The UK Border Force is facing renewed calls to vacate its temporary border control post in Kent.
Private operators are raising concerns over inactivity and the cost to the public purse.
HMRC has been leasing GSE Truckstop Developments’ Ashford International Truckstop at Waterbrook since March last year, after it became apparent a permanent facility would not be ready for the start of 2021.
With a permanent facility at Sevington coming online this month, there was hope the site at Waterbrook would be returned to the owner for private customs agencies to use – a hope boosted by government postponement of the rollout of post-Brexit customs checks until October.
A HMRC spokesperson told The Loadstar: “In July 2020, the Government committed to spending £470m on new border infrastructure to support ports in building extra capacity where there is space to do so, and, if necessary, to build additional inland sites across the country. “We will continue to monitor spend and local impacts associated with each inland border facility and will work to ensure the sites provide value for money for the UK taxpayer.”
As the current lease holder of Waterbrook, HMRC retains exclusive access and has said it intends to retain this as a contingency to Sevington for the remainder of the lease.
But this decision has angered private customs agencies.
One source told The Loadstar: “While this site stands idle, there are 630 HGVs that cannot use its facilities each night. They’re having to park all over Kent and beyond, wherever they can find a place, and waste, both material and human, is being left behind.
“The authorities are carrying out next-to-no border formalities at Waterbrook – a little bit of transit – and this is set to continue until 2022.”
The source said Border Force was contracted for a 30-day notice period to allow space for hauliers and relieve Kent residents from the “inconvenience and resultant mess” of drivers being forced to park illegally. They in turn are facing fines and seeing their vehicles clamped.
“This is what in-excess of £700,000 of taxpayers’ money will buy you each month until October,” added the source
According to transparency data released by HMRC, UK Border Force has paid GE Truckstop in excess of £8m leasing the site for a year so far, with the lease set to continue until October, despite the site no longer being needed.
“I think since January, I’ve seen no more than three inspections and, given the number of staff looking on, they were probably training events,” added the source.
“We overlook the temporary site and, when it was operating, we were able to see that they used their inspection sheds to allow drivers queueing for transit to shelter from the wind and rain.”