Government must recognise the impact of new EU travel requirements on KentPublished: 02/02/2024
Three witnesses representing organisations in Kent have told MPs today that the introduction of new EU Entry Exit System (EES) checks at UK borders later this year could have a serious effect on those travelling through the county, and on people living in, working in, and visiting Kent.
Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council (KCC), Andrew Osborne, Head of Economic Development at Ashford Borough Council, and Deirdre Wells OBE, Chief Executive of Visit Kent, told the EU Scrutiny Committee that the Short Straits is the most important entry point to Europe for the whole of the UK, and that Kent must be supported with managing the expected impact when the checks are introduced later this year.
The current data analysis and modelling from the port, ferry operators and government departments indicates that a reasonable worst-case scenario could see queues of up to 14 hours for traffic heading through Kent to Europe. Past events show that such delays result in serious consequences for local communities on the route to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel, especially in the town of Dover.
The three representatives from Kent told the committee that, as the gateway to Europe, if Kent is blocked, supply chains will also be fundamentally impacted, and therefore the implementation of EES checks is not just a Kent problem – but a national problem.
Andrew Osborne, Head of Economic Development at Ashford Borough Council giving evidence during EU Scrutiny Committee
Roger Gough told the committee “In the summer of 2022, delays on the approaches to both portals in Kent caused long tailbacks, with tourists stuck in queues for over 15 hours – the impact of EES on tourist traffic crossing the short straits could be much worse.
“Increased funding to deliver resources for traffic management and additional facilities for holding EU bound freight is essential, so that the Strategic Road Network through Kent does not become a permanent lorry park and result in concerns for drivers’ welfare.
“We asked the committee today to urge Government to continue to work with operators, infrastructure owners, EU member state governments, the European Commission and its agencies to explore all technological capabilities and legislative possibilities to enable remote registration, and consequently to reduce the prospect of delays at the border points.”
Today, @VisitKent, @AshfordCouncil & @Kent_cc were unequivocal when asked if the Government was doing enough to prepare them for the 'big as Brexit' introduction of the EU's Entry/Exit System.— EU Scrutiny Committee (@CommonsEU) January 31, 2024
They warned consequences are:
⭕️ 14+ hour delays
⭕️ 50% drop in attraction takings pic.twitter.com/vIiNYHG3Vj
Ashford Borough Council and KCC also understand from operators and infrastructure owners of the high-speed international rail link, and stations on that route, that a lack of front-ending of registration remotely risks adding processing time and queueing time and delay to international rail travellers. This is a huge concern to both councils, as it means EES implementation could erode the benefits of the international rail link and the public sector investment in that.
Speaking after the EU Scrutiny Committee hearing, Cllr Noel Ovenden, Leader of Ashford Borough Council, said: “International rail services at both Ashford and Ebbsfleet have been suspended since March 2020 and Eurostar have cited the introduction of the EES system as a potential barrier to their reintroduction.
“The stations provide a great opportunity to increase border capacity outside of the constrained St Pancras International Station, but government and operators need to commit to investment in border infrastructure and negotiate the availability of additional border force officers at Ashford and Ebbsfleet to enable this to happen.
“More than 46,500 people have signed a petition to bring back Kent’s international rail stations, and over 600 businesses have responded to a survey on the impact that the loss of this service is having on the Kent economy. Considerable public investment has gone into both Ashford and Ebbsfleet international stations, and we are calling for the benefits of this investment to be realised in opening up sustainable international travel to Kent stations again, providing greater capacity and resilience on the network.”
Deirdre Wells said “Our tourism and hospitality industry in Kent has recovered well from the pandemic and continues to grow, bringing in much needed revenue to local economies and supporting thousands of jobs.
“However, we know from previous events that long traffic queues in the approach to Dover and Folkestone impact not just those travelling to the continent but communities and businesses throughout the county as visitors become nervous about coming to Kent. We stand ready to work collaboratively with the Government and other key stakeholders to ensure the introduction of the new Entry and Exit System is as smooth as it can be.”
KCC, Ashford Borough Council and Visit Kent will continue to work closely with the Kent Resilience Forum, Department for Transport, the Home Office and MPs, as well as port authorities and cross channel operators, in preparation for the implementation of EES checks, to understand the potential impacts and mitigate as best as they can against disruption and delays at the Port of Dover, Eurotunnel and on roads through Kent.