Published: 15:28, 02 June 2021
| Updated: 15:37, 02 June 2021
A community development forum has reached an exciting milestone after it was awarded £50,000 to shape the future of a disused superstore.
The Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum (ACNF) - which is currently working on a neighbourhood plan which will inform future development of the area either side of Luton Arches - has been given the money from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The funds will help the group to develop a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO) for the former Go Outdoors building in The Brook, which closed in August last year.
The news means ACNF can continue to work towards its goal of ensuring any future development sees input from the community.
The group is currently in the process of going over the comments it received during a 10-week consultation into the Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Plan, which closed earlier last month.
The draft plan covers an area which extends from The Brook in the north, taking in the the whole area of Luton, and ending at Shipwrights Avenue. It included preliminary ideas about how they would like to convert the Go Outdoors building into homes and commercial space.
ACNF secretary Jackson Fraser-Hague says the Market Hall site - which includes the former camping gear store and its adjoining car park - is very important for the future of Medway.
He said: "We were embarking on this journey to write a neighbourhood plan and as the months and years went on, and of course with Covid and the collapse of the High Street, a number of sites became available which were really important for Chatham and Medway's future."
Mr Fraser-Hague added how the group's preliminary ideas surround creating "new sustainable homes for a wide cross-section of the community" which includes making the area more pedestrian friendly, ensuring the development engages with the local workforce as well as creating jobs and opportunities.
It is for this reason the group says the process of developing the site may take longer than normal, with the consultation alone expecting to take a year.
Neighbourhood planning consultants Create Streets have been appointed to help carry out the NDO.
Mr Fraser-Hague added: "It's a really exciting opportunity for us to bring Medway together, and looking at Chatham as the sort of city centre, to really develop something - I know it sounds sort of cliché - by the people, for the people.
"The really important thing is we want to know what people think, and not necessarily just the people who live within the neighbourhood plan area because ultimately it will serve a much wider audience than that.
"As we have seen with the neighbourhood development plan process, people are generally talking very positively and constructively.
"It's us doing it to ourselves, rather than having it done to us."
ACNF committee member Stephen Perez said: "There's a conscience effort on our behalf to make sure whatever we propose can be delivered."
Members are currently looking at options on how they will acquire the building, which is freehold owned by Medway Council.
The group says a separate stage of consultation, which will include activities and workshops, will be undertaken in the coming months.
A Neighbourhood Development Order was one of a raft of provisions for neighbourhood planning introduced in 2011 by the Localism Act.
It can be used to grant planning permission for specific types of development; they can be used to bring forward the type of development a community wants to see in their neighbourhood.
They can be utilised by town or parish councils, or a designated neighbourhood forum to permit changes to building or engineering operations, as well as material changes to a building.