"The Government's proposal to require hauliers heading for Dover or the Channel Tunnel to obtain a Kent Access Permit has caused much amusement", says Rob Bird, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at County Hall. "But it's not a joke. It is another ill-conceived bureaucratic burden which will affect hauliers and businesses throughout the County."
The Government launched a consultation on the proposal to establish a Kent Access Permit (KAP) in early August. KAPs would be issued to drivers who have received a green or amber result from the Government's online Smart Freight system. This is being developed to handle trade with the European Union once the Brexit transition period ends
Each KAP would be valid for 24 hours to cover a single trip. Drivers found heading to Dover or Folkestone without one will face being hit with a £300 fine by officers from the police or Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.
Not surprisingly hauliers and logistics experts were unhappy with the prospect of another layer of Government red tape. Instead they have continued to press the Government to provide more details about the Smart Freight System to help the industry get prepared for the 1st January deadline. But, with just 3 months to go, the Smart Freight System is still not ready.
Last week Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, warned hauliers that they could expect queues of 7,000 or more lorries in Kent with delays of up to 2 days. It could be much worse.
When Mr Gove made a statement on preparations for the end of the transition period to the House of Commons, he was asked what steps he was taking to prevent 7,000 or more lorries clogging up Kent's roads. In response, Mr Gove promised that the KAPs would be introduced and enforced 'through policing, ANPR cameras and other means.'
But what does this mean for the rest of Kent? How will the police and the cameras be able to differentiate between Europe-bound traffic and other hauliers?
At a Kent County Council meeting last week, Lib Dem Councillor Antony Hook asked if the Council was able to assess the impact of the KAP on the County. No-one has the answer to that question currently, but councillors were stunned to learn that goods vehicle drivers working within Kent would need to be issued with travel passes to avoid cross-Channel Tunnel congestion after the Brexit transition ends.
This requirement will not be limited to hauliers based in Kent. Drivers of HGVs bringing goods from elsewhere in the UK into the County for delivery to Kent-based customers will also need travel passes. Unfortunately, no-one appears to have told them yet.
"It is clear that the Government has not properly thought through how the Kent Travel Permit will operate and be enforced", Rob Bird concludes. "Kent is going to pay a heavy price for the Government being seriously underprepared for the end of the Brexit transition."