Source: Alamy

Portsmouth International Port is the second busiest cross-Channel port in the UK

A new £24m border control post in Portsmouth could end up being demolished because new post-Brexit trade arrangements have deemed it “commercially unviable”, port bosses have warned.

The BCP – which was built two years ago with a £17m central government grant and £7m from Portsmouth City Council – was originally designed to process checks on up to 80 truckloads of foods, such as fresh produce, coming into the UK once it left the EU in 2021.

But repeated delays and changes to the introduction of import controls mean the port now expected to process only four or five consignments a day, said Mike Seller, port director at Portsmouth International Port – the second busiest cross-Channel port in the UK.

Reduced physical checks on goods mean only half of the 38,000 sq ft unit would be used, Seller told The Grocer.

The port also “can’t use any of it for commercial purposes due to the bespoke design of the building”, he added.

“Looking to the future, we are considering options such as building a new, much smaller, BCP and then repurposing the existing building.

“Or worst case demolishing the building to free up operational land – whichever gives the best return, or in our case the best financial option to minimise the annual financial impact to Portsmouth City Council,” Seller said.

Port officials have also warned of the impact of entirely demolishing the Portsmouth BCP, as that would add strain to Dover, where most food imports entering Britain through the Short Straits are processed.

But with annual running costs of about £800,000 a year, the council has been left with limited choices.

The costs will likely not be covered by the fees charged to importers for carrying out checks on site under the government’s new post-Brexit trade arrangements, the Border Target Operating Model, Seller warned.

Additionally, Defra has still not been clear about what those fees will actually be – initial proposals pointed to up to £43 per consignment, but final decisions are yet to be communicated – making it difficult for the BCP operators to decide how much to charge their customers and calculate revenues.

Read more: Lack of clarity around looming Brexit checks leaves industry ‘apprehensive’

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for transport, has called it a “giant white elephant”.

Local politicians including Vernon-Jackson and Labour minister Stephen Morgan have previously criticised the government for using taxpayers’ money amid a cost of living crisis to pay for a facility that has sat unused since completion in July 2022.

The council is seeking for reimbursement from the government of the millions it pumped into the building.

Portsmouth Port is not alone in this post-Brexit conundrum – the government commissioned several other border control posts across the country in preparation for new import checks, with Defra saying it spent around £200m partially funding new facilities at 41 ports.

But these facilities were designed under the government’s previous border operating model, which proposed much stricter physical checks on EU goods than new current strategy.

The BTOM’s sanitary and phytosanitary checks will officially go live at the end of this month after being delayed five times over the past three years.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The new border controls are being introduced progressively following extensive consultation with industry and are necessary to protect the UK’s biosecurity from potentially harmful pests and diseases.

“We have provided ports with £200m in funding to prepare for the import controls and it is up to each border control post to determine how best to use this funding. We will continue to work with border control posts as these changes are implemented.”