By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Deep division over the county’s readiness for Brexit was laid bare during a heated discussion among Kent county councillors.
The fate of the UK remains uncertain as the looming deadline of the European Union (EU) transition end date on December 31 fast approaches.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to seek a trade deal with his European partners but major disagreements remain between the two sides over fishing rights and trade competition rules, making the prospect seem less likely.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) Conservative administration says it wants to keep the roads clear across the 12 districts, but serious concerns were raised about the likelihood of that during an online full council debate yesterday.
Thanet will contain a customs checkpoint for 4,000 HGVs in a Brexit lorry park at Manston Airport. Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), said: “KCC are doing all they can, but with one hand tied behind their backs because of Government inaction. This is going to be a disaster.”
His comments came as KCC’s 81 elected members were told that key issues remain unresolved, namely around logistics.
Whitehall’s Kent Access Permit (KAP) has not been launched but will be required by hauliers to cross the Channel. It is also unclear how Kent will deal with queues of more than 7,000 lorries over a 24-hour period from January 1.
Ashford county councillor Paul Bartlett (Con), who represents an area with a customs site, in Sevington, for up to 1,700 HGVs, said KCC’s Tory administration had done “everything possible” to protect the residents of Kent.
This includes having emergency traffic management plans, such as Operation Fennel, to keep vehicles moving freely that are not destined for France.
Meanwhile, other Brexit lorry parks have been set up at locations outside the county, such as North Weald Airfield in Essex, to reduce the traffic burden on Kent’s roads.
But KCC Labour group leader, Cllr Dara Farrell, said “clarity is needed” around the enforcement of the KAP, with police expected to issue fines of up to £300 for Euro-bound HGVs entering the county without the correct papers.
He worried that Kent would struggle to regain its Garden of England title after Brexit and said: “It will take more than Paul O’Grady climbing Canterbury Cathedral to dissuade the rest of the world that Kent is now a toilet.”
Maidstone county councillor Gary Cooke (Con) said the concerns laid out by KCC’s administration were “brutally honest” while Cllr Sean Holden (Con), of Tunbridge Wells, said he was “very optimistic” there would be minimal disruption.
He said: “There’s a lot of project fear being revived here. The terms the EU are offering us are wholly unacceptable, an infringement of our sovereignty.”
Yet, KCC main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) pointed to stockpiling carried out by major supermarkets across the UK. He said: “They are acutely aware of the risks of supplies being held up in the early part of next year.”
It was confirmed this week that KCC will have new clamping powers to help keep the roads in the county clear of illegally parked HGVs for six months in Maidstone, Swale and east Kent.
Concluding, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), leader of KCC, said: “Our responsibility is to do our very utmost with the powers that we have to ensure that people in Kent can go about their business with as little disruption as possible.”