David Mairs, CPRE Kent Campaigns and PR Manager, joins a group of worried residents as they gather in the rain (yes, really!) to air their fears that a stretch of countryside south of Lenham could be selected by Highways England as the site for a lorry park
It’s perhaps only when you travel the seemingly endless narrow, windy lanes towards Pope’s Hall at Sandway that you appreciate quite what could be lost should nightmare visions of a vast lorry park in the area transform into reality.
Of course, the beauty of the countryside and the spirit-lifting views that stretch in any direction you care to look is not news to most of the 60 or so people who turned out to listen to and, maybe more importantly, speak to local MP Helen Whately about the darkest of clouds that has suddenly blighted their world.
Blight. The word has more resonance here than in most parts of the country. Beautiful it unquestionably is, but intrusion from huge infrastructure schemes is nothing new in this landscape of fields, parks, copses and woods that tumbles down south of Lenham.
Sally Alexander, who helped organise the meeting at Pope’s Hall, talks despairingly about the arrival of both the nearby high-speed rail link and the M20: “My husband says he can’t go through it all again.”
It’s a sentiment doubtless shared by many of those present, while there’s also a common feeling that communication from Highways England, the government agency carrying out the requisite ecological surveys throughout the M20 corridor as well as reportedly along the A2/M2, has been woeful.
CPRE Kent’s Richard Knox-Johnstone struck a well-received tenor when he blasted it as “appalling”. People’s properties would be blighted until a decision was made on the siting of any lorry park.
For that matter, when would a decision be made? Highways England should adhere to a strict timeline, said Mr Knox-Johnstone.
Mrs Whately, speaking from beneath the gazebo she shared with a few fortunate others, said she agreed with him, as well as with the view that this wasn’t solely a Kent problem.
It was a national issue and should be dealt with nationally, even if the county had to expect something less than beautiful coming its way.
Perhaps more than anything, that was the point people wanted Mrs Whately to take back to government. How much, and for how long, should Kent keep picking up the national tab?
Further, everyone needed to understand quite was in the offing. No longer were we pondering solely the options for a solution to Operation Stack, be they on-road, off-road, short-term, long-term, single-park, multiple-park, here, there or anywhere.
No, now we were looking at tackling ‘fly-parking’, whereby truckers stop in any number of places that aren’t acceptable for anyone and leave all manner of mess, as well as a possible Customs-clearance site, depending on the outcome of, yes, sorry, Brexit.
“We’re looking at a huge security operation on top of everything else,” said one gentleman.
“If we don’t agree free movement of goods, we will need to have customs facilities,” added Mrs Whately.
Continuation of a customs union with Europe might ease some potential problems related to a lorry park, wherever it was built, but with up to 6,000 lorries held back during times of restricted Channel crossing and a regular shortfall of 700-800 parking spaces no one should be in any doubt that a 24/7 operation was likely.
If there were occasional mutterings akin to conspiracy theory, we were also offered the opinion that Highways England could have saved itself a lot of time, and taxpayers’ money, by ruling out this particular site.
It included Grade 1 and Grade 2 agricultural land, we were told, while it was not adjacent to the motorway, meaning access to it would be prohibitively problematic, not to say expensive.
Had Highways England not done its homework?
These were early days, as both Mrs Whately and county councillor Shellina Prendergast were keen to stress to all, but we were hearing the wholly understandable concerns of worried people.
Mrs Whately pointed out that Highways England “had hit” a judicial review after announcing plans for a lorry park, at Stanford, near Folkestone, in December 2015. This time it couldn’t leave anything to chance and had to cover every option.
While it is hard to imagine anyone welcoming such a massive development as a neighbour, it is likewise difficult to argue that a solution to the congestion witnessed in the county in recent years isn’t needed.
Expansion of Ashford International Truckstop near junction 10 of the M20 has just been approved, and that can only be a good thing. How much more Kent will need to surrender remains to be seen, but for this writer at least it would be a tragedy to see the gentle pastures and tree-lined lanes around Sandway and Boughton Malherbe he visited last week lost to the tarmac and fumes forever.
Friday, July 27, 2018