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Chatham Docks campaigners urged to be open minded about homes plan by Peel L&P

The man fronting multi-million pound plans to transform a dockside industrial estate has urged his critics to "listen to the facts".

Peel L&P wants to build 3,625 homes at Chatham Docks over the next few decades but it has faced opposition from politicians and some residents.

Chatham Docks
Chatham Docks

A number of potential commercial and social uses for the site have been suggested, including space for a hospital and creative industries.

A public exhibition of Peel's initial plans took place on Wednesday and another will be held next week.

This will add to the ongoing development at Chatham Waters, which is also being headed up by the company.

This includes 400 apartments, Asda, the Waterfront UTC school and the Mast and Rigging pub.

A further 550 homes, a care home and an events venue are also due to be built.

Apartments at Chatham Waters
Apartments at Chatham Waters

Currently, one of the dock's lock gates is four weeks away from being repaired.

Ships cannot come in and out of the basin because damage was caused by a vessel which hit it as it was coming in to offload timber in March.

The reason Peel L&P – which was also behind the regeneration of Salford Quays into what is now Media City – wants to close the docks is because it says £30 million is needed to replace the gates and this is not financially viable.

The leases for the majority of the businesses expire in 2025 which is when the company wants to close the site.

But key to it being able to do this is the land designation afforded by Medway's emerging Local Plan.

Peel L&P executive director of development, James Whittaker
Peel L&P executive director of development, James Whittaker

The long-delayed document, which is being put together by the council, will set out future sites for housing and employment up to 2037.

Currently the land is designated as employment only, but draft documents published by the authority last September demonstrated the council's wish to re-allocate the land to a mixed use of employment and housing which stoked criticism from residents and politicians alike.

The documents were released ahead of a vote on whether to begin its public consultation process and questions remain over when it will be completed.

Peel L&P executive director of development, James Whittaker, said: "We have made representations that this land will become available after 2025 when those leases expire.

"Hopefully once that is secured as an allocation, once we've delivered the remaining sites on Chatham Waters – which is probably going to take us three to four years – we can then move on with other plans on the remaining sites.

The entrance to Chatham Docks
The entrance to Chatham Docks

"The 3,625 homes is likely to take 20 to 30 years. It's a real long-term process."

Asked what he thinks of politicians lodging criticism against the plans – including local councillors and MP Kelly Tolhurst – he said: "Some have pushed back and my view is, listen to the facts.

"If they can answer the lock gate issue, then that's brilliant, but listen to the benefits of what this is going to bring. We're going to create more jobs, a better environment, and much more homes for everyone."

Two businesses have already relocated elsewhere with Mr Whittaker adding talks are currently under way to relocate steel company Hy-Ten to Sheerness Docks.

There has been a dispute over how many jobs could stand to be lost with campaigners saying there are 800 jobs on site, but Peel has said its research shows there are currently between 350 and 370.

Apartments at Chatham Waters
Apartments at Chatham Waters

He added: "Some occupiers just don't want to listen to us and we can't force them to relocate.

"Other locations have been found for other occupiers, Thamesport for example and Kingsnorth could be another opportunity.

"Hopefully over the next two to three years we will see a lot of them move and relocate to suitable sites."

Multi-million pound plans to revamp disused railway line also showcased

The exhibition also showcased joint plans between Peel L&P and Medway Council to bid for £20 million in government funding for a new walkway connecting Chatham Waters and Gillingham using a disused railway line.

If the bid is successful the project – called Gillingham Open Lines – will see a 1.4km pedestrian and cycle path, or 'greenway', open up.

An artist's impression of how part of the pedestrian and cycle way towards Gillingham town centre could look. Picture: Medway Council
An artist's impression of how part of the pedestrian and cycle way towards Gillingham town centre could look. Picture: Medway Council

It is hoped the money could also go towards improving the High Street by providing planting, street furniture, play areas and better cycle access.

Rosebery Road resident Miss Lee, who went to the exhibition, welcomed the plans.

She said: "It's opposite where I live. The view out of my window is the railway.

"That view is unkempt, it's quite dreary. It really brings the road down and you can see its been left unkempt.

"Of course, once it's been approved I'll be more interested in the detail but right now, I just want to see it get approved.

Cllr Stuart Tranter
Cllr Stuart Tranter

"I travel into London for work and the road I walk along, Kingswood Road, gets really dark the closer you get to my road.

"It's poorly lit, there's a lot of dog mess on the pavement. With this corridor, I would feel safer walking along this road."

Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con) was less welcoming of the plans.

The Rochester West representative, who wants to see the docks kept open, said: "Clearly I support the concept of the Levelling Up Fund and I hope it is going to support the centre of Gillingham.

"What I question is whether or not this is the most appropriate use of funding and connecting the right two places.

Map showing where Chatham Docks is
Map showing where Chatham Docks is

"In my view, the council is just following the call of the developer rather than necessarily looking more widely at the areas that do need connecting such as places of employment and town centres.

"I totally support, of course, any investment which will help Gillingham and its High Street, but it is fanciful contrived nonsense to think the walking and cycle route down to the Chatham Docks area is the most important priority and would make any significant difference to Gillingham High Street any time in the foreseeable future, if ever.

"The High Street may not survive the delay anyway."

Another exhibition will be held on Wednesday at Unit 4, ground floor of The Kell Waterside apartments – opposite the Waterfront UTC – between 11am and 6pm.

'Work with me to reduce £11.5k service charge', says company executive.

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

Kelly Tolhurst criticised Peel L&P for charging the Waterfront UTC school an £11,500-a-year service charge but the company's chief executive said talks are under way to change this.

The Howard Academy Trust, which runs the school, confirmed it is currently working with the firm to either remove or reduce the fee which it pays for the upkeep of the public space on the site.

Ms Tolhurst said: "My view on it was that actually they are using the UTC as a selling point for their development; it features in all of their promotional and marketing literature that Peel use for the site, however, they are not contributing anything to the school.

"In actual fact, they are taking money away from them, really.

"I think it would be in Peel's interest to support the school, not compound some of the financial issues that they have."

Kelly Tolhurst represents Rochester and Strood
Kelly Tolhurst represents Rochester and Strood

Mr Whittaker said he had recently joined the school as a governor and conversations are ongoing about how to reduce the fees the school pays.

He said it was not the only tenant which puts towards the service charge, and residents also pay it.

He added: "Everyone from the estate contributes in terms of the repair, maintenance and cleaning of the whole estate.

"When we sold the site to the Department for Education, they agreed in the contract that they would contribute towards a service estate charge. I have agreed to join as a governor to look at reducing that for them.

"The landscaping and litter picking costs about £20,000 a year. One idea which we put to them was if they can bring a subcontractor who can keep the quality as it is but reduce that cost, we can work with you in terms of giving you that saving."

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