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Chatham Docks: Business campus plans submitted but battle for docks far from over, campaigners warn

Controversial plans to regenerate a working dockside industrial estate into a business and enterprise campus have been submitted – but opponents say they're "not going away".

Peel Waters, part of the Peel Group, have outlined a blueprint to transform Chatham Docks on the Medway waterfront.

An illustrative view of what Basin 3 at Chatham Docks could look like if given the green light. Photo: Peel Waters
An illustrative view of what Basin 3 at Chatham Docks could look like if given the green light. Photo: Peel Waters

If successful, the plans will see the demolition of the existing warehouses and the construction of a set of 19 business units of various sizes, as well as a promenade and walking and cycle routes with green spaces.

Peel say the development will create a "sustainable, versatile, and scalable" waterfront space which actively promotes job creation in creative, manufacturing and technology, life sciences, and IT and digital sectors.

It will also provide dedicated spaces for smaller independent businesses.

But campaigners who want to see the docks retained as a working port say they’re not giving up the fight.

The development has faced considerable opposition from businesses on the industrial estate and the Save Chatham Docks campaign which has been supported by Medway Council leader Vince Maple (Lab).

Map showing where Chatham Docks is
Map showing where Chatham Docks is

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst (Con) has also backed the campaign and has called on the council to reject the new application.

In December, Cllr Maple said he wanted to get all concerned parties into a room to discuss possible compromises.

A meeting is set to take place today (January 23) between the council leader, Peel Waters’ executive director James Whittaker, and representatives from the remaining business on the site that has not agreed relocation, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire.

Mr Whittaker said that Peel had worked with other businesses to find suitable places to move to before their lease concludes at the end of 2025 and that only ArcelorMittal Kent Wire was holding out.

He said: “This is just one tenant who wants to remain on-site. We’ve shown them relocation opportunities to remain in Medway or as close by.

“At the end of the day, they have a lease that expires at the end of next year. If they don’t want to work with us, that’s their choice.

Chatham Docks and Chatham Waters which are subject to plans for redevelopment by Peel L&P. Picture: Phil Drew
Chatham Docks and Chatham Waters which are subject to plans for redevelopment by Peel L&P. Picture: Phil Drew

“What we’re trying to say to every occupier is let’s find relocation opportunities so we don’t lose the jobs.

“Let’s look at regenerating the site, let’s use it for better, let’s create more jobs on that land, and let’s work with as many of them as possible."

But despite these ongoing issues the developers remain confident of securing a positive out.

“In our meeting with Vince and ArcelorMittal, hopefully we can work through this," added Mr Whittaker. "Let’s hope it is productive, it’s right to discuss rather than not speak to them or shut the door on them.

“I think Vince is right to engage with both sides, trying to find some medium ground if there is any, so let’s explore and see where it goes.”

The outline planning application sets out Peel’s ambitions for the around 31,000 square metre brownfield site which they hope will attract new businesses, encourage job creation and boost Medway’s economic growth.

In a statement, announcing the application submission, Mr Whittaker said: “We are confident that Basin3 will attract high-value jobs in target growth sectors including creative industries and advanced manufacturing, which is predicted to triple current job numbers on the site.

“The site we are promoting is currently brownfield land which presents a fantastic opportunity for sustainable regeneration, investment and development.

“Positioning this high-quality employment space adjacent to the cluster of universities and The Waterfront UTC, amplifies the potential to attract inward investment and encourages businesses to consider Medway as a key location for their growth whilst retaining local talent.”

But Phil Taylor, chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, called the application “disappointing” and said the redevelopment plans didn’t make economic sense.

He said: “From our point of view we’re very disappointed this has happened - not surprised, but at the same time disappointed.

“The crux of the matter is why would you contemplate destroying existing jobs for the promise of jobs in the future? It makes no economic sense.

Council leader Cllr Vince Maple
Council leader Cllr Vince Maple

“I’m going into our meeting with optimism but I’m not so sure where the common ground is. Both us and Peel are poles apart.

“Peel’s application for Basin3 is for employment, that’s fantastic, but employment of high value, high quality, well-paid skilled jobs already exists on that site, so why would you want to contemplate destroying those jobs for some promise of a future that is unlikely to be deliverable?

“Their claim that all tenant’s leases expire in 2025 is just not true. Our leases are protected under the Landlord and Tenant Act and therefore we have automatic right to renew our leases in 2025, which we fully intend to do.

He added: “The campaign to save Chatham Docks will remain, we’re not going away. The people of Medway are on our side.

“When we put forward our proposals for investment in the docks, more than 90% of people we contacted were in favour of keeping the docks. We will be objecting strongly to this application.

“The ideal outcome for us would be that Medway Council, as they always have done, look after existing employment and reject the application that Peel are making and support the existing high-quality jobs in Chatham Docks today.”

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has raised the issue of Chatham Docks in Parliament previously
Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has raised the issue of Chatham Docks in Parliament previously

Also voicing their opposition to the application was long-standing supporter of the Save Chatham Docks campaign, MP Kelly Tolhurst.

In response to the proposals, the former Tory minister said: “The plans that the Chatham Docks owners have put forward are disappointing, lack ambition for the economic growth of Medway, ignore the benefits and economic value of this regionally unique dock infrastructure which we have on the River Medway, along with its future opportunities and current demand for expansion of the existing activity creating further high quality, high value jobs at the Docks.

“Their plans would see the displacement of successful businesses, local people losing their jobs, with over 800 high-skilled jobs being lost at the site along with other jobs in the local supply chain."

Ms Tolhurst said the plans appeared to just further an ambition to deliver "short-term profit" for the owners.

She claimed it would just "ease their path to deliver on their ambition to build high-rise flats" while in the process "ripping up" an important part of the local economy and damaging future opportunities.

She added: “I now call on Medway Council to deliver on the commitments made by the Labour Group before the local elections last year, to protect Chatham Docks and the jobs of local people, by maintaining its designation as a commercial site in the Local plan."

If approved, work cannot begin on-site until 2026 at the earliest as the businesses currently occupying the industrial estate have leases which run until the end of next year.

Peel Waters estimate the value of the site after all work is done will be around £50 million and will transform the area.

The application is yet to be verified by Medway Council after which it will be open to public consideration and analysis by planning officers.

If enough objections are raised by the public it will likely be taken to a planning committee meeting for councillors to vote on.

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