Kent lorry park prepares to carry out first customs checks

Report by ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw

Customs checks are set to begin for the first time at Kent’s largest newly-built lorry park.

The Sevington inland border facility – off Junction 10A of the M20 at Ashford – has been open since 4 January but until now has just been used to test truck drivers for Covid-19.

HM Revenue and Customs staff, currently based at the nearby Waterbrook border post, will be moving across over the coming days.

Torrential rain was blamed for delaying construction of the facility, meaning it wasn’t fully operational in time for the end of the Brexit transition period at the start of the year.

Lorry drivers are currently being tested for Covid-19 at the Sevington inland border facility in Ashford. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Toby Howe, senior highway manager at Kent County Council, told ITV News Meridian: “The Sevington site has always been planned to be a one-stop shop in effect as a customs clearance site. So, HMRC in the coming weeks will be moving here as well. This site will then actually be the function it was designed to be on the 1st January.”

Approximately 45,000 lorries have passed through Sevington since it opened on 4th January, according to the Department for Transport.

The change is part of gradually increasing checks of freight between now and 1st July, when full inspections of goods will begin.

Toby Howe, Kent County Council Highways:

Currently, the need for France-bound lorry drivers to have a negative Covid-19 test if they have been in the UK more than 48 hours means Sevington is only being used for lorries heading for the Eurotunnel, with Dover traffic directed to Manston Airport.

It is hoped that will change over the next few months, as the need for tests reduces. Some 235,000 hauliers have now been tested across the country for coronavirus, since the requirement was brought in by the French government last December.

Customs staff will be moving from the nearby Waterbrook border post to the larger Sevington facility.

Despite some “teething issues” with sat navs sending lorries down country lanes in nearby Mersham, Ashford Council’s deputy leader, Paul Bartlett, said the border post has worked “better than anyone could have expected”.

Ashford Borough Council is recruiting around 130 staff as it prepares to provide a port health service on behalf of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

“We’ve worked really hard to make sure there are local benefits for the town of Ashford. There are jobs and also we are working well with the Department for Transport to deliver a biodiversity strategy for this site,” Mr Bartlett added.

Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), Ashford Borough Council:

Some local residents have concerns that as the amount of checks being conducted increases, traffic problems will get worse.

Cllr Liz Wright, who lives locally, said some car drivers were trying to avoid the new roundabouts near the border post and using residential streets as “rat runs”. “It’s causing a lot of problems to the residents of those formerly quiet streets,” she added.

Cllr Liz Wright (Green), Ashford Borough Council:

Haulage groups are largely happy with how lorries are moving in Kent so far this year. Heidi Skinner, Policy Manager at Logistics UK said: “It’s good that we are starting now to see freight flows moving up back to the sort of levels that we would be expecting at this time of year. The communication has been absolutely key, making sure the drivers and logistics firms understand exactly what they need to do to be border ready.”

As well as the Sevington and Waterbrook border posts at Ashford, the runway at Manston Airport and car park at Ebbsfleet International are also being used to carry out checks, with another customs clearance facility planned for fields at Guston near Dover.

Locations of current inland border facilities across Kent shown with red circles.