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.