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Cllr Jane Chitty refuses to resign over Medway's Local Plan controversy

A cabinet member has fought off calls to quit over the handling of Medway's draft Local Plan.

Councillors had their chance to grill Cllr Jane Chitty (Con) after the blueprint was dropped from the full council agenda two weeks ago.

Cllr Jane Chitty
Cllr Jane Chitty

This was after it emerged the leadership might lack the votes required to reach the public consultation stage – and bosses decided more documents were required before the plan could be presented.

The draft Local Plan sets out sites for future development including new housing and opportunities for employment; it will form the blueprint on how the authority will try accommodate a target for 26,962 new homes up to 2037.

It was published the week before and left campaigners worried and angry about the future of Chatham Docks – which had been earmarked in the plan for a development of 3,625 new homes – and the Hoo Peninsula which could see thousands more.

Cllr Chitty, who oversees the Local Plan process in her role as portfolio holder for planning, economic growth and regulation, faced tense questions during a meeting of the regeneration, culture and environment overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday night.

Committee members repeatedly asked whether she had considered her position due to recent events.

Chatham Docks map
Chatham Docks map
Chatham Docks
Chatham Docks

She said: "I always consider my position, and my position is first and foremost that being responsible for one of the most technical and challenging pieces of work that affects people right across Medway, I certainly feel I have the necessary experience to take that forward.

"I consider my position every time I am involved in discussions in relation to the Local Plan, but certainly, I have always been adamant that I will see this through."

Councillors repeatedly asked Cllr Chitty to identify which documents related to the plan were not ready yet, to give a time frame for their delivery, and explain why the plan was presented to councillors in an incomplete fashion.

She said: "I believe all the documentation that is required and that is standing at this moment in time actually fulfils the requirement of the Local Plan to go out to consultation."

Council head of planning Dave Harris said two documents – a sustainability appraisal for environmental concerns and an assessment on wildlife habitats – would be ready next month.

Cllr Rupert Turpin
Cllr Rupert Turpin

There was also a heated argument over the potential land designation of Chatham Docks – landowners Peel L&P has already said it wishes to close the port when leases for the businesses there expire in 2025, which campaigners say could result in hundreds of job losses.

Cllr Chitty said: "We do not have the ability to purchase Chatham Docks and to alter Peel Ports' intention of closing the docks...they are going to do it, they've been very, very clear.

"It is quite wrong, I think, to try and make it the responsibility of this authority, it isn't.

"Now, if you'd like to tell me what you would like us to do to prevent that decision. I will be more than happy to take that into account.

"You tell me how we can interfere with a commercial company."

Cllr Simon Curry
Cllr Simon Curry

Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), who was sacked from his cabinet position after he voiced his concerns over the plan, said there was a very strong legal argument of in favour of council leaving the land designation as employment land in order to ensure its future.

He said: "What they [Peel] are desperately asking us to do is to change the designation to mixed use, that's what they want.

"If we don't do that – and that is within our power – and we say it should remain employment land, which it has been for 400 years, that's what we should do.

"We should not give the keys to that to Peel, because if we designate it as mixed use that will strengthen Peel's hand and we've got legal advice to say that is the case."

Cllr Chitty affirmed the site had not changed from employment land but councillors were left confused as the draft plan showed it could be allocated for employment and residential.

Head of planning Dave Harris
Head of planning Dave Harris

Mr Harris said the site allocation would not be the absolute consideration in any court challenge which may arise in response to the business's leases expiring.

He said: "The legal advice is that the allocation in an adopted Local Plan would be a consideration in whether a lease could be renewed or not.

"Moving forward, it's a possibility that in terms of meeting our needs, the site could be allocated for a mixed use of employment and residential."

Addressing Cllr Chitty, Cllr Simon Curry (Lab) said: "This was a decision made by yourself, and by the leadership of this council, to put a pre-consultation draft into the public realm with a re-designation of the docks for other uses other than the employment.

"That's what we saw, that's what we understood, that's what the public have understood, and now you're trying to cover it with some bluster that is really quite embarrassing to watch."

Committee chairman Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con), who concluded there were as many as five documents missing from the initial publication of draft Local Plan, called time on the debate after becoming frustrated with Cllr Chitty's responses to councillors' questions.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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