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Peel L&P says Chatham Docks homes plan has support of Medway residents – after asking 101 people

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The company behind multi-million pound plans to redevelop an industrial dockside says the proposals have been welcomed by business figures and the community.

Peel L&P wants to close Chatham Docks by 2025 to make way for 3,625 homes and commercial space.

An aerial view of Chatham Docks Picture by Phil Drew
An aerial view of Chatham Docks Picture by Phil Drew

Company bosses previously said the redevelopment could meet 13% of the Medway Towns' housing requirement if it goes ahead.

However, the plans have been condemned by some politicians and businesses located there, which fear hundreds of jobs could be lost.

Peel's decision to redevelop is based on the costs required to refurbish the docks' freight lock gates, which could be as much as £30 million.

Last week, the firm produced the results of a survey it carried out via phone interviews with 101 people from the community.

It says 77 of those were were supportive of the site's regeneration, with the plans also welcomed by Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.

Chatham Docks is set to close by 2025
Chatham Docks is set to close by 2025

Its president Richard Lavender said: “We believe this regeneration is exactly what Chatham needs and are supportive of Peel L&P’s vision and masterplan.

"The alternative to redevelopment of this location in Chatham is long-term deterioration of the site; we don’t want Chatham to be left behind, these plans provide an exciting future for the area, people and businesses alike."

Spencer Bennett, head of school at Waterfront UTC, said: "Working with local businesses to enhance the career opportunities for our students is a key driving force behind what Waterfront UTC is all about.

"We are all excited about the prospects of working with such a major company as Peel L&P and can't wait for what the future brings."

Peel L&P executive director of development, James Whittaker, said: “It is heartening to hear such support for our plans.

Waterfront University Technical College, Chatham Waters
Waterfront University Technical College, Chatham Waters

"There is a lot of mixed messaging in the public domain about what we are looking to achieve so it has been great to be able to talk people through the plans directly.

"We are keen to reassure the community that we are seeking to retain existing jobs at the industrial estate by sourcing suitable relocation sites and we will be creating a significant number of new jobs from the new proposed employment space, while improving the environment, creating better access to public transport, opening up the River Medway to cycling and pedestrians, providing new homes for all and increasing the leisure offer in Medway."

The company added it is working with the council and Locate in Kent to try and offer tenants alternative locations, including at the Port of Sheerness, which is operated by its sister company Peel Ports.

Last year, it was revealed companies had been sent letters from the council directing them to a support package of up to £500,000 if they chose to move.

Sites suggested by the council included MedwayOne – an industrial estate on the site of the former Kingsnorth Power Station – and Innovation Park Medway, the council's flagship business park at Rochester Airport, but campaigners criticised these for being inappropriate for their needs.

Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con)
Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con)

In January, council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con) told fellow councillors he could not see public support for keeping the docks open.

He said: “I get many many letters, including emails of course, on many subjects. I have not had one letter from any member of the public on the subject of Chatham Docks."

However, a Freedom of Information request carried out by the Local Democracy Reporting Service found between January 2019 and January 2022, Cllr Jarrett received five emails or letters which included the phrase, "Chatham Docks", although the context of these is unknown.

Politicians have questioned Peel L&P's latest research.

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst, who is opposed to the plans, said she was "surprised" by the research, adding how no one has been in touch with her to say they are in favour of developing the land.

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst
Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst

She said: "I dispute there is widespread support for this development. What we need is to keep good quality jobs, which we have at the docks.

"The docks are regionally significant because we don't have that kind of facility anywhere else.

"We need to keep that facility and make the most of it for local people, not for building flats that are going to be marketed in Hong Kong."

Last month, concerns were raised about properties in the neighbouring Chatham Waters developments being marketed 6,000 miles away by property consultants Savills.

However, X1Developments said 199 apartments will be for sale on the open market and will be occupied by UK residents.

Chatham Waters includes the UTC, apartments, a pub and an Asda
Chatham Waters includes the UTC, apartments, a pub and an Asda

Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con) was removed from the council's cabinet last year after he opposed Medway's draft Local Plan.

The documents published in September, which were then pulled ahead of a vote on whether to begin its public consultation process, indicated the authority's wish to re-designate the land at the docks from employment to mixed-use.

The Rochester South and Horsted representative said: "We need GPs, supermarkets and so on, but they (Peel L&P) won't be doing any heavy lifting in creating those, but they are moving people into the area. All I want is a resolution to this if there is a long-term future for these companies.

"The Local Plan needs to be holistically balanced; it doesn't make any sense to me to lose jobs in pursuit of houses.

"I want family-friendly houses and I don't think Medway should be a high-rise city."

Cllr Stuart Tranter
Cllr Stuart Tranter

Rochester ward councillor Stuart Tranter (Con) said: "It is staggering Peel can make these claims.

"A few years ago I too accepted on face value the commercial docks were not viable, but evidence now proves otherwise.

"When they launched their online campaign some months ago it was swamped with people criticising the plan."

All three politicians disputed Peel L&P's claims it has created 750 jobs at its Chatham Waters development.

It is a 26-acre site, which secured planning permission in 2011 for a mix of uses including 950 homes, 400,000sq ft of commercial space and 100,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space and an events space.

Asda at Gillingham Pier
Asda at Gillingham Pier

Phase one included the Asda superstore, Marston's pub and Waterfront UTC.

Peel L&P was asked for a breakdown of the 750 jobs created in phase one, which is as follows:

Some 400 jobs at Asda; 40 jobs at Waterfront UTC school; 21 at The Mast and Rigging pub; 96 full-time construction jobs; 200 within the supply chain

It also so estimates 100 jobs will be created once the retail units on the ground floor of Chatham Waters are created.

KentOnline and the Local Democracy Reporting Service have made repeated attempts to confirm the jobs figures with individual businesses.

The Mast and Rigging pub
The Mast and Rigging pub

The company says in excess of 2,000 new jobs will be created on the 90-acre Chatham Docks site should their plans get the go ahead.

During a media briefing late last year, company bosses flagged potential commercial uses for the site, which included a hospital, as well as the creative and digital industries.

The campaign group Save Chatham Docks have long claimed the development could see 800 jobs lost, but earlier this year Peel L&P said they believed staff numbers were between 350 and 370.

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