Residents of a village near Dover are enraged after the district council backed controversial government plans to turn fields behind their houses into a Brexit customs clearance park for 1,200 lorries.
Local people in Guston have complained over the lack of notice, detail and consultation on the proposals after the government purchased the White Cliffs site with plans to turn it into an inland border facility. Under the plans, the site would deal with customs, tariffs and duties checks and be operational from July this year.
At a council meeting on Tuesday night the Tory-led Dover district council backed the Department for Transport’s plans, welcoming the investment and jobs to be created, but called for mitigation measures against “the risk of serious traffic disruption and congestion in the area, along with enhanced environmental measures to protect local residents”.
The DfT said the site would be used temporarily for “up to five years”. With the official 21-day engagement process coming to an end on Wednesday, residents say they have not had a single visit from the DfT to discuss their views, and detailed proposals have yet to be presented to them. They are furious with the plans, which they say will result in traffic queues on the A2 under Guston, ruin the surrounding countryside and blight the local tourism economy.
Mick Palmer, 78, who has lived in Guston with his wife, Gill, 76, for 36 years, said he felt betrayed by the council supporting the plans. “I thought we lived in a democracy but we obviously don’t; it’s being dictated to us,” he said.
Increased traffic and noise, light and air pollution are of major concern, he said. The couple say the proposed buffer zone will not protect their property and that the value of their house has dropped as a result. “We’ve got no protection and we’re getting no information on it at all. At our age we’ve got to live with this for six years, trapped in a house that we can’t sell. It’s just madness,” Mick said.
Sarah Gleave, the coordinator for the Green party for Dover and Deal, has been leading the campaign to get the plans reversed. She said it was “deeply shocking” that all but one district councillor had voted in favour: “Only the Labour leader of the opposition had the backbone to stand up for Dover and the wider area to say this is the wrong location for the facility.”
Port of Dover itself had suggested a safer location further up the A2, Gleave said. The disruption under the current plans would cause “an enormous amount of harm” to the surrounding villages and local tourism, she added, lamenting the “mess residents will have imposed on them”.
Dover district council said it wanted reassurances from the DfT on mitigating the impact of the site, including improving the surrounding roads and avoiding disturbing an ancient Roman way, as well as detailed proposals to address residents’ concerns about pollution and shielding their properties.
“Without major mitigation it was the council’s view that the proposal would be unacceptable to residents and businesses in the district,” it said in a statement.
The Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who has taken up the fight in parliament and will raise it again in the Lords on Thursday, said it was “an appalling piece of ministerial trampling over local residents’ views”.
“The government has had plenty of time to go through the proper planning process – including an environmental study, looking at alternative sites, consulting with residents. As far as I can see they haven’t done anything and only bothered to tell residents about this on New Year’s Eve. It’s pretty disgraceful,” he said.