The North Downs Way at the site. Photo: David Anstiss

The North Downs Way at the site. Photo: David Anstiss

Campaigners have criticised the government’s ‘cavalier’ treatment of a national trail in its plans for a border depot to deal with cross-channel freight.

The Open Spaces Society said the Department for Transport has presented a fait accompli to the public for its White Cliffs inland border facility near Dover.

The society is supporting an objection to the plans by the White Cliffs Ramblers group.

It said the department want to ‘shove an ancient way on to a circuitous route’ for five years while the depot operates. Plans would mean the border facility straddling the North Downs Way which follows the line of a Roman road at the site.

The government has bought the site near Guston, north of Dover, for use as a customs clearance site for lorries following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, said: “The society has deplored the lack of consideration which has been given to the existence of this route, and argues that the Department for Transport should have consulted user bodies specifically about this proposal instead of presenting a fait accompli.

“The affected route is a popular byway of national and international importance.”

It said, notwithstanding its objections to the plans, the diverted route must be kept open at all times during construction and is adequately surfaced to enable it to be used by walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and off-road motor vehicles.

The route is classed as a byway open to all traffic and, as well as being part of the North Downs Way, forms a section of the White Cliffs Country Trail.

The society said where it runs on the line of an existing road, it should be constructed alongside, so recreational users don’t have to share the route with vehicles, and the route must be wide enough to allow people to pass safely and maintain social distancing.

It also called on the Department for Transport to restore the present route after the five-year period, in a better state than its current one.

Kate Ashbrook, the society’s general secretary, said: “We deplore the manner in which this whole exercise has been conducted.

“We are presented with a fait accompli and no opportunity to influence the fate of the immensely popular North Downs Way. The Department for Transport failed to consult about the plan, and then allowed only three weeks for comment via Survey Monkey – belatedly extended by one week.

“Now all we can do is try to secure a safe route for all users and full restoration in future.”

The North Downs Way runs for 246km (153 miles) from Dover to Farnham in Surrey, passing through the Kent Downs and Surrey Hills areas of outstanding natural beauty and was opened in 1978.

Representation on the plans can be made online.

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