Kentish Express Ashford & District
Fears over Brexit gridlock in Kent ‘prove unfounded’
No evidence of congestion, says minister
Fears of disruption and delays around the Channel ports because of Brexit have proved unfounded, a government minister has said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the cross-party transport select committee that he had seen little evidence of congestion or long queues of traffic, as many had predicted.
In an upbeat assessment of the traffic management systems in place, Mr Shapps said it was “miraculous” that goods were flowing “at near normal levels”.
“You will have heard talk, including worst case scenario projections and mentioned many times in newspapers of queues of 20, 30, 40 miles, none of which we saw as a result of the end of the transition period.
“In terms of flow, I can tell you that the latest information is there are nearly 6,000 lorries a day, which is about 1,000 under where you might expect it to be at this time of year.”
Predictions of mammoth queues were widely reported last year after the government published its own report into a “reasonable worst case scenario”, much of which depended on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
And he claimed there was little evidence hauliers were arriving in Kent en route to ports without the necessary paperwork.
He said the number was small at about 3% of all HGVs.
“There has been very,very low levels of turn backs and the flow
is where it might be expected to be.”
He said the only report of delays was at the lorry park at Waterbrook Park, which was related to an issue to do with customs checks.
And he invited anyone who had evidence of congestion to contact him.
“I see no evidence that traffic is
not flowing at all so if there are reports of congestion, I want to hear about it,” he added.
He also revealed information points to provide advice to hauliers ahead of Brexit were now being used to pre-test drivers for coronavirus.
He said: “We are using 39 of them to test drivers before they get to Kent in order to better manage the traffic flow. It is only temporary until the end of March.
“I don’t anticipate it being renewed unless there was some other measure that we couldn’t run the risk of other countries requiring lateral flow checks and getting stuck while waiting for a test.”
He told MPs he did not rule out adding new sites to carry out tests on a temporary basis but figures showed 150,000 hauliers had been tested.
“By any measure it has been a pretty successful process,” he said.
‘You will have heard talk, including worst case scenario projections of queues of 20, 30, 40 miles, none of which we saw at the end of the transition period’
The farm was run by Trevor and Marilyn Smith. Mrs Smith said at the time: “Some of the cattle appeared to be unwell, The cows were off their food and salivating. We never dreamed it would be foot and mouth.
“We have no idea how it could have got here - there has been no traffic in or out other than our cars.”
Council officers were called back to work that weekend with about 10 managing an emergency unit at the Civic Centre in Strood.
Their job was to enforce the ban on animal movements and stop people walking through the countryside, including footpaths.
Government policy was to slaughter animals even suspected of having the disease - regardless of test results.
Farmers worried over whether their livestock would be spared or not.
Mike Clements was in a yo-yo of emotions when MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) officials told him, on March 17, to cull his cattle and sheep but was given a reprieve two days later.
Mr Clements, of Bonington Farm, Goodnestone, raised the alarm after fearing symptoms in three lambs.
The order to kill was then given but afterwards he was told tissue samples proved negative so he got a provisional all-clear.
On April 4 we reported that soldiers from Folkestone and London were building two huge funeral pyres, more than two miles apart, to burn the corpses of thousands of sheep and cattle on the Isle of Grain.
It was on Ministry of Defence land at Yanton Range.
Again the animals were killed as a precaution as they were close to an original herd of 650 sheep first suspected of carrying
FMD three weeks before.
Nearly 40 men were called from the Second Battalion of the Royal Gurkhas at Shorncliffe and the Royal Artillery in Woolwich.
Among the first burned were the corpses of 650 sheep and 90 cattle belonging to farmer Mark Cooper, of Matts Hill Farm, Hartlip, Swale.
He said at the time: “It is absolute chaos. The government doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing, it is one policy and then another.
If it was going to slaughter on suspicion it should have been done three weeks ago.”
The peak of the epidemic was in March and by the 26th, Kent had still only had four cases, the others being in Adisham near Canterbury, Sheppey and Sandwich.
The worst affected county was Cumbria, which by then had 221 cases.
The social consequences were that farmers felt isolated because they were afraid to meet for fear of passing on the virus. Farmer Kathy Maclean, from St Mary’s Hoo, said at he time: “We are afraid of turning into agricultural lepers.”
Church bells were rung in support of them.
The Rev Paul McVeagh said: “There is a real sense of isolation among farmers. It’s miserable not being able to talk to other farmers for fear of spreading foot and mouth.”
The crisis affected some rural businesses with many people now avoiding the countryside.
Valerie Watson, landlady of the Rose and Crown pub in Allhallows, said it had been a “nightmare” with customers no longer coming.
Staff at Leeds Castle near Maidstone were asked to consider voluntary redundancy or early retirement because of falling visitor numbers.
Demelza House Children’s Hospice said the epidemic had affected its fundraising as several rural events had to be cancelled.
Sales of meat of cloven-hoofed animals tumbled but sales of alternatives such as chicken, soared. Butcher Leroy Moore, of Rainham, said these rocketed from 400 a week before the crisis to 1,280 now.
Investigators later traced the source of this epidemic to pigs in Northumberland that had been fed infected swill made from school dinners.
They had been brought to the Essex slaughterhouse, Cheale Meats at Little Warley near Brentwood, where the first case was reported.
Richard Whitehead, chairman of the Rochester branch of the National Farmers’ Union, said the virus could be carried over by the wind.
It was estimated that spores could be blown up to 65km (40 miles).
Nationally the crisis led to the postponing of that year’s general election, from May 3 to June 7.
This was to prevent farmers unwittingly spreading the virus when they came to polling stations.
FMD is a sometimes fatal viral disease, causes a high fever lasting two to six days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness.
The incubation period is about 14 days. The last case of a human stricken in the UK was during a previous outbreak in 1967.
A farmworker drank contaminated milk but recovered several weeks later.
“There is a real sense of isolation among farmers. It’s miserable not being able to talk to other farmers for fear of spreading foot and mouth.”