Deceit and Despair in the Dover Downland

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Outrage: Residents of Guston Village after finding that their village is about to be next to a lorry park. Picture supplied by Author

The Department of Transport has bought two arable fields near Dover and work to construct an Inland Border Clearance site for HGVs is scheduled to start in January 2021. Residents of Guston Village are outraged.

Perched a mile inland from Dover Castle, Guston Village is one of the most charming, peaceful, best-governed parishes in East Kent, with the popular Chance Inn, a prize-winning recreation area, the historic St Martin’s church, a beautiful solar-paneled village hall and a solar farm. Many residents choose to live there for the peace and quiet and the beautiful walks down into Dover town, including the North Downs Way.

But on 31 December 2020, residents received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Rachel Maclean MP.

It announced that the Department of Transport had bought the two arable fields next to their homes. Work to construct an Inland Border Clearance site for HGVs would start in January 2021. Estimates of the capacity of the Inland Border facility range from 671 to 1200. Using a Special Development Order, the letter explains that the Government will push through further planning consent and promises robust mitigation with light buffers and air pollution monitors.

Distrust of such promises prevails in Guston. A drop-in, Covid-compliant protest against the lorry park was held on 3 October. Dover and Deal Green Party activists leafleted villages, letting residents know of the government plans. And on 21 October, the Labour opposition at Dover District tabled a motion – voted through unanimously with Conservative support and a couple of amendments – to force the Ministry to disclose their plans.

They were asked to level with the population of Dover District and the villagers in Guston villagers about the border clearance plans, this after the minister had earlier refused to answer DDC councillors’ questions.

In fact, concerns have been growing since July 2020, when a whistleblower revealed the site of the clearance park to Bloomberg. It is on arable fields between Dover Leisure Centre at Whitfield and Guston village, next to a road bridge spanning the non-dualled A2 (as shown).

Furious residents say their lives “will be slaughtered by the completely undemocratic imposition” of the inland border facility on the edge of Guston. “Never has a country treated its people so badly,” said Mick Palmer, resident and himself an ex-HGV driver. “They have told lie after lie after lie. They will have to have floodlights and power points for refrigerated lorries, which means generators going all night.” A spokesperson says Guston Parish Council is actively working to prevent such a development and is taking legal advice.   

“It’s clear the Central Conservative government in London don’t give even half a hoot for residents of Dover District, who were promised frictionless freight flow,” commented Sarah Gleave, representing Dover and Deal Green Party.

“Everyone in Dover District deserves so much better than this. The Government and Conservative Dover MP Natalie Elphicke are saying ‘suck up the new jobs created by this new red tape.’ They are denying the horrific impact this clearance facility will have on Guston people and the whole area.”

Gleave continued: “But we were told in a Freedom of Information (FoI) reply from DDC that their economic forecasters have no idea if there will be any net jobs gain. Job losses to our tourism, staycation and exporting sectors arising from traffic and border problems must be set against new jobs which may be created by clearance agencies.

The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) curls round Dover, metres away from the location of this site. Farming and food production in our district will be important post-Brexit. Far too little thought and local consultation has gone into this government decision’.”

Parked lorries

The clearance facility plans to open on 1 July 2021, at which point Manston Airport in Thanet will no longer be used as a temporary border clearance site.

To complicate matters, Dover District and Kent County Councils plans for the site, are to run a new road across the same fields, so that a new ‘Fast-track bus and cycle route’ can allow commuters in the soon-to-be expanded village of Whitfield to catch trains at Dover Priory Station and leave the car at home. This makes locals wonder if at any point, during new dual carriageway A2 construction for example, the new bus route might temporarily be pushed into service for HGVs.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request sent to Gleave, Kent County Council (KCC) said this would not happen and all HVGs would use Jubilee Way, A2 and the junction with A256 to the B &Q roundabout. Residents around Deal who use the Duke of York’s roundabout (junction A2 / A258), are expecting traffic jams to arise when and if imports and exports pick up post-Brexit. Lorries will come up from the docks, park up for clearance and port health procedures. They will then either head up the A2 towards Canterbury or return down to Dover to join the A20/M20.

Will the shops and Leisure Centre in White Cliffs Business Park experience a drop-off in trade if locals choose to go elsewhere because of such traffic jams?