Blog: The giant Brexit border control site that now sits empty – Kent Online

Drone pictures reveal how a giant Brexit border control site off the M20 near Ashford is now sitting empty.

The multi-million pound Inland Border Facility (IBF) in Sevington was built in order for checks to be carried out on HGVs transporting particular goods in and out of the UK.

The seemingly deserted Sevington inland border facility off the M20, near Ashford. Picture: Barry GoodwinThe seemingly deserted Sevington inland border facility off the M20, near Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The seemingly deserted Sevington inland border facility off the M20, near Ashford. Picture: Barry Goodwin

But now the only imports being inspected at the site are for some pets from Ukraine.

Our aerial images taken this week show the 230-acre site – which has space for 1,700 lorries – looks to be completely deserted.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed it now has “no current operations” at Sevington “except a small presence” which “was temporarily available for holding pets during the Ukraine response”.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, says the site was a costly mistake caused by the rush to “get Brexit done” and a failure to anticipate what it would entail.

“The reason for building these places was that policymakers wanted to leave [the EU] quickly to get something done – but the actual arrangements, the nuts and bolts we needed, were not clear,” he told the Guardian.

The government has delayed the introduction of certain border tests four times and appears to be having doubts about whether they are needed. Jacob Rees-Mogg, then minister for Brexit opportunities, postponed the start of checks amid concerns they would be too bureaucratic and costly for businesses, and cause more tailbacks on Kent’s roads.

Ashford MP Damian Green told KentOnline this week that the Sevington site could be used as a potential lorry park.

“If they think they are not going to use that expanse of space for lorries going through customs, then it’s an obvious place where you could park some lorries instead of using some of Operation Brock, for example,” the Conservative said.

“Kent MPs have got a meeting with the transport minister in a few weeks time about what is happening next with the M20 and I’m proposing to bring up Sevington then, to say how does the department propose to use it as effectively as possible to minimise disruption on the motorway.

“I think it will be needed in the future, but that future could be a few years on. So in the meantime I don’t like seeing land unused.”

Ashford MP Damian Green says the Sevington site could be used as a lorry parkAshford MP Damian Green says the Sevington site could be used as a lorry park
Ashford MP Damian Green says the Sevington site could be used as a lorry park

In a statement, Defra said: “The number of PHA (Port Health Authority) staff who had been employed to undertake the checks prior to the decision to delay [checks] has been reduced; those remaining have been redeployed to other priorities.

“There are no current operations at Sevington, except a small presence for Defra’s Ukraine response which was open for operations between August 2022 to January 2023. This was temporarily available for holding pets during the Ukraine response.”

Defra has spent £13.3m to date on the construction of the border control post at Sevington, after the site was purchased by the Departfment for Transport (DfT). The Guardian reports that the total cost of the IBF is “put at more than £100m”.

Kent County Council counting cost of IBF

To add to the frustration for local residents, KentOnline can also reveal cash-strapped Kent County Council (KCC) has been left having to meet some of the expenditure of setting up the IBF.

Not much activity at all at the Sevington inland border facility this week. Picture: Barry GoodwinNot much activity at all at the Sevington inland border facility this week. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Not much activity at all at the Sevington inland border facility this week. Picture: Barry Goodwin

The council is having to pay “on-going EU Exit costs” following a misunderstanding over government grants.

Draft budget papers refer to the mix-up being caused by the expectation that the government would provide funding under what is described as “new burdens”.

The money is made available to councils where there are significant costs involved in providing new services.

According to the budget papers, no government funding was secured to meet “ongoing EU Exit costs including Border Ports and Animal Health and Feed Officers”.

The council’s estimated funding gap refers to £660,000, although that includes other grants connected with Brexit.

“Work is not completed and I am concerned that the fund has been eliminated from the budget…”

The issue was raised by the deputy leader of Ashford council Paul Bartlett, who lives close to the IBF.

Cllr Bartlett, who is also a Conservative county councillor, told a cross-party scrutiny committee he was worried that the government was reneging on a pledge to ensure bio-diversity measures were in place at the site.

“The reason I am concerned is the Ashford IBF is not finished,” he said.

“It is a work in progress and I had hoped was an active progress.

“We were promised a bio-diversity gain in excess of 100% from the construction of the Ashford IBF.

Cllr Paul Bartlett, who lives near the site in SevingtonCllr Paul Bartlett, who lives near the site in Sevington
Cllr Paul Bartlett, who lives near the site in Sevington

“That was going to be achieved by strategic planting of trees but that has stopped.

“Work is not completed and I am concerned that the fund has been eliminated from the budget – and KCC’s contractor to the Department for Transport has just left the site.”

Cllr Peter Oakford, KCC cabinet member for finance, said he was unable to provide more details as it was an issue for the cabinet member for transport and roads.

The Sevington site was originally one of three proposed in Kent – but plans for checks at similar facilities at Dover and Ebbsfleet were dropped.

The site, which opened in June last year, has proved controversial with residents living nearby complaining about light pollution as well as engine noise.

The Sevington inland border facility opened in June 2022 but there are now "no current operations" at the site. Picture: Barry GoodwinThe Sevington inland border facility opened in June 2022 but there are now "no current operations" at the site. Picture: Barry Goodwin
The Sevington inland border facility opened in June 2022 but there are now “no current operations” at the site. Picture: Barry Goodwin

A statement from the county council said: “We did not apply for grant funding, but we assumed when we built the 2022-23 budget that we would receive new grant funding to support new responsibilities known as ‘new burdens’.

“Unfortunately, no such grant funding was received so we are needing to correct the budget in 2023-24.”

The failure to secure government grants is an unwelcome addition to the serious cash crisis facing the county council, which is having to tackle the consequences of a £60m overspend in its budget.

The draft budget is due to be considered by the Conservative administration’s cabinet this week.

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