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Home » They Voted for Brexit, but not the Giant Truck Park That Came With It

They Voted for Brexit, but not the Giant Truck Park That Came With It

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MERSHAM, England — Since work began on a post-Brexit border checkpoint, villagers nearby have complained of construction noise, a cloud of dust, damage to their homes, unsavory refuse and giant trucks blasting their horns at night and getting stranded on tiny rural roads.

But the real problem starts like clockwork each evening when hundreds of floodlights from the giant vehicle park illuminate the skyline so much that, on one recent night, a dramatic bolt of summer lightning looked like a faint flicker.

Five years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, the aftershocks are still being registered. But few parts of the country have felt its impact more than this corner of England close to its Channel ports and the white cliffs of Dover, where a majority voted for Brexit.

When Britain was inside the E.U., the trucks that flowed ceaselessly to and from France did so with few checks. But Brexit has brought a blizzard of red tape, requiring the government to build the checkpoint nicknamed the “Farage garage,” a reference to the pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage.

“For people living nearby it’s an absolute catastrophe with the night sky completely lit up. Honestly, it’s like Heathrow Airport” said Geoffrey Fletcher, chairman of the parish council at Mersham (pronounced “Merzam”).

Consultation on the 24-hour truck park had been minimal and suggestions on how to limit problems ignored, he said. Yet, so polarized is the debate over an issue that divided the country, that Mr. Fletcher thinks few minds have changed on Brexit.

“I have not met anybody who has said they would vote differently,” said Mr. Fletcher, a Brexit voter, over coffee in the garden of his former farmhouse, part of which dates from the 15th century.

At present the Sevington Inland Border Facility is mainly used for Covid-19 testing of truck drivers headed to France, according to Paul Bartlett, a Conservative Party representative on the Kent County Council. That should change in the fall, however, when Britain is scheduled to start introducing checks on incoming goods including food and animal products.

Currently, the site which covers around 66-acres, is around half as busy as expected but already there are problems.

“Of about 1,000 lorries a day coming into the Inland Border Facility there are two or three lorries a week trying to access it through an unauthorized route: every time that happens it causes angst and aggravation,” said Mr. Bartlett, who added that some truck drivers who had relieved themselves inside their cabs had discarded bottles filled with urine.

“It happens, I don’t understand it,” he said, “why chuck it out of the window when you know you can walk it to a bin?”

If Britain were experiencing any wide-scale “Bregret” — regret about supporting Brexit — this should be the place to find it given the litany of complaints.

Yet, opposition to the border checkpoint has been muted because the land had been earmarked for development and a warehouse and distribution center was one possibility.

John Lang is one of the most directly affected, and while his physical view has changed dramatically, his political ones have not. Where once Mr. Lang enjoyed overlooking a barley field, he now faces the site in two directions: the main area to the front and an overflow area to the rear.

The main construction phase was “like a war zone,” he said, not just because of the noise but because the process of leveling the ground generated a huge cloud of dust. “It was like the Sahara,” he said.

While that has mercifully ended, Mr. Lang said he was still being bothered by trucks sounding their horns late at night or getting lost and ending up outside his home. On one occasion Mr. Lang said he had an altercation with an irate Italian truck driver. “I threw a sandbag at him,” he said.

But those annoyances pale beside the enduring problem of the 40-foot-tall floodlights that throw a blaze of light over the area. “I reckon you could see it from the space station,” said Mr. Lang, who cannot use one of his bedrooms because, even in the pitch of night, “it’s daylight.”

While Mr. Lang, the managing director of a building company, feels poorly treated by government officials — “they couldn’t lie straight in bed,” he said — he has not wavered in his support for Brexit. He is happy with the government’s new draft trade agreement with Australia and thinks that further benefits will be seen a decade hence.

Down the road Nick Hughes, said heavy construction vehicles had caused structural cracks in his ceiling and a burst water main outside. The dust, he said, “was unbelievable,” and an acoustic wall designed to muffle sound from the truck park has caused problems because the roar from a nearby high-speed train line tends to bounce off it, amplifying the sound.

And of course, there are the floodlights. “We could walk around our house at night with no lights on,” said Mr. Hughes, a civil servant, who fears that the development has reduced the value of his property.

“When you talk to somebody and you say where you live, they used to say, ‘Oh by the quaint church.’ Now they say, ‘By the lorry park,’” he added.

Yet Mr. Hughes, while circumspect on how he voted on Brexit, said his views had not changed. “I have friends who voted both ways and we just don’t talk about it,” he added. “It’s probably the most divisive thing I have ever known among groups of friends.”

The Department for Transport said it had commissioned a survey over the lighting and would work to resolve complaints.

“We are aware of residents’ concerns and have acted to minimize disturbance by turning off the lights in one of the most public sections of the site as well as commissioning a detailed lighting survey to better understand the issue and develop a plan to address it,” it said in a statement.

Supporters of the project point to its economic impact and, so far, it has generated 130 jobs, according to an official announcement.

But by Sevington’s church, which dates from the 13th century and is now an island of rural calm next to a sea of concrete, Liz Wright, a local Green Party councilor, decried the pollution connected to the site. “It is very sad when you think there were hedges, wildflowers, wildlife and trees, and now you just see this barren expanse of lorries and buildings,” she said.

However, Ms. Wright voted for Brexit because she opposes the European Union’s farm policy and thought migration from the bloc was forcing down wages, and she hasn’t changed her mind either.

Those who wanted to remain in the European Union, like Linda Arthur, a leader in the Village Alliance, a local group campaigning to persuade the government to devote some of the unused land to a wildlife site, can only shake their heads.

“It was a beautiful country village peaceful and quiet — until now,” she said, adding that some villagers are getting a little tired of guiding lost foreign truck drivers out of tiny streets.

But she accepts that the region can expect little sympathy in light of its vote to leave the E.U. and acknowledges that, despite the transformation of this idyllic corner of the countryside into an something of an eyesore, sentiment about Brexit has barely moved a notch.

“It hasn’t, I suppose it’s very interesting isn’t it?” she said, adding with a wry smile: “That’s all I can say as a non-Brexiteer.”


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