Port of Dover to reclaim land from sea to prevent queues when EU’s biometric border controls system starts

Labour has urged the business secretary to launch legal action against P&O Ferries over its “scandalous” decision to sack 800 workers without warning, which the party said is a criminal offence.

The Port of Dover wants to build out into the sea to avoid delays when the EU’s planned biometric border controls system starts.

The Port’s boss, Doug Bannister, said reclaiming some land would create more space to process passengers.

He has previously warned the new system could cause long queues.

The new controls, known as the Entry Exit Scheme, were first slated for introduction in 2022, but are now expected to start in autumn 2024.

After their introduction people entering the EU will have to register their fingerprints and a photograph alongside their passport.

Over the past few years the Port of Dover has seen repeated incidents of queuing at its busiest times, with post-Brexit checks adding to waiting times. Mr Bannister has insisted everything possible has now been done to minimise delays. This summer, with traffic numbers nearly back to pre-Covid levels, there no prolonged problems at the port.

However, Mr Bannister has previously warned that under the Entry Exit Scheme (EES), the time taken for non-EU citizens to comply with the new requirements could create bottlenecks.

Mr Bannister has said that working with the authorities on both sides of the Channel over the past year had made him more confident.

An app may be developed to handle part of the registration process before people arrive at the port, he suggested. However, he said the port needed a solution to prevent “unacceptable” queues materialising at the border.

Mr Bannister told the BBC that plans already existed to reclaim land in the port’s western docks, for cargo use. Now, he is looking to speed up the project so the new area can be used to hold passengers when EES starts.

This acceleration would cost an extra £2m, with the aim of finalising the design by the end of the year, and starting work in the spring. The port is hoping the government may be able to contribute financially.

The Dover boss said decisions needed to be made “imminently”.

Dover is not alone in trying to avoid difficulties as a result of EES.

Yann Leriche, chief executive of Eurotunnel’s owner Getlink, said the change was something the business “cannot mismanage”, with problems “not an option”.

Getlink is spending £100m to create a new area, where people will be able to register their data at 75 stands.

Eurotunnel is also seeing traffic recover, although it is still short of pre-pandemic levels.

Getlink has developed technology to process customs controls digitally. It says this now allows goods to cross the Channel as quickly as before Brexit – something it hopes will attract customers.

The Port of Dover says it had its busiest day since before the pandemic on Saturday 29th July, with 800 cars arriving every hour at peak times.

The average wait time over the summer was 41 minutes during busy periods, it said.

Over the the summer the port handled 1.14 million passengers travelling over to France, close to the 1.19 million in 2019.