Additional reporting by Matt Leclere
Ambitious "early stage" plans to transform a dockside industrial estate have been proposed with developers flagging the site as a potential location for a new hospital.
A development of up to 3,625 homes and commercial space could feature on the land at Chatham Docks if efforts by landowners Peel L&P to close them by 2025 are successful.
Those from the company said the redevelopment could meet 13% of the Medway Towns' housing requirement if it goes ahead.
Their decision is based on the costs required to refurbish the Dock's freight lock gates, which could be as much as £30 million, and labelled "financially not viable".
A spokesman for opponents Save Chatham Docks say that figure is "not credible" and based on a one-hour meeting with a consultant, according to a letter released under a Freedom of Information request by the campaign group.
The businesses' own analysis carried out by consultants found it was cost less than half that amount at £12.2m while immediate repairs to bring the gates back up to standard closer to between £8m and £9m.
Unveiling the plans this morning (Wednesday), Bill Davidson, managing director of P4 Planning, which is working with the landowners on the Chatham Docks project, said the scheme could accommodate "in the order of a million square feet of commercial space".
He said this would "help Medway meet its strategic objectives and also can be targeted towards growth sectors such as creative, digital media, and health sectors, helping Medway hopefully become a waterfront learning city".
He added the site could provide around 2,000 jobs depending on what sectors choose to locate there.
The Peel Group was behind the transformation of Salford Quays when it became MediaCityUK, which includes bases for ITV Studios and the BBC.
Asked whether any partners had been lined up to take up the site, bosses said no agreements were in place but said there needed to be a site proposed with plans on the table.
"The BBC would not have come to Salford if we had not got an outline planning permission," said James Whittaker, executive director of development at Peel L&P.
"In order to sell a site to a large occupier you've got to make sure you can show delivery but at the moment we can't because there's no allocation.
"Answering who potentially might go there, we don't know because we haven't secured allocation to go out to the market and find who would have a large requirement.
"We have a mantra that if you build it, they will come."
Mr Whittaker added: "We have distinctly said that we will carry on with the port operation until 2025, beyond then, we'll have to look at alternative uses.
"We have obviously got a huge amount of track record in terms of the creative and digital industries.
"There's health as well; there's talk of potentially a new hospital, just an example that if we get an allocation, this could be a suitable site for a hospital."
Addressing points about job creations and the company's track record at Chatham Waters where it says 750 full-time jobs have been created, Mr Whittaker said some 200 people are employed at Asda with about 50 at Marston's pub Mast and Rigging.
Numbers provided to KentOnline by Waterfront University Technical College (UTC) confirmed there are 25 full-time staff employed but Mr Whittaker disputed those numbers saying that did not match their figures.
Retail units set to open in buildings completed along the waterfront in the last 12 months at Chatham Waters would also be providing further jobs, Mr Whittaker said but did not provide total figures.
He added: "When you look at the formula for one million sq ft employment space (at a redeveloped Chatham Docks), the minimum that would provide is 2,000."
Public transport upgrades, by bringing back use of the railway line to the docks from Gillingham station, had been dismissed.
Mr Whittaker said this would instead be used as a green cycle and pedestrian route linking the station with other walkways and riverside routes from Gillingham Pier to St Mary's Island.
He added the bus service would be the main public transport access for the development but would see 5,000 HGV movements taken off the road.
In terms of improving the environment and quality of living, Mr Whittaker said his company had received "regular complaints" from residents from St Mary's Island and at the apartments at Gillingham Pier due to the level of noise the site currently generates.
He said: "This port is 24/7 and when the tide is high at 3am, a ship is going to come in and it's going to load and offload and clearly, with steel manufacturing, there's a lot of noise and dust that's created from that and that's why we get complaints."
Medway Council's draft Local Plan, which was published last month, indicated the authority's wish to re-designate the land from employment to mixed-use.
The plan is still being worked on after a decision was made not to go ahead with a vote among councillors to begin the plans' public consultation process.
Mr Davidson said: "It's the Local Plan process which is the right forum we think for a balanced debate about the pros and cons for allocating this site for a mixed-use development."
He went on to say there was "no funding available" to replace the lockgates, and explained how work is being done with the 22 tenants based at the Docks to look at relocation.
Medway Council has written to tenants offering them support packages worth up to £500,000 and to suggest moving options.
Mr Whittaker said the authority had been asked to help with the re-location, putting forward sites under their ownership – including landlocked Rochester Airport and the as-yet undeveloped former Kingsnorth power station on the Isle of Grain.
He also said they had been working with Locate in Kent, which provides support to businesses looking to move to the county, saying how the company had written to every single port owner in the south east with one so far coming back to advance discussions about tenants moving elsewhere.
A spokesman for the Save Chatham Docks campaign described the masterplan coming forward as "fantasy" and "meaningless" as the proposals for change of use of the site in the Local Plan had failed to win backing from councillors so far.
They added businesses had received "no communication" about official offers of relocating to other sites.
"It's about Peel making a huge land sale. They won't build it, it will be housebuilders.
"The only people who get rich out of this is Peel and frankly to the detriment of everyone else."
The development of the Docks leads on from Peel L&P's transformation of the neighbouring Chatham Waters site which includes Waterfront UTC, Asda, the Mast and Rigging pub, and a total of 950 homes which will eventually come forward.
The company says that a further £350 million is to be invested on the Chatham Waters site over the next four years, "specifically on green community areas and an events zone."
The masterplan for Chatham Docks is due to be consulted on at a later date.