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nytimes – They voted for Brexit, but not the fleet of giant trucks that came with it

MERSHAM, England – Since work began at a post-Brexit border checkpoint, villagers nearby have complained about construction noise, a cloud of dust, damage to their homes, unsavory waste and giant trucks honking their horns at night and getting stranded on small rural roads.

But the real problem begins like clockwork each night when hundreds of spotlights from the giant fleet of vehicles light up the skyline so much that one recent night a dramatic summer flash looked like a faint flicker.

Five years after the British voted to leave the European Union, the aftershocks are still being recorded. But few parts of the country have felt its impact more than this corner of England close to its Channel ports and the White Cliffs of Dover, where a majority voted for Brexit.

When Britain was inside the EU, the lorries that endlessly flocked to and from France did so with few controls. But Brexit brought a blizzard of bureaucracy, forcing the government to build the checkpoint dubbed the ‘Farage garage’, a reference to pro-Brexit activist Nigel Farage.

“For people living nearby, it’s an absolute disaster with the night sky completely lit up. Honestly, it’s like Heathrow Airport, ”said Geoffrey Fletcher, chairman of Mersham Parish Council (pronounced“ Merzam ”).

Consultation on the 24-hour truck fleet has been minimal and suggestions on how to limit the issues ignored, he said. Yet the debate over an issue that has divided the country is so polarized that Mr Fletcher believes few minds have changed on Brexit.

“I haven’t met anyone who said he would vote differently,” said Mr Fletcher, a Brexit voter, over coffee in the garden of his old farmhouse, part of which dates from the 15th century.

At present, the Sevington domestic border facility is primarily used for Covid-19 testing of truck drivers traveling to France, according to Paul Bartlett, a Conservative Party representative on Kent County Council. That is expected to change in the fall, however, when Britain is expected to start introducing controls on incoming goods, including food and animal products.

Currently, the site, which covers around 66 acres, is about half as busy as expected, but there are already problems.

“Of the approximately 1,000 trucks per day entering the inland border facility, two or three trucks per week attempt to access it through an unauthorized route: every time this happens, it causes anguish and distress. aggravation, ”said Bartlett, who added that some of the truck drivers who relieved themselves in their taxis had thrown bottles filled with urine.

“It happens, I don’t understand,” he said, “why throw it out the window when you know you can walk it to a trash can? “

If Britain was experiencing a full-scale ‘Bregret’ – regrets for supporting Brexit – this should be the place to find it given the litany of complaints.

Yet opposition to the border checkpoint was mitigated because the land had been allocated for development and a warehouse and distribution center was a possibility.

John Lang is one of the most directly affected, and although his physical outlook has changed dramatically, his political outlook has not changed. Where Mr. Lang once enjoyed dominating a barley field, he now faces the site in two directions: the main area in the front and an overflow area in the back.

The main construction phase was “like a war zone,” he said, not only because of the noise, but because the ground leveling process generated a huge cloud of dust. “It was like the Sahara,” he said.

Although it is thankfully over, Mr. Lang said he was still disturbed by trucks honking their horns late at night or getting lost and ending up outside his home. On one occasion, Mr. Lang said he had an argument with an angry Italian truck driver. “I threw a bag of sand at him,” he said.

But those troubles paled next to the lingering problem of 40-foot-tall spotlights projecting a flame of light over the area. “I think you could see it from the space station,” said Mr. Lang, who cannot use one of its rooms because, even in the middle of the night, “it is daylight”.

While Mr. Lang, managing director of a construction company, feels badly treated by government officials – “they couldn’t lie straight in their beds,” he said – he didn’t. has not hesitated in its support for Brexit. He is happy with the government’s new draft trade deal with Australia and believes more benefits will be visible in a decade.

Down the road, Nick Hughes said heavy construction vehicles caused structural cracks in his ceiling and a burst water pipe outside. The dust, he said, “was amazing” and an acoustic wall designed to muffle the sound of the truck park caused problems as the roar of a nearby high-speed train line tends to bounce off it. , amplifying the sound.

And of course, there are the spotlights. “We could walk around our house at night without the lights on,” said Mr. Hughes, an official, who fears the development has reduced the value of his property.

“When you talk to someone and say where you live, they used to say, ‘Oh next to the quaint church. “Now they say, ‘By the truck fleet’,” he added.

Yet Mr Hughes, while wary of how he voted on Brexit, said his perspective had not changed. “I have friends who voted both ways and we just don’t talk about it,” he added. “This is probably the most controversial thing I have ever known among groups of friends.”

The Department of Transportation said it had commissioned an investigation into the lighting and would work to resolve the complaints.

“We are aware of residents’ concerns and have taken action to minimize disruption by turning off the lights in one of the more public areas of the site as well as by commissioning a detailed lighting survey to better understand the problem and develop a plan to address it, ”he said in a statement.

Supporters of the project point to its economic impact and so far it has generated 130 jobs, according to an official announcement.

But near Sevington Church, which dates from the 13th century and is now an island of rural calm next to a sea of ​​concrete, Liz Wright, a local Green Party adviser, denounced the pollution linked to the site. “It’s very sad when you think there were hedges, wildflowers, wildlife and trees, and now you only see this barren expanse of trucks and buildings,” she said. .

However, Ms Wright voted for Brexit because she opposes European Union agricultural policy and believed that the bloc’s migration was driving wages down, and she hasn’t changed her mind either.

Those who wanted to stay in the European Union, like Linda Arthur, leader of the Village Alliance, a local group campaigning to persuade the government to dedicate some of the unused land to a wildlife site, can only nod their heads.

“It was a beautiful, peaceful and quiet country village – until now,” she said, adding that some villagers were a little fed up with guiding foreign truck drivers lost out of the back streets.

But she admits that the region can expect little sympathy in light of her vote to leave the EU and acknowledges that despite turning this idyllic corner of the countryside into something of horror, the sentiment about of Brexit has barely budged a notch.

“It’s not, I guess it’s very interesting, isn’t it?” She said, adding with a wry smile: “That’s all I can say as a non-Brexiteer.”

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