for the Manston airport site to continue to be designated as a ‘EU exit’ lorry park until the end of June 2021.
A special development order allows use of the site to hold up to 6,000 HGVs to help cope with possible post EU exit jams at the Port of Dover. It currently runs until December 31 of this year.
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 following a Summer of disruption due to French strikes and growing migrant camps in Calais.
The aim was 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 deal was then extended again 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.
However, this was only intended to function for a few months resulting in a sunset clause for the order to cease to have effect on December 31, 2020.
With the withdrawal agreement, which took effect from January 31 this year, and the end of the transition period for exit from the EU’s single market and customs union, new border arrangements need to be in place from January 1, 2021.
The negotiations to extend the use took place between RSP, SHP and the Department for Transport. SHP will continue to manage the operation if it goes live. The use has been agreed with RSP but The Department of Transport will now be carrying out studies on how traffic and the environment will be affected and will be inviting local feedback.
Cllr Payne’s comments came during a virtual meeting of KCC’s full council meeting, seven days after the publication of a council report listing Manston as one of five Kent custom checkpoints, managing around 7,000 lorries in Dover, Ebbsfleet and Ashford sites.
Cllr Payne said: “It is not necessarily inevitable that Manston airport will be used for Dover-bound freight.”
However, traffic management job vacancies for Manston are currently being advertised by Right Guard Security for “operatives to safely manage HGV movements across site.”
Concerns had been raised by Maidstone County Hall’s elected members about potential congestion on Kent roads, such as the M2, caused by a “procession” of lorries heading down the A299 to the Thanet site and the A2 Duke of York roundabout in Dover.
The former airport closed for business in 2014 but finds itself in a protracted dispute over its future after a ruling from Government in July, granting consent to create a freight hub at the site.
In August, HMRC – which runs deals with customs – announced its intention to use Manston to conduct checks on lorries diverted there. It forms part of the Government’s no-deal Brexit contingency plans if Whitehall fails to reach a deal with the European Union in December.
At full council today, Thanet county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) said he was “worried” about the plans with the land also being used for a Covid test site. He said: “I don’t think there is going to much social distancing in that area.”
The aim of the lorry park is to ease pressure on the Channel ports, but Dover county councillor Trevor Bond (Con) said the situation with Manston airport was “unbelievable” and could block traffic trying to get onto the A2 in Dover.
Concerned the issue was not addressed, he said: “We had a trial which most people thought interesting exercise but not reality and if Manston has to come in then the people of Deal and Sandwich are going to have a real problem.”
Swale Cllr Anthony Hook (Lib Dem) said he was anxious about disruption for Kent residents, notably the M2 at Junctions 5 and 6 near Sittingbourne and Faversham.
He said enforcement measures should be in place to stop HGV gridlock and traffic diverting through villages and towns.
Cllr Payne said there would be “regular patrols” on the motorway stretch carried out by Kent Police, DVSA and Highways England to ensure adequate enforcement is in place. Traffic on local roads will also be monitored closely. A report to councillors also suggests private contractors could be used to undertake this work rather than relying on the local police.
On Manston’s Covid testing, Cllr Payne said the site was on the opposite side of the proposed lorry park and should not interfere with the plans.
Cllr Payne said: “In the event that Manston is called in to use, all Dover-bound freight use of the M2 will be restricted to lane one use only. This will minimise impact on other users which will reduce the impact on surrounding roads.”
Other Kent Brexit lorry parks that have been confirmed include Ashford’s 27-acre plot at Sevington for 1,700 lorries, Ebbsfleet railway station’s car park D for 253 HGVs and Ashford Waterbrook.
Another is planned in Dover and will be ready for inbound custom checks from July 2021.