Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Town and Country Planning (Border Facilities and Infrastructure) (EU Exit) (England) Special Development Order 2020 (SI 2020/928) will have considerable implications for the haulage industry and the local areas that these measures will affect, and regrets that the failure of Her Majesty’s Government to prepare for Brexit has required these measures to be implemented. Special attention drawn to the instrument by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, 26th Report
My Lords, I make it clear that I in no way question the need for the proposed border facilities to take pressure off some of our ports. Many port sites are too congested to process the number of vehicles they deal with, now that border checks are so much more complex. Unfortunately, in keeping within the strange time warp within which we now operate in this House, we are debating something that is already in force. However, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee drew our attention to it in September.
I am moving this regret Motion to question the use of the special development order as the procedure of choice for the Government. It is apparently only the second time, since its introduction in 1990, that this procedure has been used—in this case, to grant temporary planning permission until 2025. The process allows the Government, in the form of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, to give themselves planning permission, applied for by the so-called border departments. There is no statutory obligation to consult the public.
I ask the Minister for some explanation of why so little was done by the Government until it was too late to provide satisfactory democratic accountability for the siting of border facilities. Not surprisingly, local residents are concerned about traffic congestion, environmental and noise impacts, air quality and more. I ask why the haulage industry does not yet have the support and facilities it urgently requires, because inland lorry parks are needed to provide food, toilets and rest facilities for drivers.
In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May made it clear that the UK would not remain in the single market and customs union. From that point onwards, the negotiations were only ever going to make a marginal difference to the complexities of doing business with the EU. Time and again, the Government were warned, by hauliers, haulage representatives and exporters, of the need for early preparation. Therefore, I find the repeated pleas of urgency in the Explanatory Memorandum completely unacceptable. The Government have had four and a half years to prepare for Brexit; it is no good shouting “emergency” now.
The special development order in Schedule 1 gives the Government development powers over great swathes of England. The list of 29 areas includes whole counties and most of the south coast. Seven actual sites have been approved so far. There are several in Kent, because Dover is the busiest port and is very congested. Surprisingly, Birmingham and Warrington are there, because they are needed to service Holyhead port, 100-plus miles away.
In Kent there is the controversial proposed White Cliffs site, a rural site that is close to an AONB, but there is no environmental impact assessment for the application. The site includes an ancient Roman right of way. The residents of the neighbouring villages of Whitfield and Guston are disgusted by the way that they have been treated by this process. Letters arrived for them on 31 December telling them that the Government had acquired the site and it would be used from July. Their rights to protest or even to know what is going on are minimal. This week Dover District Council dealt with the issue. Councillors say they were not allowed to see the application until 24 hours before the meeting, and that they had to do so in secret and were not allowed to disclose details to others. Residents have not seen the detailed plans. Will the Minister specify exactly what information, plans and reports will eventually be made public?
Inland border facilities are only one part of tackling the provision of adequate port facilities. The Government set up the Port Infrastructure Fund, to which ports made bids to adapt their facilities, but it was seriously underfunded, so ports, already badly overstretched by the combined impact of Covid and Brexit, are left with a major shortfall. Portsmouth, for example, is some £5 million short.
SMEs are struggling with the major complications of new customs checks; an estimated one in seven is at risk of going out of business. Even for the largest companies that can employ specialist staff, there are big additional costs. Both Logistics UK and the Road Haulage Association urged the Government a year ago to speed up the employment of new customs agents to help with the process, but so far we have only 10,000 of the 50,000 required.
The anticipated long queues of lorries waiting to be processed have not yet materialised. Instead, traffic into ports is way down on previous years, reported as a 68% fall in volume of exports to the EU so far, while up to 75% of EU lorries are going home empty. That reflects a huge fall in business activity by UK companies. Many businesses are moving jobs to the EU because even if you are the only lorry in the port, the procedures and preliminary form-filling now required are time-consuming and expensive.
Welsh ports are particularly hard-hit by the Northern Ireland protocol. Rather than using the Great Britain land bridge, hauliers are driving straight down to the Republic to take ferries to mainland Europe. There used to be three sailings a week from Rosslare to France and Spain; now there are 15 and rising. Obviously, this hits the survival of Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock.
My purpose today is to shed some light on the factors behind the headlines and, in respect of the special development order, to demonstrate what the Government are doing, and how they have chosen to do it via a planning process designed for emergencies, when they are dealing with an entirely predictable set of consequences of a decision made over four years ago. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, in speaking about this Motion.
I have had a lot of communication from the site that the noble Baroness mentioned in Guston near Dover, which I know quite well because I spent 15 years building the Channel Tunnel just next door to it. I am as astonished as she is that the Government do not seem to be following even their own pretty flawed regulations for this so-called emergency. I am particularly interested to look at the Explanatory Memorandum that comes with this draft regulation—well, it is not a draft any more—because, as the noble Baroness said, the Government have had four years to think about this and plan for it, yet the first that the residents heard of it was on New Year’s Eve.
The first thing I shall mention is that paragraph 7.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The SSHCLG’s approval must be sought”—
it clearly has been sought—
“and given before the development of a specific site can start.”
It also states that evidence needs to be submitted for why a site is necessary and why it is the right site and that there needs to be an environmental study, as the noble Baroness said, and a construction management plan.
Can the Minister confirm that, before CLG gave approval, all this documentation had been prepared and submitted to it? Will she say when it was submitted and why the local residents, the local parish council and others did not receive a copy of that documentation? Will she put all this documentation in the Library of the House so at least we can see it, albeit retrospectively?
One of the most important things is—why Guston? My understanding from a long time ago until now is that the most important, first-priority route for trucks going to or from the Channel Tunnel or the port of Dover is the M20. As we all know, one or probably two sites have been designated and are apparently in use. Ministers told us only last week that there were no more traffic jams at Dover, so it is interesting that they have suddenly decided that they need to have a third site on the A2, which is partly single carriageway. Why is it needed there? The consultation with the stakeholders clearly did not have any effect on the residents, but the port of Dover was consulted and I understand that it suggested an alternative site further up the road. Will the Minister explain why that site was rejected and on what grounds?
This is the most disgraceful means of trampling over local people’s rights to live. There was no environmental study on the noise pollution for 24 hours a day, or light pollution. Is the site really needed at all? Will the Minister say who was consulted before this went to CLG? Paragraph 10.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“Government officials have had numerous discussions with a range of stakeholders including individual ports and established government forums with industry.”
What it does not mention is the poor people affected next door. Perhaps the Minister will also put in the Library a list of all those who were consulted and say why the local villages were not consulted and what the effect is on those villages. This is one of the worst examples I have seen of government trampling over local people when the need for this has not been demonstrated to them or anyone else. I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, in speaking to this order, I express delight that I am following the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, as he and I worked together, cross-party, on a number of issues.
I find myself in a dilemma today. I support all that the Government are doing to try to ease the adjustments and complexities of Brexit. They are right to speed up the planning process to provide for border-control measures and to provide for associated facilities and infrastructure. They have been preparing for some time, as I recall concerns expressed two years ago by the horticultural industry that the portaloos that it hires for their farm workers each year had been appropriated.
It was good to hear from the Minister earlier today that traffic is flowing freely, that only 2% to 3% of lorries have been turned back in Kent and that most relate to Covid tests or paperwork issues of their own making. I thank her for her courtesy. We both have links to Wiltshire, of course—she to Bybrook and I to Chilmark—and she has had a distinguished career in local government. I noted that representatives of Logistics UK told the EU Sub-Committee earlier this week that, in the experience of its members, delays have been relatively few and isolated in respect of specific sectors and routes. That is more promising than the prophets of doom expected.
On the other hand, as with so much to do with government at present, I am not happy about the lack of opportunity for scrutiny of this instrument. This measure, which, if badly managed, could have a profound effect on individual citizens and communities, was made as long ago as 3 September 2020 and came into effect on 24 September. Seven facilities have been approved, and I believe that a more controversial one near the historic white cliffs of Dover—already mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley—may be in the pipeline. This SI was drawn to the attention of the House by our excellent scrutiny committee on 17 September. It is now 11 February, nearly five months later. I am shocked by this. In that time, we have debated many less important measures and on many days the Grand Committee Room has been empty.
I am also very concerned that in the words of the website:
“There are no associated impact assessments for this legislation.”
This is exactly the sort of measure that would have benefited from that sort of analysis and, as it will last for five years, there is no excuse for not providing one. I know from being both a civil servant and a Minister in the past that, even if an impact assessment is partial, with several “tbcs”, it helps good decision-making and communication by identifying the benefits and who will be hurt and how. It forces a conversation with those likely to be concerned—small businesses, including cafes or garages, hauliers of all kinds, those constructing the facilities, government agencies, local and parish councils, civil society and so on. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, such analysis and consultation is a critical part of an effective planning system, whether leisurely or accelerated, as I accept has to be the case here. Moreover, I have noticed over the last 50 years that government departments, which are doing the constructing, have been responsible for some of the worst eyesores, although I recognise that here we are talking about temporary structures and car parks.
I note that the SI sets out a lot of detail required for each planning application—possibly too much, given that the permissions are temporary and that we need to avoid bureaucracy wherever we can. But, given the wide-ranging powers that the SI gives over the countryside and any buildings, perhaps the Minister can kindly provide more information today on what has been done, and is being done, under these special powers, how local people and local and national businesses are being affected, who has been consulted—a point made by the other speakers—and her plans going forward.
Finally—it is this that prompted me to speak today—I find it extraordinary that the measures will last for so long. Developments can take place until 31 December 2025 and the required reinstatement works have to be completed by 31 December 2026. This is an age away and well beyond the next general election. Why is the Minister not seeking renewal of these powers annually, as with some other emergency measures, so that we can examine what has been done, applaud progress that has been made by the Government and renew these draconian powers only if we all feel that that is justified? However, those reservations are certainly not sufficient for me to vote in favour of the regret Motion, which I do not support.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for the way in which she introduced her regret Motion. I support what she said. I am deeply unhappy with this order. I declare an interest: I have a house midway between the Ashford and proposed Dover sites.
I listened with interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who always has something new and interesting to say. However, I am puzzled that, two years ago, the Government were snapping up Portaloos—presumably for these intended lorry tailbacks —yet did not at that stage think about seeking permission for the sites on which they might be used more permanently. I therefore wonder whether the Minister can explain when she comes to wind up why it was so late in the day that the Government decided to seek these emergency powers and go ahead with building parks that it was quite obvious would be required since we were leaving the single market.
It is clear that trade is significantly down at the moment. If that remains the case, presumably we will not need anywhere near the amount of provision currently being sought. So, what are the Minister’s projections, or those of her department, of how many of these sites will be required? That might give us an indication of how optimistic the Government are about the future of British exports.
Like other speakers, I am particularly concerned about the lack of consultation and the areas in which these lorry parks are being housed. Noble Lords have referred to Guston. Apart from having a port, Dover is a great tourist attraction because of its magnificent and extraordinarily well-managed castle; I recommend paying a visit to anyone who has not been there. However, it is short on car parks and facilities. If there were to be provision in the neighbourhood for extra car parking, it would be useful to see that accommodated more sensitively than what is currently proposed: a huge lorry park on the A2, where, as others have said, there is only single-lane traffic in some places. There is already deep concern in Ashford that if traffic builds up to the level it was before Brexit, there could be tailbacks, making it extremely difficult for the emergency services to get through. Local communities are really concerned about that.
They also feel that their opinions are simply not taken into account, and not just in the case of lorry parks. Last year, the Napier barracks, discussed earlier this afternoon, was turned into a hostel for asylum seekers. They have to be housed somewhere but the conditions there are appalling. The locals would not wish anyone to be housed in such conditions, but they do wish that they had been consulted before such a facility was put in their midst. That did not happen. Equally, now, those in Guston and the villages around there face a transformational development going ahead in their midst without prior consultation. Consultation taking place once the bulldozers have started work, which is what happened in this instance, does not strike me as consultation at all. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell me how she views the process of consultation if work on the site has already begun.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and to listen to her fight on behalf of the villages around where she lives in Kent. Perhaps I can move a little further north.
Prior to 1 January, Holyhead port carried 1,200 lorries a day, inbound and outbound. The consequences of the ending of the transitional period are that traffic has been reduced by 50% at present, and that Stena Line has moved one of its ships to the Dublin to Cherbourg service. The Government say that this fall-off is temporary only—teething troubles—and that we can shortly expect the transit of lorries to resume its previous volume.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Warrington South has said that the proposed Appleton Thorn inland border control point will deal with 350 lorries per day, inbound and outbound, with only 69 parking spaces available on the site. He pooh-poohs concerns voiced by the local Liberal Democrat councillors, Judith Wheeler and Sharon Harris, that figures previously released suggested 700 vehicles per day using this facility and that they would use Barleycastle Lane for access, which is not wide enough for two lorries to pass each other.
Given the normal flow at Holyhead of 1,200 vehicles and trailers a day, how can this site cope with the expected traffic? Do some of these lorries simply disappear into the wilds of north-west Wales? The proposed site to deal with Holyhead-Ireland traffic is more than 100 miles and a two-hour drive away from Holyhead. Where, incidentally, is the traffic from Northern Ireland to Liverpool to be dealt with?
I am a frequent traveller in the proposed area since Appleton Thorn lies on the route from north Wales into Manchester and is at the junction between the M56 and the M6, if you are going north to Scotland. I know only too well that the junction of the Liverpool-Manchester motorway, only two motorway exits further on over the Warrington viaduct, is an area which frequently snarls up. I am an expert on the rat-runs around that junction. Perhaps that is why the site chosen has been deserted by the large Shearings coach company. I cannot expect the Minister today to pass any opinion on the suitability of the site, but I would welcome a definitive undertaking to provide up-to-date information on what the current travel figures from and to Holyhead, and those forecast for the future, are. That is the sort of information a proper planning application would provide. I also want a definitive statement on the expected capacity and use of the Appleton Thorn site.
This one site and its problems illustrate how inadequate the preparations have been for Brexit, and for the problems involved in placing the border with Northern Ireland in the middle of the Irish Sea. I do not believe that the process outlined in this measure, with temporary planning permission granted by the Secretary of State, is a satisfactory solution at all, particularly having regard to the minimum consultation requirements it contains. This procedure, used only once, as my noble friend Lady Randerson said, is not appropriate for this type of huge development, with such an impact on the surrounding countryside. I am sure the Government’s response will be, “What else can we do?” I hope that the people of Holyhead, and the people of Appleton Thorn and Warrington, will take full knowledge of the absolute failure of this Government to look after their interests.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I share many of his interests in protecting Holyhead and other Welsh ports. I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for setting out the issues as clearly as she did and, once again, highlighting some of the problems that are being experienced, and will be experienced, by ports in Wales.
The background to the order is clear, and I do not deny that there will be a need for such sites as we are being asked to approve the designation of. I am less clear on how this need only recently made itself obvious. We have this need even though we have an agreed EU exit and an agreement at the end of transition period. If we need these processing centres and holding bays under benign circumstances, then a fortiori we would have needed them without agreements also. I am not clear why this need has become urgent so recently, because it should have been obvious earlier. I would welcome some explanation of that from my noble friend the Minister. It may be that there is a perfectly simple explanation, though it is not clear to me. That is the prime question I have: why were these centres not planned for longer in advance?
Like others, I think that the usual planning procedures, with their democratic checks and balances and controls, are something that we should normally follow. Like my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, I cannot understand why these procedures are needed until the end of 2025. That does not seem very temporary. If we have an urgent need now, does that continue for another four years? I cannot understand why we are not able to revert to normal planning procedures once the immediate urgency, which is apparent, has passed. As I have indicated, I am certainly not against the provision of sites and the need for that is clearly there, but I have some further questions for my noble friend.
The affected local authorities are listed in a schedule to the order—I think there are 29. I am not quite clear on why some authorities are in the list and others are not. The list includes, for example, Devon but not Cornwall, Somerset but not Gloucestershire and Essex but not Hertfordshire. I would welcome guidance from the Minister on the basis on which these local authorities were listed. What discussions have there been with the local authorities concerned about the listing and what can be expected? Is it to be expected that all 29 authorities may have holding bays placed in them?
Furthermore, how were the sites themselves chosen? It is not apparent. If for example, I could ask about North Weald in Essex: where is this processing centre for and how was it chosen? The Explanatory Note makes it clear that owners and occupiers of land adjacent to the site and access routes, parish councils, planning authorities, fire authorities, police authorities and environmental bodies are
“given an opportunity to comment”.
I very much welcome that. I have studied some of the background in relation to Birmingham Airport. I can see that fairly detailed restrictions and conditions have been imposed there. I take reassurance from that; there seems to have been a thorough process. But I have concerns about why it will be as long as to the end of 2025 and I have concerns about why we have not acted earlier.
I also have concerns about the Welsh ports. What discussion has there been with the Senedd about the Welsh ports and the challenges they face? Has there been discussion about possible processing centres within Wales itself with the Senedd? I would welcome some reassurance on that from the Minister.
Many Members of this House came into politics through local government. Their motivation was to make things better for local communities, usually through improvements in local services. It was my motivation. There was always a problem with funding, but real choices and compromises had to be made. For some years, funding for local government has been systematically reduced and the statutory duties which must be met have increased. This has reduced the attractiveness of becoming a local elected representative, as all you do is make unpalatable cuts or apologise for the inevitable reductions in local services. This causes experienced councillors to resign and less good candidates to put themselves forward.
On top of this bleak scenario, there is an increasing tendency towards centralising power and decision-making and towards central government setting aside the established means of checking the abuse of such powers. Before turning to the matter before the House today, I will point out the democratic deficit that is emerging in my home county of Oxfordshire. There have been some extraordinary examples over the last year, where decisions on Oxfordshire’s life and environment are being taken by unelected, unaccountable and remote bodies.
Perhaps the most notable example of this is when the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick intervened in South Oxfordshire, where a newly elected Administration was forbidden to take forward its local plan and where he ordered their officers to put forward a plan prepared by the previous Conservative Administration—a process described by the Oxford Mail as
“an extraordinary affront to local democracy”.
I now turn to my latest example of the pushing aside of local democracy. It has been proposed that a substantial number of large lorry parks be created under special development orders, to be sited around the country, adjacent to ports and motorways, for lorries awaiting processing through the new customs clearance arrangements arising from the decision to leave the European Union. The Government either did not foresee the need for such facilities or were not very keen to explain the likely consequences of our decision to leave the EU. The local authorities covering the areas subject to the special development orders are not able to mount any meaningful protest about the establishment of the proposed lorry parks. While provision is made in the special development orders for the eventual dismantling of a site, there is also provision to extend their use.
Who is going to manage and pay for these lorry parks? Is there to be proper oversight, or is the cheapest contract going to be let to a company like Serco or G4S, with minimum-wage staff in the worst of conditions? These places have the potential to become centres of crime, with theft of loads, people smuggling, drug crime et cetera. They are likely to cause a lot of noise, light and air pollution. Unless they are properly managed, they will be a persistent cause of problems. I hope the Minister has the answers to some of these questions because I cannot see the local authorities, which have been trampled on, wanting anything whatever to do with them.
Organisations such as the CPRE, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and other bodies concerned with the environment, as well as local government, are dismayed by the number of major planning issues which are now being taken above their heads. I hope that the Government will give serious attention to these reservations.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, who speaks with such knowledge on these issues. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for her presentation of the key issues here, many of which I agree with. I declare my interest as an honorary president of the United Kingdom Warehousing Association. I approach this issue from a northern perspective, and I ask my noble friend in particular about why Teesport, for example, does not seem to be included here? The local authority representing that area is not in the list in Schedule 1, despite obviously being a major port.
Throughout the year, I meet a number of local businesses, particularly in north Yorkshire, two of which have a background in cold storage, logistics and distribution. I would like to share with the Minister that they have impressed on me the clear need for greater prioritisation and use of these northern ports. I am thinking in particular of Immingham, which now has three berths, because it has reclaimed a number of them; there is extra capacity at Hull, because we have sadly lost the passenger route between there and Zeebrugge; and I would also add Teesport to these, as it is not too far away. To what extent can we develop and use the extra capacity, and build on the existing capacity, at these northern ports? That would ease the bottlenecks that we have seen so clearly at the southern ports, as identified by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, who lives in Kent.
The other sad thing to record is the closure of a lobster and crab firm, Baron Shellfish of Bridlington, which had been exporting live lobsters and crabs to Europe, most particularly Spain and France, since we entered the Common Market, and has ceased trading. It claims that one of the reasons for this is the forms and extra bureaucratic and administrative barriers in place since 1 January. To what extent are we in the situation where we need the planning permission set out in this order because we have not gone down the path of digitalisation? We are relying entirely on paper-based forms. Yet as other noble Lords have said, we had four years to prepare for this situation; it was the will of the people to leave the European Union, including, we were told, the single market and the customs union. I firmly believe that we would not be in this position today if we had identified and progressed an advanced digitalisation procedure. I appreciate that my noble friend may not have the details today, but I would be grateful if she could write to noble Lords who have participated this afternoon. By concentrating more on northern ports and a programme of digitalisation, we could have eased some of the bottlenecks that we have seen.
I entirely agree with those who have regretted the lack of consultation on, and parliamentary oversight of, the order before the House today. We are told that, under the order, land used for this purpose has to be reinstated by the end of 2026 unless there are environmental benefits, such as biodiversity and drainage. Who will pay for that? I hope that local authorities are not going to be left to pick up the extra bill. This has presumably been worked out and thought through.
In paragraph 9 of the 26th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government states that:
“Those invited to make representation must have had no less than 14 days to do so; copies … received must be provided to MHCLG.”
It would be helpful to know to what extent the ministry has publicly refuted any of those concerns.
I will not be voting against the order, but I do regret the manner in which it has been adopted.
My Lords, 80% of heavy goods vehicles from the Republic of Ireland use ports in Wales—Pembroke Dock, Fishguard or Holyhead, with the vast majority using Holyhead. With Brexit, big changes came about, and I know that in Dublin they spent €30 million on adapting and modernising the port there. When I phoned Holyhead, I asked a number of people in the area what changes they are seeing. None at all. I do not know whether money has been spent since, but money is needed. We need that 14 acres for extra lorry parking and longer lorry parking, we need new rest and refreshment accommodation, and we need registration.
With registration, there are new documents—a lot more documents than they used to have. They come over on the ferry from Ireland and there is nowhere to go in Holyhead, Anglesey or north Wales; they either have to go to Warrington, 100-odd miles away, or to Birmingham, which I am told is nearer 170 miles away. This is total nonsense and shows a total lack of preparation by the Government. We asked them some time ago, “What is being done? For instance, have you got planning permission?” Yes, they had planning permission for a park. But had they bought it? No, nothing had been purchased. So we are lagging behind, and in lagging behind we are creating new problems.
The road from Holyhead through to Manchester or Birmingham, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will be more congested, more polluted and noisier. Why have the Government not prepared for this, instead of just saying that it will happen and it will be okay? I am afraid that it might be some ruse—and as a Welshman, perhaps I can bring this up—and they will abandon the Welsh ports and encourage direct sailings from Ireland to mainland Europe. This would mean that Holyhead, which 20 years ago was the poorest community in the whole of Wales, will assume again that title. Already, Sealink has halved the number of its ferries. This is for a number of reasons, of course. The pandemic takes some blame, but Brexit takes a massive part of the blame.
Even last week, one-quarter of the labour force at the docks at Holyhead has been put on hold—they have lost their jobs for the time being. Are we going to see this happening at all the ports, which mean so much to us in Wales, given what they bring into the economy? What will happen, say, if Holyhead is bypassed? I asked whether the Government would provide compensation, but oh no, there is no intention to compensate. How on earth are we going to tackle this poverty, once again, in Welsh port areas?
I want the Minister to give me an assurance that the Government will proceed, even at this late date—and it is massively late. I asked this last October and was told that it would happen when the transition came in, but nothing happened when the transition came in. They are not ready. I think this is possibly the most incompetent Government of all time. The folk in these areas certainly need to be protected, their jobs need to be secured and we need to be absolutely sure that Wales will not become a black hole of this Government.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow those powerful remarks and to echo the concern about the state of the country and the poverty of the country. Whatever happened to the levelling-up agenda? I begin by declaring my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I find myself, for the second time today, backing a powerful—unarguable, really—regret Motion against the actions of the Government. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for tabling it. I do not see how any reasonable person could not regret the situation of the communities that have had these inland border facilities dumped on them without notice or control, or any hope of having control over what happens in them—facilities that are going to transform their lives and environment. I do not see how anyone could possibly not regret the fact that we are running the country through emergency powers, without proper democratic oversight, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, alluded to earlier.
There has been some discussion during the debate on this Motion about what is happening on our borders. I go to an independent source, Bloomberg’s Supply Lines, which quotes the logistics platform Transporeon saying that freight volumes from the UK to the EU were down 25% last week from the same period a year ago. I echo questions asked by other noble Lords about whether the Government are considering the level of change in these facilities and how they will manage it, and the fact that we might see large surges and drops in this potentially fast-changing domain.
I will focus on four sets of questions for the Minister. The first has been nagging away at me since the end of last year. We saw a Brexit deal agreed on 23 December. On 30 December, both Houses of Parliament met for a single day to debate this enormous, dense document of great complexity. The following day, we saw residents of the villages Whitfield and Guston receive letters telling them what is happening with these inland customs facilities. This is a question about timing: did the Government plan such timing to avoid democratic scrutiny and oversight, or was it simply mismanagement?
My next set of questions is about the people in those villages. I am thinking particularly of a report in the Guardian about a parent of a disabled child, who had just taken a five-year mortgage on a home because of the peace and quiet of the vicinity. Will the residents affected by all these facilities, right around the land, be fully compensated and given the option of being bought out, with all their financial and moving costs, given that this has been dumped on them by the national Government, without them having any control?
My final questions pick up from what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said when he asked who will run these sites. Will they be run by outsourced minimum-wage workers, working for contractors? There will obviously be great concerns about the impact of air pollution and litter. How will those issues be monitored? I hope that these questions can be answered today—or perhaps the noble Baroness can answer them later by letter.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. She has covered a challenging discussion, put forward some suggestions and covered a huge amount of ground. Frankly, I look at the port of Dover as the weakest link in the post-Brexit implementation strategy, which I understand to be under the control of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whose attitude at times—I am sorry to say this—has seemed to be pretty cavalier.
There are three dimensions to the story of Dover. Pre 2020, there was the practice of closing down the M20. Well done; that was good planning. One does ask why they did not take it a little further and recognise that the A2 is not sensible at all and that other practices should be tried around the M20.
Secondly, we have evidence that Her Majesty’s Government, and particularly this department, were behind the curve in the recruitment of customs officials. One would have thought that the department would have thought about that, but we are still behind the curve.
The Road Haulage Association asked for instructions on the new software just before Christmas, but none were forthcoming. Then we had the announcement, almost out of the blue, about the Kent access permit on 14 December, to be implemented by a 31 December deadline. That is not a very sensible way to move forward. According the chairman of the Business Application Software Development Association, Bill Pugsley, the problem is not the IT system itself, but the fact that it arrived too late for people to learn how to use it. It needed to be phased in, in his judgment, over a period of six months.
The HGV and Kent access permits are only part of seven key IT systems, all linked to a successful international trade in 2021 and beyond. I am told that the key determination is the CDS, originally supposed to be launched in April 2020 to give developers time to test it and roll it out to the customers. But that only happened in mid-December. Now, the Secretary of State, Minister Gove, is, in some of the publicity, blaming the traders for not being ready. Frankly, this is no different from the doctors who offered their services to help with vaccinations—and I am married to a doctor—having to fill out 15 forms with 21 pieces of evidence.
To get back to this important topic: there is no doubt that there has been a fall in traffic. Whatever the department may say, for every 1,000 lorries that went out pre Brexit, only 820 are going out today—and of those, the number going out empty has grown. What worries me more and more is: what are we doing to solve this problem? Others have commented on other aspects, but I do not see that, once we have got all this IT working properly, we need to stretch it out to 2025.
I would like to say to my noble friend on the Front Bench: think about the poor hauliers themselves. They are the absolute salt of the earth; they are tough men and women; they are skilled; they are working very long hours. Why do we not have a truce and look after them a bit? We know the government software was delivered late. Let us admit that and improve the facilities for these people. That, at least, will take some pressure off local residents as well. After all, we all want Brexit to succeed. That should be our priority, so that our exports can move swiftly abroad.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I thank my noble friend Lady Randerson for her extensive introduction and for ensuring this debate took place. This is a piece of legislation to bypass the normal planning system to create temporary inland border control posts, as everybody has said.
As an ex-councillor, I am concerned that the Government are taking planning powers to themselves without any of the consultation normally attached to planning applications. The border control posts appear to be in areas where the Government believe goods may enter the country because of their proximity to ports, coastlines or large inland waterways such as the Manchester Ship Canal. Twenty-nine English local authority areas that may be affected by these temporary planning permissions are listed in Schedule 1, including Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
Despite plenty of warning, no action was taken to be ready for exit from the EU. These temporary border posts are to be started immediately. The temporary permissions lapse on 31 December 2025, and all structures must be removed, and sites cleared, by 31 December 2026, when the sites will be reinstated to their former state. The construction industry will have to move fast to meet these deadlines.
We are left with the impression that these structures—which must not be higher than 25 metres and are, by their very nature, quickly constructed and easily removed —are likely to be self-assembled. The countryside is therefore likely to be littered with shanty-town structures acting as temporary border control posts. However, the facilities that the border posts must provide are extensive and likely to require large areas of land to accommodate facilities for drivers, vehicles and staff.
Given that the SI is subject to the negative procedure, today’s regret Motion is the only way in which Peers can raise their concerns. The SI gives very specific restrictions on what cannot be harmed by the structure or where they should not be constructed. They should not be constructed in a national park, near a historic building or in an AONB, and ancient trees are to be protected, et cetera. My noble friend Lady Randerson gave some examples of where the restrictions in the SI are being ignored. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has also given examples of these new regulations being flouted.
Some of these control posts are likely to be some distance from the port of entry, so how will the Government ensure that traffic will not take a diversion to avoid inspection? There is, therefore, a possibility that animal products and plants will be allowed into the country without proper checks. This is in direct contradiction to the reassurances that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has given on numerous occasions during debates on statutory instruments around animal and phytosanitary plant movements. The public and the businesses involved must be assured that animal and plant health will always be protected from the import of disease and substandard products.
I note that in Schedule 2 there is mention of the movement of nuclear material and dangerous goods, which may not be moved through these border posts. Can the Minister tell us how nuclear material and dangerous goods will be transported and cleared if not through these border posts?
With regard to reinstatement, the site operator must submit their plan to the Secretary of State on or before 31 June 2025. This does not appear to allow sufficient time for approval before site clearance begins on 31 December 2025. Can the Minister please comment on this?
I am extremely concerned about the implications of this SI, and fully support the comments of my noble friend Lady Randerson. This SI drives a coach and horses through local planning procedures. I support the need for temporary border posts; however, this is not an emergency and is entirely predictable. It is a demonstration of an appalling lack of forethought. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am proud to note my vice-presidency of the LGA and am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, who shares with me a long career in local government, as does the Minister. With that background, we will always bring a pragmatic and reasoned approach to any issue. After all, it is local government that gets things done, though after more than a decade of unremitting cuts I marvel at how it manages to do anything. As this pandemic has shown, we have a local government structure—thank goodness—that is managing to function and is run by elected members and government officers, who do indeed have the authority.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made a most comprehensive and detailed opening speech. She raised many apposite points regarding this emergency legislation, including noting the 29 local authorities listed in the measure and whether there has been appropriate consultation. I do not intend to repeat those points other than to emphasise the core argument: the giant lorry parks that this instrument facilitates stand as a symbol—indeed, a metaphor—of the Government’s failure to plan properly for Brexit.
We have heard many noble Lords speak with knowledge and experience on these matters from both a political and industrial perspective, including my noble friend Lord Berkeley, with his Channel Tunnel experience. Frankly, it is inexplicable how the situation has come about, other than to view it as incompetence, inaction and inefficiency.
I have four main questions for the Minister. How much will these parks cost? How will they operate? How can the Government reassure businesses that fear being pushed to bankruptcy over these problems? How can the Government reassure the significant concerns of residents who understandably fear that these sites will make their lives a misery? In recent weeks, we have seen reports of residents in villages such as Guston who have been told that the fields at the end of their gardens will be taken over without consultation and as part of back-door plans to cover up how the Government have been unable to prepare for what we all knew was coming down the line.
In Ashford, too, the enormous inland border facility is not only a nuisance for those in the immediate vicinity but lost lorries are causing havoc in Sevington after being given the wrong postcodes by the Government. The facility next to junction 10a of the M20 has been housing truckers since last December but several villages in the area have reported problems with drivers getting lost and causing chaos.
This chaos in Kent is not inevitable but the Government have simply not been prepared. However, the huge sums of money that they seem to be wasting in that area is, frankly, astonishing. According to one report, close to £4 million was handed to consultants to find a location for, and alternative to, Operation Stack. That is, of course, on top of £470 million spent on control posts and other infrastructure and £235 million on computer systems and hiring new staff. That is more than £700 million. Just imagine what impact that would have had on public service budgets.
Most incredible of all is that despite the chaos that has been caused to the people of Kent, and despite the vast sums of money that have been wasted, the Government still have not worked out how the system will operate in the months ahead. Jimmy Buchan, the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said that it had seen little improvement since the new rules were in place. He noted that these are not minor impediments to trade. The industry in Scotland has basically ground to a halt. Businesses that employ hundreds of people in communities around our coastline are losing money and, in some cases, are close to going under. He urged the Government to get a grip on what is now a full-blown crisis before severe and lasting damage is done to the sector.
Hauliers have been reporting that UK traders have been put off by the cost and hassle of the new customs paperwork required for exporting to the EU. They complain of a general confusion about the new rules and a shortage of customs agents to process the required forms. They also say that the Government’s IT systems are not reliable and have a tendency to stop working. Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, says that it warned the Government for months about their lack of preparation. He continues to urge them to act on this matter now and not shrug it off as teething problems.
The fact that the Government have not even completed an impact assessment for these regulations indicates that they do not have any interest in reflecting on their mistakes. I will ask my questions once again. How much will these parks cost? How will they operate? How can the Government reassure businesses who fear being pushed into bankruptcy? How can the Government reassure the significant concerns of residents? Finally, I should add a further question. Can the Government explain to the House how we have ended up in a situation where at this late hour, through emergency legislation, the Government are concreting over the countryside to build lorry parks?
My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for tabling the Motion. I also thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions. I should say up front that the 10 minutes available to me will not be enough to answer their questions, although I would have loved to answer every one. Please accept my apologies if I do not get to them all but I will make sure that I write to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and put a copy of my letter in the Library.
First, the suggestion in the Motion that the special development orders have needed to be implemented because the Government failed to prepare for Brexit is incorrect. We have prepared extensively for Brexit, as, indeed, have many others involved in our borders and the trade that flows across them, including our hauliers.
Very soon after the result of the 2016 referendum on this country’s membership of the European Union, we knew that part of taking back control of our borders as a sovereign nation would mean a change to the procedures at those borders, and that the sorts of checks and inspections which have routinely been carried out on goods traded with the rest of the world, even while we were a member state of the EU, would be extended to trade with the EU.
The Government, as well as hauliers, ports, airports, traders and other businesses, have therefore been preparing for the introduction of border controls and checks for some time. In recognition of the additional challenges faced by traders and hauliers due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, last year we announced a phased introduction of those checks—between the end of the transition period on 1 January and 1 July of this year. These intensive preparations have meant that we have successfully avoided disruption at the border following the first round of changes at the end of the transition period. Freight flowing through our ports is now at or approaching the levels that we would expect for this time of year, and traffic is flowing freely to and from those ports.
Ministers have been clear that full customs, sanitary and phytosanitary inspections on products imported from and exported to the EU will come into effect from 1 July. We published our border operating model, most recently updated on 31 December last year. This document provides clarity on how and where we expect border checks to be made, and the infrastructure that will be required to facilitate them.
We should remember that how to provide for the checks necessary at the border is a commercial decision for ports, airports and rail facilities. If they wish to operate as a port, to serve and facilitate trade with other countries, they must provide the infrastructure and have it accredited by the relevant inspection authorities. In usual circumstances, such businesses would be expected to finance the provision of the necessary infrastructure themselves but, in recognition of the unique situation of Brexit, the Government have provided a significant amount of public funding to support ports, airports and rail facilities to build that required infrastructure.
In July last year, the Government announced £470 million of funding for infrastructure as part of the wider package of £705 million for border-readiness. Two hundred million pounds of that was provided for the port infrastructure fund, with provisional grants allocated to ports at the end of last year. Contracting with ports, and the subsequent payments of grants, which will not need to be repaid, is progressing rapidly as we speak.
In addition to the port infrastructure fund, where it is not possible, due to a lack of space, for ports to build infrastructure on site, the Government are delivering inland border facilities away from ports, for which Her Majesty’s Treasury have provided £270 million. As noble Lords would expect, these sites require planning permission. Although there had been considerable work at pace by the border-facing departments to deliver these sites, due to the impact of Covid-19, and in the light of the Government’s decision that the UK would leave the single market and customs union, it was determined in early 2020 that there would be insufficient time to follow the planning route via local planning authorities to ensure that planning consent, site preparation and construction of the required strategically important inland sites could be completed by 1 January 2021. As such, and due to the number of inland sites required, a single overarching special development order—an SDO—was made as a statutory instrument to ensure that the sites could be delivered on time. This answers a number of noble Lords’ questions about why it was done at this time.
Special development orders, such as the one referred to in the Motion, are a long-established part of the planning system, designed specifically to handle planning proposals of national significance. Our border infrastructure is essential to maintaining the integrity of the border and thus to the security of the UK and to support for the UK’s foreign policy and national security objectives. The SDO has therefore been made available so that we are able to move quickly to develop the inland sites and ensure that they are ready for use by those trading across the border.
The development and use of land for inland border facilities in England was approved under the town and country planning special development order 2020, which came into force on 24 September 2020. This SDO grants temporary planning permission for border processing, the associated stationing of vehicles entering or leaving Great Britain and the provision of infrastructure and facilities. To date, MHCLG, as the department responsible for taking planning decisions under the SDO, has used it to approve the temporary use and development of seven sites. These inland border facilities are at Warrington and Solihull, to serve Holyhead and the short straits, North Weald, Manston, Ebbsfleet and Waterbrook and Sevington, both in Ashford, to serve Dover and the Eurotunnel.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others have expressed a lot of concern about the site at the white cliffs of Dover. Just to make it clear, it was purchased at the end of December 2020 by the Department for Transport. It will be used by Defra as a border control post and by HMRC as an office of departure and destination. The site will not be used as a lorry park.
Further, the statutory engagement period started on 13 January and concluded yesterday—10 February. We offered residents a 29-day engagement period rather than the 14-day period specified in the SDO. As we have with all these SDOs, we will continue to engage with residents, MPs and local authorities as the project moves forward. I should also say that Dover District Council has welcomed this site because of the jobs that the development will bring. The site does not have planning permission as yet; no decision has been made. We expect a proposal for use of the site to be submitted at the beginning of March. I just wanted to update noble Lords on that.
It is important to note that these are temporary provisions, necessary to address a temporary need. The development must end, at the very latest, by 31 December 2025, with all reinstatement works completed by 31 December 2026. In many cases, as has been said, the provisions will not be needed for that long—and probably for only a short period of two to three years. I hope that answers the questions asked by my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. A number of noble Lords asked about the cost of the reinstatement works, which will be met by the Government.
I want quickly to get through one or two more points before I finish, although I doubt that there are many I can address. First, there was no debate on this SI because special development orders follow the negative procedure. The order was laid on 3 September. After 40 sitting days, no prayer Motion was passed in either House so it did not come up for debate.
I have come to the end of my time, as I knew I would. There are so many other interesting and important issues to respond to, so I assure noble Lords that I will send a letter as soon as possible and put a copy of it in the Library.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her detailed response. I am sure she will forgive me if I say that I find some of the Government’s arguments very unpersuasive. However, I look forward to her letter explaining the additional issues that I fully understand she did not have time to address.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. Across the parties here today there has been a very high level of unanimity and great concern about the loss of local democratic processes and the potential level of environmental damage involved in this.
The Minister finished by commenting on the time lapse, which other noble Lords have mentioned. I am afraid that is an issue with our current procedures, but in the light of that time lapse this Motion today could only ever be a probing Motion. In that spirit, I am therefore prepared to withdraw it.