Portsmouth Port owner wants cash for costly border check point

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Image caption,
The BCP facility cost £25m to build, with the city council paying £7.8m of the total - a sum it now says it wants back

The owner of a cross-Channel port has called on the government to step in after it was left to pay for a "white elephant" border facility.

Portsmouth Port built the unit to handle certain European Union imports, but it lies empty after Brexit rules were postponed until next year.

The city council, which owns the port, said it was £7.8m out of pocket.

The government said it was working with the port on "minimising ongoing costs" and the impact of the rule delay.

The Border Control Post (BCP) was due to go into operation last Friday, with a workforce of 67 port employees.

But the government announced physical checks on animal, plant and forest imports would be delayed until a new target operating model was put in place at the end of 2023.

British Ports Association chief executive Richard Ballantyne, said: "Right at the 11th hour we're told by ministers that they've reassessed the arrangements and we don't need these facilities. What are we going to use it for?"

He labelled the BCP facilities built at sites around the country "costly white elephants".

Image caption,
Richard Ballantyne said ports usually recouped operating costs by charging importers, but that was not currently an option

The port is the second biggest on the English Channel after Dover, where the BBC understands its BCP was paid for entirely by Whitehall.

Portsmouth City Council partly funded the costs of the 4,500sqm (14,764sqft) facility with its 14 loading bays, refrigerated examination rooms and bio-secure detention areas.

Liberal Democrat council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson called on the government to cover its investment as well as ongoing running costs.

Image caption,
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon Jackson: "We can't just turn the lights off and absorb the costs"

"The most serious issue is the phenomenal cost the council has had to absorb," he said.

"As a council we have been left to foot the government's bill, when budgets are already stretched.

"Who's going to pick up the bill for running this place now? It's going to be up to council taxpayers in Portsmouth and that's not good."

Port director Mike Sellers said: "We have to run this facility, it's got freezers, refrigerators... even if we switched everything off there's the loan repayments.

"All of that needs to be recovered which is over £1m a year."

Portsmouth South Labour MP Stephen Morgan said the government was "dithering" and called the situation a "total farce".

Image source, Penny Mordaunt
Image caption,
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt met with Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg to discuss the BCP at the port

After a meeting with the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government efficiency Jacob Rees-Mogg, Portsmouth North Tory MP Penny Mordaunt tweeted: "The port welcomes the new operating model.

"We'll work to find new opportunities for redundant facilities."

The Cabinet Office, which runs the Brexit opportunities department, said the move was part of reducing "burdens for traders" and would help save businesses up to £1 billion in annual costs.

A spokesman said the department was working with Portsmouth port to "assess the impact of the July import controls decision.

"This includes seeking to identify ways of preventing unnecessary additional capital cost and minimising ongoing costs."

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