A coronavirus test centre at Ebbsfleet International Station was shut in preparation for Brexit, according to a leaked Kent County Council document.
It is understood the pre-emptive move was carried out so the site could be used as a lorry park, in the event of a no deal scenario in the ongoing trade talks between the UK and the European Union (EU).
A Kent County Council (KCC) letter, leaked to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, shows that the Ebbsfleet Covid testing centre closed two weeks ago because it would be needed for Brexit purposes.
The document reads: “We have also been notified that the Ebbsfleet testing centre has closed, as the site is required by HMRC for EU Exit.”
Precise use has not been confirmed but it is believed that one of Ebbsfleet station’s car parks would hold up to 80 lorries at a time and a booking system implemented for slots. The cabinet office has been approached for comment.
Dartford councillor Sacha Gosine (Lab), who represents the area at district level, has written to local MP Gareth Johnson (Con) raising concerns. He said: “The infrastructure at Ebbsfleet cannot cope with lorries.”
Cllr Gosine said it would be a “logistical nightmare” for officials and warned that it would cause chaos on the M25 if there was a crash near the Dartford Tunnel leading to traffic piling up.
Dartford council’s main opposition leader added: “We are talking about pandemonium for the rest of Dartford and its residents.”
In September 2019, planning permission was granted which allows use of the Ebbsfleet site temporarily for customs clearance until December 31, 2020.
At the time, work had started at one of the car parks at the station but this has been put on hold amid the pandemic.
Ebbsfleet station had been used as a Covid testing site between April and September, but earlier this month testing staff were told “out of the blue” that the site would be closing.
Kent County Council’s HQ
It had capacity for about 2,000 tests a day and about 15 people lost their jobs. A new coronavirus test centre has opened in Medway – off Curtis Way Coach Park, Rochester.
Cllr Gosine says the pandemic should dominate the focus of the Government rather than removing an existing Covid site as Whitehall bosses continue to come under fire for problems with its track and trace system.
He said: “What are we doing Brexit for if everyone is dead?”
KCC, the local highways and transport authority, was approached for comment but said this was a matter for the Department for Transport, while Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite (Con) declined to comment.
Former KCC highways boss Cllr Bryan Sweetland (Con), who represents a division in Gravesham, said: “There is scope for a lorry park at Ebbsfleet but I would like to see more details before giving a view one way or the other.”
The Dover-Calais crossing is used by about 10,000 lorries a day.
Other customs sites have already been chosen. These include a £45million lorry park on a 27-acre site off Junction 10a of the M20 in Sevington to hold up to 2,000 trucks.
However, construction has paused after workers found the remains of a Saxon Wall close to Church Road on a section of land not far from the A2070 dual carriageway.
Despite this, it is hoped the MOJO site will be completed by November to ensure the lorry park can be “properly tested” ahead of the UK’s EU departure on December 31.
Other sites earmarked include the empty Manston Airport near Ramsgate – to be used for up to 5,800 trucks – and a field next to the White Cliffs Business Park in Dover for 1,200 trucks, less than a 10-minute drive from the coast.
Eurostar has recently announced that trains will no longer be stopping in Kent, including Ebbsfleet and Ashford, until 2022 due to the impact of the coronavirus on its business.