Officials are investigating a possible sinkhole after a 4-metre cavity appeared on a runway at an airport in Kent being used as a makeshift lorry park.
Reports emerged on New Year’s Eve suggesting that the hole may have been caused by water erosion, but a director of the company that owns Manston airport, in Thanet, said he believed the hole is man-made.
Tony Freudmann, from owners RiverOak Strategic Partners, who visited the site on Friday, told Kent Online: “I think it has been dug out for some reason in the past and then been capped. Contrary to some reports, it is not on the main runway of the airport, but is on an old taxi runway adjacent.”
He estimated the hole, which reportedly first appeared on Boxing Day, to be about 1.5m wide and up to 3.7m deep. “I’m sure any restoration will be done in close collaboration with the Environment Agency because it is known there is a water aquifer under the runway nearby,” he added.
Officials from the Environment Agency and Kent county council have been on site to assess the cause of the hole and whether it has caused any damage. It has reduced the capacity of the holding area by 50 HGV spaces.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Once we became aware of the issue at Manston we acted quickly to ensure the specific area was safely cordoned off, allowing the rest of the airfield to remain in use.”
Drivers who arrive in Dover or Folkestone without proof of a Covid test are being sent back to the airport to get one by police manning the entrance to the port after France decreed emergency measures due to fears over the variant first identified in the UK.
At one point the runway was accommodating nearly 4,000 vehicles – meaning it was under significant and possibly unprecedented strain from the sheer weight of the trucks. However, the park is now reported to be relatively empty.
“There are no lorries left here from before Christmas and very few arriving for tests or checks,” Freudmann said. “I’m told this is because firms stocked up well in advance and it is expected to remain quiet for the next few days at least.”
One driver who arrived on New Year’s Day looked dejected after being told his test was too old and he would have to return to the airport 18 miles away. “Sorry, test is 24 December, new test. New test. Manston,” instructed the police officer in broken English.
It comes as local fury erupted in Dover after plans for a lorry park to hold up to 1,200 were confirmed in a letter to residents on New Year’s Eve.
The transport minister, Rachel Maclean, told them that the site would create local jobs but residents say they have had no consultation about proposals for the site to be built 25 metres – less than the length of two lorry trailers – from their front doors.
Kent county council has been contacted for comment.