A landmark shopping centre should be torn down to provide modern housing, according to an MP who says the building is a relic from a different time.
Kelly Tolhurst was speaking in a wide-ranging interview with KentOnline where she also slammed former Tory party colleagues who prevented her from playing a role in a £170m regeneration scheme.
The 1970s-built Pentagon belongs to a bygone age and needs demolishing, according to Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst.
The Tory, who is looking to defend the seat she won eight years ago in a likely 2024 election, says the Chatham centre is well past its best.
She wants it levelled to free up space for new housing which she feels will better suit current needs in the Towns.
And it will better fit-in with the existing council vision to regenerate the area with new apartments and public spaces.
She said: “At the time, the Pentagon was built as a great regeneration project. It replaced old tenement properties. In its heyday it was great, I used to go there every Saturday.”
But she says people's ways of shopping - now including online and out-of-town retail parks - had evolved in half a century and councillors and planners should be looking to move with the times.
“Let’s be realistic,” she said. “I think now the council has the freehold, it should take this opportunity. We still have a High Street [for shopping and leisure].
“I travel up and down the country and in places like Birmingham, everyone shares the same vision and that attracts investment. We need to make [Chatham] into a multi-use centre.”
Medway Council took over the Pentagon in February as part of a £34.8 million deal - believing it could benefit from an annual income of £1 million.
But the authority could earn more money by selling the land off to developers to build on, according to Ms Tolhurst.
The council’s Pentagon deal comes as part of an ongoing scheme to regenerate central Chatham and by 2035 make it Medway’s “waterfront city centre”.
Meanwhile, building work to convert long deserted office space in Mountbatten House, which is above the two-floor shopping centre, into flats is expected to go out to tender by the end of the year.
It’s been a difficult parliamentary term for Ms Tolhurst with chaos and resignation rife at the top of the Tory party at Westminster and exclusion from a major £170 million project in her constituency.
Medway Council’s failed bid to keep hold of the Homes England Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) cash and how she feels she was treated, still rankle.
Initially a supporter of the HIF bid to build infrastructure to allow for 12,000 homes on the Hoo Peninsula, she says she became disillusioned with the council’s handling of it.
And so did the government - earlier this year, it withdrew the cash after losing faith in the overall project being delivered as planned - leaving the Towns’ future housing plans in tatters.
Ms Tolhurst blames the authority for bidding unrealistically low, not having a clear plan and not consulting residents enough.
She says she twice asked as the local MP to be on the HIF board spearheading the bid - and twice she was refused.
It was no secret she and then council leader Alan Jarrett didn’t see eye-to-eye.
When she was asked to sign a final letter of support to Homes England, she declined, saying the bid wasn’t ambitious enough.
She said: “Why was it so low? It was never going to be enough to build a big road, a railway station. And I was proved right in the early days. The £65 million for the station was pulled.”
She cited nearby Ebbsfleet’s bid for £377 million for 9,000 homes as an example - “double the money for fewer homes”.
Miss Tolhurst resigned her position as a Medway councillor because of her promotion as a government minister and HIF information dried up.
She said: “Nothing was shared with me about it. I was not privy to behind-the-scenes conversations.
“And I was the MP representing this area, I was angry I felt it was short-sighted - after all we were all after getting the best interest of Medway and its residents.”
She felt the process became more “developer-led” rather than “planning-led” and it became apparent residents would be worse off with local needs not being considered.
She said: “One of the best things about Medway is that it’s half urban and half semi-rural.
“But this would have seen three villages (High Halstow, Chattenden and Hoo) merging into one big blob.”
Miss Tolhurst grew up in Upnor, the daughter of boat builder Morris Tolhurst - attending Chapter School and then running marine survey business Tolhurst Associates with her father.
The family moved to Borstal where she still lives and she says she went into politics because she wanted to “make an impact” on the area she loved.
She was invited to join the Conservative group on the council and when the sitting Tory MP Mark Reckless defected to UKIP in 2014, she was asked to stand to replace him in the constituency.
She said: “I never considered being an MP, I was quite happy in my little local ward. But everyone kept saying ‘go for it’.
“I was quite apprehensive at first. I was handed keys and a laptop and told to get to work. I have never wanted to be a minister or Prime Minister. It helped that I had run my own business. I can organise well and it kept me grounded.
“In the early days, we did not have such a big majority, so there were lots of late nights. It’s not always easy being an MP. Possibly the hardest thing is not always getting the right outcomes for people.
“At the end of the day, I’m not a decision-maker, I’m a representative. Even if I’m not an MP after the next election, this is my home. I will always have a vested interest here.”
Ms Tolhurst will go up against Labour’s Lauren Edwards at the election which is expected to be held next year, although it could be January 2025.