A major upgrade of Kent’s continental border is needed to keep the UK’s vital supply and travel routes flowing.
An innovative, long-term programme to create future-ready, and future-proofed, smart borders in Kent would also act as a catalyst for regeneration in the east of the county – helping to unlock jobs and housing, attract business and investment, and deliver the Government’s Levelling Up agenda.
In a paper to be discussed at Kent County Council’s (KCC) Cabinet tomorrow (Thursday 9 December), Simon Jones, KCC’s Corporate Director for Growth, Environment and Transport, makes the case for harnessing infrastructure, technology and legislation to move away from “the short-term, reactive and inherently disruptive methods” currently used to manage freight and passenger traffic on Kent’s busy cross-Channel routes.
Integrated with a chain of nationally distributed ‘freight hubs’, Kent Resilience Forum’s (KRF) Strategic Planning Lead proposes new autonomous, digitised border systems could generate greater capacity, resilience and trade for the Short Straits – a strategic corridor that already accounts for 59% of UK business with the EU, worth around £250 billion a year.
The crossing of choice for hauliers and passenger traffic travelling to and from the UK to Europe, more than 6,300 freight vehicles alone routinely use Kent roads daily to access the Short Straits’ gateways of Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
It means KCC and its KRF partners are on the frontline for responding to delays and disruption caused by EU Exit, COVID travel restrictions and, most recently, the fragility of the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Writing in the paper, KRF Strategic Planning Lead Simon Jones says: “At all stages, this disruption has severe and unsustainable impacts on our communities and businesses, particularly in areas most in need in east Kent.
“While the traffic management scheme TAP20 is a useful tool to regulate HGV flows into Dover, the fact it is currently being used at least 2-3 times per week highlights the lack of overall resilience in existing plans. It also reinforces the severe fragility of the existing border-related infrastructure.
“We agree with the Department for Transport that ports need to be fully integrated into the wider end-to-end supply chain but achieving this in Kent is beyond the scope of the County Council and Kent Resilience Forum.
“Rather, with new trading arrangements and complex UK-EU relations posing ongoing risks, it is imperative that this national vision is fully deployed in Kent. Levelling up the county will deliver value far beyond its borders and across numerous nationally critical industries. To fail to do so is a missed opportunity on a national scale.”
With several special measures to manage EU Transition a year ago in Kent no longer in place, the paper also sets out the need for central government funding now to manage new border burdens on the county, as well as the long-term impact of freight on the local road network.
In particular, the paper says, there is:
- A real and urgent need for additional freight holding facilities outside of Kent – freight holding capacity in Kent is down on the start of 2020 following government decommissioning of Manston Airport and the traffic management scheme TAP256 to hold queued vehicles. It means Kent can currently queue around 4,800 HGVs, though only 3,500 spaces remain at the discretion of the KRF to directly deploy – with the remainder relying on access to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.
- A pressing need for a system for ensuring the UK can smoothly apply the incoming EU Entry and Exit schemes – the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), due to come online in 2022, will require 100% checks on all passengers. As infrastructure and processes currently stand, if passengers are required to leave their vehicles for biometric checks at border inspection points it will potentially significantly increase the time needed to process vehicles. This will lead to long queues on Kent’s roads which will tail back into local communities.
- A pressing need for a bid for £1.1 million for Kent Trading Standards – to prepare to take on increased responsibility for safety checks on imported consumer goods from January 2022 and animal feed, from July 2022, to be approved, and
- An immediate green light for major road improvements – including, as identified by National Highways, to Junction 7 on M2 at Brenley Corner, and to the northern access to Dover, on the A2, to increase capacity and unlock critical pinch points on the key arterial routes to the port.
Simon Jones writes: “KCC and the KRF remains engaged, informed, and prepared to react to delay and disruption through the Short Straits but it is of national importance to maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of Kent’s economic gateway to Europe.”
Leader of Kent County Council Roger Gough said: “National and local authorities worked together remarkably effectively to prepare for the end of Brexit transition. Now, however, there is no one deadline to work to, but a series of continuing changes at the border, and an ever-present vulnerability to disruption with some of the special measures and capacity available a year ago no longer in place.
“That effective local-national operational partnership to deal with a specific event needs to take on a standing, strategic form. I would call it a County Deal for Kent’s continental border – a new strategic partnership between national government and local leadership being formed to resolve issues that have both local importance and national significance.
“This partnership can then develop the measures, in road and border infrastructure, lorry holding capacity and much else, to reduce the vulnerability of both Kent and the UK to shocks and disruptions in the Short Straits.”
The full Border Readiness paper can be read or downloaded here: https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s108320/Report.pdf
Kent County County’s next Cabinet meeting can be watched live from 10am on Thursday 9 December via this webcast link: https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=115&MId=8894