A hereditary peer has been paid £90,000 by the Scottish Government so that a former airfield can be used as an overflow lorry park in Dumfries.
The Earl of Stair, one of the largest landowners in Dumfries and Galloway and a cross-bench hereditary peer, received the payments for leasing Castle Kennedy airfield to Transport Scotland as part of the agency’s Brexit contingency plans.
Additional customs checks are required for goods moving between Scotland and Northern Ireland as a consequence of Britain leaving the EU.
Officials feared that delays caused by the extra checks could have led to gridlock around the Port of Cairnryan, if additional lorry parking facilities were not made available.
The arrangements for additional overflow lorry parking were put in place on December 21 2020 . Since then Transport Scotland confirmed that the Earl has been paid £90,000, equivalent to 15 months rent.
He will continue to receive £6,000 per month from the Scottish Government through the “open-ended” commitment.
Before the UK left the EU, around 400,000 freight vehicles were said to travel between Scotland and Northern Ireland each year using the port. There is some evidence that freight traffic to Northern Ireland ports has increased since Brexit.
But critics have called on the UK Government to cover this cost instead, arguing it is the “neglect and incompetence” of Conservative politicians at Westminster which is responsible for the ongoing uncertainty over the trading rules between the UK and the EU.
Since the lease began 15 months ago, the Earl’s airfield has been used as a temporary lorry park twice – and only once as a consequence of disruption caused by Brexit.
According to a Transport Scotland spokesperson “the site has been used for both Operation Overflow (EU Exit) in early 2021 and during Storm Arwen in November 2021”.
A legal agreement seen by The Ferret, shows that taxpayers also paid the legal fees for setting up the arrangement.
The lease is listed on the Earl of Stair’s parliamentary Register of Interest as a 12 month arrangement, where land is said to have been “provided to HM Government for temporary storage of commercial vehicles should need arise following change of UK status on 1 January 2021”.
However, Transport Scotland officials said that there are no plans to end the arrangements, with “next steps currently under review”.
Ongoing Brexit uncertainty
There is ongoing uncertainty about the customs checks that will be needed at Cairnryan.
So-called ‘vet checks’ on phytosanitary goods – products with animal or plant-based contents like cheese or gain – are currently only required on goods leaving the UK for the EU.
Since leaving the EU, the UK Government has waived the need for these checks to be undertaken on goods coming from the EU.
Vet checks were due to be introduced on goods coming from the EU in July this year, but with just weeks to go, the UK Government announced that the checks are to be postponed once more. They will not be introduced until the end of 2023 at the earliest.
UK Government ministers claim that the Northern Ireland Protocol “is not working” and have been attempting to renegotiate the deal for months. To date, an agreement has not been reached.
Either of these changes –the introduction of vet checks on inbound goods to Scotland or amendments to the Northern Ireland protocol –could still affect the flow of freight traffic through Cairnryan.
Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie said: “Brexit has been bad for business and people.
“The Government is having to spend money on a host of quick fixes that are only necessary because they have pursued a policy that is both wasteful and harmful.
“Given that it was the UK government that broke our previous trading arrangements with the EU, I would like to see them pay for ongoing costs such as the Cairnryan site, while alternatives are explored.
“The ongoing uncertainty over customs checks is as clear an example as you could ask for of the neglect and incompetence of Conservative ministers.”
It is not known whether the Earl of Stair voted for or against the UK leaving the EU.
He said: “As an independent (Crossbench) Peer, I always take a sensible, non-political approach to voting. I therefore make my decisions based on the information available for eacvoh te. It would be inappropriate for me to discuss political matters given my status.”
Regarding the ongoing arrangements for the lorry park, he added: “We always try to be as accommodating as possible to assist with parking arrangements for lorries and will continue to do so as appropriate.
“It’s a matter for government, the council, ferry companies and police authorities to decide on lorry park arrangements. There have been arrangements in place to park lorries in the event of storm or delay for some time.
“The government and other stakeholders would be making the decisions about long-term solutions, rather than Stair Estates.”
The Cabinet Office declined to respond to a request for comment.
Image Credit: Google Street View.