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Councillor claims wish to "cleanse" Deangate Ridge Golf Course of rare species was a joke

By Chris Hunter

A councillor is facing calls to resign after stating he hoped a golf course and controversial development site had been "cleansed" of rare species.

With Medway Council set to meet this week to discuss plans to close and develop Deangate Ridge Golf Course, temperatures were already running high among protesters hoping to save the site in Duxcourt Road, Hoo - and they were sent even higher by "inexcusable" comments from Cllr Barry Kemp.

Writing to Bob Dimond, head of sport leisure, heritage, and tourism; Cllr Kemp signed off an en email discussing alternative golf courses, by stating "Deangate Ridge has, I hope, be (sic) cleansed of rare birds and exotic grasses."

Cllr Barry Kemp
Cllr Barry Kemp

But while Cllr Kemp intended the email for Mr Dimond, he accidentally sent it to Geoff Westlake, Seniors Captain at Deangate Ridge - an opponent of development plans - and when the comment became public it sparked outrage among fellow supporters of the course.

George Crozer, chairman of High Halstow Parish Council, believes Cllr Kemp should resign over the comment and has written to Alan Jarrett, complaining about the email and asking for him to make a public statement on the matter.

"At the very least it’s bad form, especially with the feeling around at the moment," he said. "But I think it's just the tip of the iceberg."

“I’m actually astounded he’s not tendered his resignation this morning," added supporter Joanne Shorter. "If the cabinet refuse his resignation it’s up to them. Based on what I've seen, regardless of who the email is for you don't make light of the concerns of the constituents you work for."

"It’s just not acceptable."

Many fear the comment reveals a genuine intent to rid the site of protected flora and fauna - concerns which were first raised when tractors and other landscaping vehicles were used to destroy the natural woodland in January.

The golf course was churned up during 'seasonal maintenance' in January. Picture Tony Broad.
The golf course was churned up during 'seasonal maintenance' in January. Picture Tony Broad.

The work was called seasonal maintenance, but some believed it was done to pave the way for a planning application after a £35 million bid for the site.

Cllr Kemp meanwhile insisted his statement about "cleansing" the course of rare species was simply a joke - and that the debate was a "storm in a teacup."

"That was a throwaway jokey remark," he said. "It doesn’t replicate my views," although he admitted it was a "poor choice of words."

But he added: "As a golfer it’s an awful course, it really is.

"It's been losing a quarter of a million per year for umpteen years . The footfall is not as great as in other places.

"I’m a golfer and I’m sad to see the course close but the golf course is not a good course. It’s lovely on a nice summer’s day with the sun on your back, but it’s waterlogged in winter.

"Whatever happens to Deangate Ridge it’s got to go through the planning process which I have no involvement in because I’m not on the planning committee."

As of Mr Westlake, who had made his comments public, Cllr Kemp added: "I didn’t realise it was CC’d to Mr Westlake. I’m not particularly well up on these things.

"I’ve played golf against him in the past - I know him. We were in the cinema once and he stumbled while walking down the stairs. I went to his aid."

A keen golfer, Cllr Kemp's biography on the Medway Conservative Group website states Barry can often be "found amongst the flora and fauna on the River Valley Golf Course in Upchurch. Although Barry enjoys playing golf he agrees that you only start to enjoy golf when you realise that you are never really going to be any good at it."

Whether his efforts to chip accusations of improper comment into the long grass are any better than his golfing skills - Mr Westlake beat him admits Cllr Kemp - remains to be seen.

Medway Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett, for one, didn't think his emailed comment amounted to a very good joke.

"We all have our little jokes at time but unfortunately sometimes you shouldn’t joke," he said. "I just think it was made tongue in cheek and it was unfortunate.

"There couldn't have been a worse word but there you are. It's the sort of tongue in cheek thing he might say among friends."

He said he had discussed the matter with Cllr Kemp and referred a complaint from the public to the council's monitoring officer.

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