On the afternoon of Friday 10 July, with total disregard for local democracy, consultation and due process, Ashford Borough Council was informed by a transport minister that the Government had bought 27 hectares of agricultural land from AXA, for an undisclosed amount.
This lies near the new M20 Junction 10a, and will be used for a post-Brexit customs clearance facility. From January 2021 onwards, it will take around 40 minutes instead of two or three to process the papers of lorries crossing the Channel to Dover.
Planning permission was already granted for the site to become a large warehouse development, with rumours of investment from Amazon. The creation of M20 Junction 10a saw the covering of even more farmland to cope with the influx of lorries. While HMRC may offer better jobs than Amazon, there is no guarantee that these will go to the people of Ashford.
Remember how surprised cabinet ministers seemed to be when they realised that around 80 per cent of freight traffic from the European Union came through Dover? Just as surprised as the prime minister when he learned on live TV that there were ‘hard working people’ in this country with no recourse to public funds or the NHS... do these millionaires know anything at all about the reality of life for the millions of ordinary people of the country that they were so keen to govern?
Local residents are angered by the fact that the government has acted so high-handedly, with access roads to the site being closed suddenly, with no prior warning or consultation. But, sadly, they seem mostly resigned to the news – ‘This government will do what it wants.’ The government has denied that this new facility will be used as a lorry park, except as an emergency if there are post-Brexit teething problems. However, any problems at the port will see thousands of lorries struggle to find parking space in the Kent countryside.
Two years ago, Ashford Green Party monitored air quality at M20 Junction 10 and found that it was already illegally high. As lorries enter the customs facility, there will be a huge increase in pollution – with vehicles slowing down and parking, engines idling and starting up again. Since the election of two Green Councillors last May, Ashford Borough Council has adopted the target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, but with such developments forced upon them, the council will struggle to meet this goal.
With many voters already disillusioned with the democratic process, this is a dangerous situation. Another nail in the coffin for local democracy? This government’s incompetence and total disregard for local government has become increasingly clear since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. Yet again, we are seeing this in their total lack of preparation for Brexit, and their high-handed behaviour in overriding due process in planning. In fact, reports suggest that they are aiming to do away with this altogether.
Kent is the garden of England – we need a circular economy, relying on local, seasonal and sustainable foods, more local production and re-use, repair and recycling of goods. In the end, this is the only way the lorries will stop.