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£10 million spent as part of infrastructure plan for Hoo Peninsula development despite no work taking place

A council has already spent £10 million from a £170 million pot set aside for a controversial infrastructure development, despite no work actually starting.

It comes as plans to start a consultation next week on Medway Council's Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) project for the Hoo Peninsula were turned down by councillors.

An aerial view of Hoo village. Picture: Medway Council
An aerial view of Hoo village. Picture: Medway Council

They questioned whether the authority will be able to meet its 2025 deadline and the costings involved.

Janet Davies, head of HIF delivery and regeneration, said the money has been spent on two major consultations, due diligence work, and preparing the different phases of work.

She said she believed this had been "money well spent" and would deliver "certainty" on the council's plans.

This is despite councillors repeatedly saying they were not certain on what had been presented to them so far.

Eight members of the authority's ruling Conservative Group called in a decision to start a seven-week long survey on the plans, which had already been given the go-ahead by cabinet members.

The group were concerned about the way some of the new roads, parks, and the planned railway station at Sharnal Street had been costed, saying they were worried about the project's affordability and a funding gap of over £75 million.

The call in took place during a meeting of the regeneration, culture and environment overview an scrutiny committee on Thursday (Thursday, August 11) and lasted almost three hours.

Councillors settled on referring the matter of whether a consultation should go ahead to full council, the next meeting of which is due to take place on Thursday, October 6.

The consultation was due to begin today.

Cllr Elizabeth Turpin (Con), who led the call in, said: "The consultation document reads a bit like a book of promises, but the funding is very uncertain and it has been explained to us that the funding will come many years down the line.

"For the people of the Hoo Peninsula to have some certainty on what can be delivered, we have to have done some costings that are correct..."

"Having funds 'to be identified' as only £75 million is not true as not all costs have been identified."

She also said she was uncertain about how much the project would rely on developer's contributions, adding how waiting for these funds to come forward in order to complete the works on the new railway service - which will connect the Peninsula with Gravesend - could see it sitting empty for many years.

The Strood Rural councillor added whilst she agreed some plans needed to be agreed on at a later date, she couldn't support the consultation commencing.

She explained: "I would like this to go out for consultation but it has to be correct.

"For the people of the Hoo Peninsula to have some certainty on what can be delivered, we have to have done some costings that are correct, otherwise there's no point in that consultation taking place."

Cllr Simon Curry (Lab) said he couldn't be certain the authority could meet its deadline with Homes England to have the infrastructure in place by March 2025.

He said as the planning applications for the road and rail scheme are due to be submitted in February and March next year, and given the timing of the election in May and how long it would take for the plans to be determined and then tendered to contractors, it could prove difficult to meet the target.

The council's deputy chief executive Richard Hicks apologised to councillors and the leader of the council for the issues which were contained in the Medway Infrastructure Delivery Plan before saying he felt more work needed to be done to clarify the information for councillors.

He explained it was not unusual for councils delivering similar plans to have large amounts of funding with sources that had not yet been identified, and this is permitted by national planning policies.

An artist's impression of the new station proposed for the Hoo Peninsula
An artist's impression of the new station proposed for the Hoo Peninsula

He explained: "It is virtually impossible to finalise, quantify, and secure funding for such a long time frame so far in advance.

"With or without HIF, our housing target is 30,000 homes and some form of development on the Hoo Peninsula in my mind is inevitable, and indeed, we know developers are already wanting to bring forward proposals on the Peninsula.

"HIF means more community facilities are available to support that growth."

Officers also explained there would initially be a two-carriage train which could carry 120 passengers to and from Gravesend on an hourly basis. This could expand to four carriages once the infrastructure is in place to support it.

Officers repeatedly explained the difficulty the authority has in developing their HIF plans whilst there is no Local Plan in place.

Head of planning Dave Harris said developers have been "holding back" on submitting applications for developments on the Peninsula, but he expected them to go ahead with their plans before a Local Plan is adopted.

He also said work is almost complete on a Hoo-specific transport assessment which would work out the capacity of the roads with and without the changes proposed in the HIF project.

He added: "I think we are ready based on what we have got now and the work we have done to go out to the consultation, I think this is the right time for that."

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