Major concerns have been raised about the impact on Thanet of the EU exit lorry park provision at the Manston airport site.
The deal with the Department of Transport for the site to continue to be designated as a ‘EU exit’ lorry park has been extended until the end of June 2021. After this it is expected that full custom controls will be in effect by July, negating the need for further use of the site,
A special development order allows use of the site as part of the Kent-wide Operation Fennel to hold up to 4,000 HGVs to help cope with possible post EU exit jams at the Port of Dover.
Under the Operation Fennel plan, the A299, Manston and the A256 would be used to manage lorries heading for the Port of Dover if congestion builds up on the M20. This is as a result of the new border controls due to come in force at 11pm on 31 December 2020.
Issues raised were fears for the risk to lives because of a potential blocking of the road network to QEQM Hospital and to routes for Ashford hospital and the overwhelming of health services if a Covid outbreak occurred at the lorry park which can hold up to 4000 HGVs – equating to a possible 8,000 drivers.
Thanet council’s director of operational services, Gavin Waite, said if an outbreak of the virus did occur at the airfield site and lorry drivers need to self-isolate TDC would not be providing temporary accommodation. He added: “The district has seen significant increases, it has the third highest rates in the country, and this is having an impact, particularly on QEQM. An outbreak at Manston would have a significant impact on already stretched services.”
Fears that a fire incident could spread out of control were also aired by Cllr Paul Moore.
Cllr Moore revealed that contingency exercises at the Manston site showed the lorry parking is too close together, lanes are too narrow for emergency vehicles to turn and the turning circles also do not have enough space to turn safely.
Cllr Moore said: “Should there be an incident with a HGV the potential is that it will spread rapidly to adjoining vehicles.”
He said of the lack of turning space: “If there is a serious incident these things are time critical for us.”
Cllr Moore also revealed that there are issues with water supply with one exercise resulting in a 10 to 15 minute wait for water supply. He added that there was also the potential of the water aquifer at Manston being contaminated.
A Kent Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson 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.”
Traffic issues include the feared impact on the Minster and Sevenscore roundabouts and the Spitfire junction as well as non-HGV traffic being forced through Manston village,
The A299, with no hard shoulder, is likely to become log-jammed and backlogs could hinder the movement of supplies to local businesses and impact on commuters and tourists using the M2/A299 route.
There are also concerns over driver welfare at the site, what medical supplies are in place and how any antisocial behaviour might be controlled if drivers are confined to the site.
Vehicles could be held at Manston for up to 48 hours. Potential HGV movements have also been substantially increased in the latest plan from those envisaged in 2019 – doubling from 305,505 per year to 644,541.
Thanet council leader Rick Everitt and TDC chief executive Madeline Homer said a lack of information from government, including traffic flow proposals, was seriously hampering the ability to plan how to mitigate the effects on residents.
Cllr Everitt said: “Thanet council has never been in favour of this use of Manston airport because of concerns about the potential impacts on the district. But it is not in our control, it is part of a national scheme.
“Our big issue is not being able to get detailed information that we require in order for us to understand the potential impacts on Thanet and communicate what we need to to residents and how to mitigate potential problems if they happen.
“We have been actively pressing for the information we need to assess and try to mitigate the risk to residents and our economy. I am reassured by the promise from the department 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.
“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.”
Speaking to the Department for Transport yesterday (November 24), Cllr Rick Everitt set out the particular issues for Thanet. A payment of £500,000 from central government has been promised to help Thanet with plans on how to reduce the impact on the isle.
Another trial of Operation Fennel is due to take place on December 1.
Cllr Everitt added: “We will continue to share our concerns with Government ministers and departments, our MPs and the other agencies involved and hope that long awaited details will provide the reassurances so needed for local residents and businesses at such a critical time.”
Mr Waite said the concerns over the lorry park use had been raised since the first agreement under Operation Stack in 2015 was first struck with then-site owners Stone Hill Park following a Summer of disruption due to French strikes and growing migrant camps in Calais.
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.
Worst case scenario fears are that up to half of HGVs might not be border ready with new documentation required, such as the Kent Access Permit.
This could result in maximum queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent and two-day delays.
Operation Fennell aims to mitigate this with inland Border Facilities (lorry parking) at Manston, Ebbsfleet and Sevington as well as three sites outside of Kent in Warrington, Birmingham and North Weald. There will also be 45 information and advice sites, primarily at service stations.
At Manston the DfT would have occupancy of the site alongside the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and site operator Stone Hill Park Limited (SHP) will have some small facilities onsite.
Although SHP sold the airport site to Riveroak Strategic Partners in July 2019 the firm retains its contract, and payments, with the Department for Transport for use of the Manston site as a ‘Brexit’ lorry park and is responsible for providing equipment if the site is used for the parking up of HGVs.
The site will operate 24/7. Closed circuit television cameras are positioned across the site.
After entry HGVs will visit the Vehicle Entry Check Point before being directed to a space. Provision is being made for refrigerated vehicles by allowing driver access to ‘hook ups’ connected to generators. No idling will be permitted by refrigerated vehicles as engines of all stationary vehicles and auxiliary generators must be switched off while on site.
Where required, HGVs will undertake customs and transit checks. HGV drivers must remain on the site at all times. Once traffic congestion has cleared or when the customs checks have been completed, the HGVs will leave the site to continue on their journeys.
HGVs carrying hazardous cargoes will be segregated from other vehicles. Spill kits would be available and regular inspections of parked HGVs would be carried out. An emergency contingency plan would be developed and agreed with the emergency services and would include procedures to respond to a major chemical spill or tanker fire.
To limit risks from the Covid-19 virus, the DfT says there will be hot and cold running water, hand cleaning facilities and provision of drinking water.
The UNITE union says there needs to be clean toilets and washing facilities with hot and cold running water, the provision of hot food and areas for drivers to relax outside their lorries to combat the dangers of fatigue.
County councillor Karen Constantine added: “With a no deal Brexit looking more and more likely other key issues remain unanswered in relation to the Manston lorry park. We need to see the plan for an adequate number of decent, clean toilets and washing facilities, in the middle of a Pandemic this is especially important.
“However many lorries and drivers use the Manston lorry park they will all need to be accommodated and have access to these vital services. Drivers will also need adequate rest areas to prevent fatigue, and access to hot and cold food.
“So far the Government has only mentioned portaloos and hot and cold water on the Kent lorry park sites and the drivers trade union Unite believes that is entirely inadequate provision. I agree with them wholeheartedly. Many drivers work long unsociable hours delivering the vital goods that we all need. These lorry drivers are potentially being denied their basic rights. And their health is being needlessly put on the line. The Government are once again taking the hard work of many workers for granted.
“These plans lack detail, are unsustainable and are short term. The Government has had years to plan and has failed. I will continue to raise my concerns at KCC. We must do better than this to protect workers and our food and essentials supplies. This is a recipe for disaster.”