Post-Brexit lorry queues could make Kent 'toilet of England'

Campaigners warn that roads and laybys are already littered with urine and excrement

Lorries queuing on the A20 in Kent earlier this year.
Lorries queuing on the A20 in Kent earlier this year. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
Lorries queuing on the A20 in Kent earlier this year. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 15.55 EST

Kent could become the “toilet of England” in less than eight weeks unless dedicated loos are provided for thousands of lorry drivers who could be held up in the county for hours by post-Brexit border checks, campaigners have warned.

They say Kent’s main roads and laybys are already littered with bottles of urine and bags of excrement and the problem could become much worse after 31 December.

“It has got the potential to be disgusting,” said Phil Silkstone, a regional official for Unite, which represents many lorry drivers.

Mike Sole, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Canterbury who has been campaigning on the issue of human waste being discarded in laybys near the A2 motorway, said: “I’m worried Kent is becoming the toilet of England, not the garden of England. And we’re all braced for it getting much much worse.”

The government has promised drivers there will be portable toilets if an anticipated 7,000 lorries are held up by new checks and controls in Kent’s ports if there is no Brexit trade deal.

But Unite says these will not be enough to prevent fouling of Kent’s hedgerows on a scale that will horrify local residents. “If all the government does is supply a few Portaloos then drivers are likely to take the other options – and that’s use the bushes,” Silkstone said.

He warned that the biggest problem would be around four lorry parks currently being built in Kent to cope with the anticipated increase in vehicles held at Channel ports.

Silkstone said: “The main concern is the welfare of our drivers, but also the welfare of local residents. It won’t be nice having thousands of lorry drivers potentially using the bushes around lorry parks. All we need is proper toilet and washing facilities. The time to start installing them isn’t in January, it’s now.”

He added: “It is not a threat from us, but inevitably if drivers are forced to use bushes and parkways, the environment will be damaged in those areas. I’m hoping the government will listen.”

On Wednesday, Silkstone wrote to every MP in Kent and hundreds of councillors across the south-east of England warning of the problem ahead. He said: “Presently all we are aware of is that portable toilets will be used which I am sure you will agree is not acceptable for drivers under normal circumstances but even more so in the middle of this Covid-19 crisis, this brings potential health risks to all concerned including local residents.”

Sole, one of the recipients of the letter, described the fouling at a layby in his ward east of Canterbury. “You’ve got bottles of urine just thrown everywhere. And also toilet paper and all others sorts of mess that people on footpaths are going to find. Whilst there is annoyance and disgust at the behaviour there is also sympathy with drivers. It is imperative that the government assist in providing adequate facilities for lorry drivers who do such an important role in keeping the economy going.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport referred questions to Highways England. A spokeswoman for Highways England said: “We are working with a number of partners to put contingency plans in place.” But she referred questions about toilet facilities for lorry drivers back to the department and to Kent county council.

A Kent county council spokesman said waste clearance was the responsibility of district and borough councils.

He added: “Local partners are working together to plan a traffic management system that will best fit with sites available from the government for freight parking and checks. As part of that ongoing work, government has ensured there will be toilet provision for drivers at those sites around Kent.”