Government spends £21m buying land for axed Brexit customs post

  • ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw speaks to residents' about the multi-million-pound cancelled border post.

The government spent £21 million buying farmland near Dover for a post-Brexit customs checkpoint which has now been axed.

The amount can be revealed for the first time, following a Freedom of Information request by ITV News Meridian.

Residents have told us of their “disbelief”and “despair” at what some see as a “waste of public money”.

A government spokesperson has defended the expenditure, saying “spending has been managed very closely” and that they will “continue to monitor all our sites to ensure value for money is achieved”.

Construction work started earlier this year on the Dover Inland Border Facility on fields next to the A2 at Guston, three miles from the Port of Dover.

Initial groundwork on the 40-acre site took place in 2021, with the planned lorry checkpoint reduced in scale before being cancelled. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Plans for the customs checkpoint for lorries using the Port of Dover first emerged in Autumn 2020, as the end of the Brexit transition period neared.

The scheme was cancelled by HMRC last week, with officials saying it was no longer needed because they had “enough capacity to deal with the flow of traffic” at other border sites.

Despite the U-turn, the Department for Transport which owns the Guston land has committed to “exploring alternative options for its development to ease pressure at the border”.

That’s been welcomed by Kent County Council and the Dover MP, Natalie Elphicke.

Jane Dunford, whose home overlooks the Guston site, told us she’s “worried” about the uncertainty over its future and “hasn’t got a clue” what will now be built there.

“Now we’re back to square one. The stress and worry that we had for two years, all while Covid was going on, and we’re now going to experience it all over again until somebody makes up their mind.”

  • Jane Dunford, Guston resident, reacts to the cancellation of the inland border facility

Responding to news of the £21m price tag, Ms Dunford added: “Who in power stood out there and thought that that site was worth that amount of money? It’s horrific.”

There is relief among some local campaigners who have opposed the suitability of the site since the very beginning.

Sarah Gleave, a spokesperson for Dover & Deal Green Party, said: “I really am relieved for the lovely community of Guston, Whitfield, and one of our hardest-up wards just over the field.

“They’ve had the stress of this hanging over them since the story first broke. So, it’s a sense of relief but also a form of despair about when are the multiple layers of Conservative government in Kent ever going to listen to Dover’s communities.”

Construction work is continuing on the Dover Fastrack bus route, which crosses the site, and the Whitehall U-turn doesn’t affect a separate Port Health inspection facility at nearby Bastion Point on the White Cliffs Business Park.

Conservative MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, said: "It’s over two years since we left the EU and the government’s plans continue to evolve on what is needed for our borders post Brexit over the longer term.

"There are no shortage of border-related facilities that are required in our area. I am working with the Department for Transport to look at how this strategic site can best be used to support the Port of Dover and keep traffic flowing around Dover and Kent roads."

Disruption at the Port of Dover has become a regular issue in recent months. Credit: PA

Kent County Council Leader Roger Gough said: “We, together with our Kent Resilience Forum partners – including Dover District Council – will be keen to engage with the Department for Transport as it explores alternative options for the White Cliffs site to ensure benefits to the local economy and communities are maximised.

“Kent, and the country, need long term border and roads infrastructure that is fit for the future and capable of supporting the frictionless movement of both freight and tourism traffic. We believe that the White Cliffs site can play a central role in this.”

Glynis Farthing, clerk of Guston Parish Council, described the amount spent buying the site as a “huge waste of public money.”

“It’s everybody’s money, we’ve all put into this, that’s what hurts. The government needs to be held accountable for that expenditure.”

The government claims the decision to scrap the Dover Inland Border Facility (IBF) will save it £120 million in anticipated running costs.

A spokesperson from HM Revenue & Customs said: “HMRC monitors the performance at all IBF locations and continuously work to ensure they provide value for money and we needed to ensure there was sufficient data to give us confidence to continue with the build.

“Current spending has been managed very closely to date, whilst data has been gathered to inform a decision on whether to progress. HMRC has a proactive continuous improvement approach for our IBF network, and we will continue to monitor all our sites to ensure value for money is achieved.”