Plans for giant customs check facility 'significantly' scaled back

Work has started in recent days, with a letter to residents from ministers saying initial steps will include "clearing the site of grass and vegetation" and "carrying out surveys".

Plans for a giant customs clearance and border checks area to be built at Guston outside Dover, with a capacity for more than a thousand lorries, have been dramatically scaled back. 

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) met with Guston Parish Council to confirm new plans will see a maximum of 96 lorries at the site.

The government says checks can be made at the site it has built in Ashford and a smaller site in Dover. 

The news first emerged last autumn and since then there has been anguish and uncertainty for villagers living opposite the site.

Resident Dave Fanit said: "My overall impression is that it was a panic. It was 'we need somewhere to park our lorries' and they rushed it. I think it was pushed, and it wasn't the right place for it."

Guston Parish Council has had regular meetings with the Department for Transport and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, who will operate this site when it is up and running.

The council has said: "Full construction works are due to commence Feb/March 2022, weather permitting, with the site being operational as soon as possible.

"The site, however, is anticipated to be significantly smaller than that of the original projection. The 96 drive in drive out lorry bays and further 20 reverse parking bays will be constructed to the west of the Roman Road. This section will also house the outbuildings that will be used for checking goods. The Roman Road will also be surrounded with bund to help reduce visual impact."

What is proposed is an Inland Border Facility similar to what has been built at Sevington on the outskirts of Ashford, where freight entering the country can clear customs and border checks, particularly on plant and animal products.

Watch: Dover MP Natalie Elphicke (Con) says it is important to get the development right

The latest plans suggest it will now be one quarter of its original size, and instead of it being 25 metres from people's homes, it is more towards 400 metres.

A government spokesperson said: "We have reviewed plans for the border facilities in Kent needed to undertake customs, sanitary and phytosanitary inspections on EU goods as it is important we have suitable facilities delivering value for money for taxpayers.

The diggers arrived in Guston shortly after local residents received a letter from the Department for Transport on New Year's Eve.

"For SPS checks, our modelling demonstrates that we can meet the requirements through the facilities at Sevington and a new smaller site in Dover. We are working closely with Dover Port Health Authority to finalise these plans."

"We are speaking to key local stakeholders and will continue to engage with them and local residents throughout the development of these sites and beyond."

Glynis Farthing, Clerk, Guston Parish Council

It has been broadly welcomed by people living nearby who would not have easily been able to stop anything.

However this is subject to a special development order, which bypasses usual planning procedure if something is in the national interest.

The latest plan has been in the sights of Dover District Council for a long time according to the parish council.

The government says checks on live animals will be carried out somewhere else but that location has yet to be determined.