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Machine Shop No.8, Chatham Maritime, to be used as a drive-in cinema and market in early 2021


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The towering shell of an historic building in Medway could be used as a drive-in cinema and market space in the new year.

The Grade II-listed Machine Shop 8 near the Chatham Dockside Outlet was bought by retail management firm WD Ltd in 2017, which gained planning permission to convert it into a 30,000 sq ft complex which would include a climbing wall and activity centre.

The space could hold up to 60 cars
The space could hold up to 60 cars

But the project has yet to be started and the shell of the building is still sat empty.

Now Anthony Sutton, centre manager for the Dockside Outlet, which is also run by WD Ltd, has applied for a premises licence to make use of the space in different ways over the coming months.

His vision is to offer drive-in cinema and theatre events and, perhaps, even an open-air market when Covid-19 tier restriction are reduced.

Mr Sutton, who is also a trustee for Chatham Maritime Trust, said the plan was still to eventually go ahead with the activity centre plan - but the pandemic had gotten in the way of development.

He said: "We don't perceive getting it off the ground for six to 12 months depending on how Covid and social distancing goes.

Anthony Sutton hopes events taking place at the machine shop could bring the community together during the ongoing pandemic
Anthony Sutton hopes events taking place at the machine shop could bring the community together during the ongoing pandemic

"Rather than the machine shop sit there like it has for many years doing nothing, can we do something that actually enhances the environment and the community?

"We're fully aware we've got residents on different sides and we understand reservations and concerns anyone might have - we're not looking to create noise pollution or cause noise problems, we're looking to add to the environment and wherever possible use technology to make it a unique experience."

The long-term plans for the building include a new frame around the existing one and then cladding the entire structure.

But in the short term, Mr Sutton believes its current form would be ideal for communal screenings and performances which would be required to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

He said: "Where people would be driving in there's no need to change the structure. We'd put stewards in place and show people where to park.

The structure sits behind the Dockside Outlet
The structure sits behind the Dockside Outlet

"Using the technology we'd run the sound into people's cars - you're not hearing loud bangs, crashes and wallops, which is something we've got no interest in doing."

The Dockside centre manager said up to 60 cars could fit inside.

The licence applied for would grant operating hours between 10am and 10pm but Mr Sutton said events would likely end around 9.30pm at the latest and would likely be on an infrequent basis.

He added: "We've got no intention to be detrimental to Chatham Maritime, more being complimentary to do it, and again giving people something to do.

"Everyone's had a very hard year this year. If we could have set up quick enough we would've loved to have done a week's worth of drive-in pantos."

The area has been redeveloped over the past few years to include restaurants and pubs alongside the outlet
The area has been redeveloped over the past few years to include restaurants and pubs alongside the outlet

If the application is agreed, Mr Sutton hopes to put the first event on in the new year.

The consultation end date for the premises licence is December 28, giving those who wish to an opportunity to query the plans with Medway and Gravesham Council Licensing Partnership.

Although the application licence includes the ability to sell alcohol on and off the premises, Mr Sutton said there were no plans to use the open-air structure as a bar or pub.

But he would not confirm whether plans to open a jazz club at the Dockside Outlet Centre would still be going ahead, based on an application submitted in February 2019.

What is the machine shop?

The structure has a lengthy history
The structure has a lengthy history

The steely structure was first erected in Woolwich in the mid-1800s as a dry dock cover by Fox Henderson & Co, a renowned company of engineers which built the ironwork for The Crystal Palace for The 1851 Great Exhibition.

They were also contracted to help construct the Rochester Bridge in 1850.

A dry dock cover is essential in the construction and maintenance of large ships, to keep them out of the elements as they are being worked on.

Dry docks house huge ships as they are being built, then are filled with water so the vessel can be propelled into the water.

The historic building in Chatham is believed to be the earliest surviving of its kind in existence.

The structure has been empty since the 1970s
The structure has been empty since the 1970s

When Woolwich dockyard was closed in 1869, the building was deconstructed and rebuilt in Chatham, where it now stands, and used as a machine shop by the Royal Navy.

A machine shop would have been a place where repairs were made to equipment in service by the Royal Navy.

But since the mid-1970s the structure has sat unused, following the Navy leaving Medway.

Read more: All the latest news for Medway

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