Published: 16:18, 15 November 2021
| Updated: 16:20, 15 November 2021
Millions of pounds are set to be invested in 'levelling up' projects in Chatham but opponents have accused the "pet projects" agreed of ignoring other towns.
But it has now emerged a bid from Medway Council to invest in parts of Gillingham was rejected by the government as part of a £14.5 million package of support for the Towns.
The council revealed plans for three schemes in Chatham which it says will restore "pride people feel in places they call home and protect culture and heritage".
The authority confirmed the three projects for "Medway's city centre" in Chatham will boost creative sectors and economic growth.
Two former dockyard buildings at the Chatham Historic Dockyard will be converted into creative workspace and studios while an extensive refurbishment project at The Brook Theatre will see it brought up to modern and digital standards.
The first of the dockyard projects is called The Docking Station which will see a partnership between the council, University of Kent and Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust convert the Grade-II listed scheduled monument and former police house into a creative facility and community cafe.
It will be home to the university's Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries and comprise of 780sq m of working space for graduates, shared workspace for academic and non-academic staff, artists and technology experts as well as teaching space and training, studio and performance spaces with an interactive gallery area.
The second is the refurbishment of the southern part of the The Fitted Rigging House.
This would see a 1,939sq m of commercial space for creative businesses which is said to build on the success of the transformation of the northern rigging house and the Joiners' Shop at the dockyard.
The council says these will be aimed for growing firms expanding from the Docking Station or the space being created at The Brook.
The theatre will be "comprehensively repaired, refurbished and upgraded to deliver a state-of-the-art, accessible, inclusive, digitally upgraded, and sustainable modern theatre", the council says.
It will also feature 400sq me of "digitally enhanced creative workspace" aiming to entice creative industries supported by programmes from the university's team.
Final proposals for all three projects will now be drawn up between the three organisations.
"This gives us the crucial boost we need to get started on a state-of-the-art home for cultural and creative industries skills development for Medway"
Council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett said: "These important and innovative projects at The Docking Station, The Brook Theatre and The Fitting Rigging House will help build skills and growth for the future. The funding further supports the establishment of Chatham as our city centre.
"They will also have a visible impact on Medway’s cultural and heritage infrastructure and creative industries sectors, supporting Medway’s cultural strategy, delivered by Creative Medway, and aim for the area to be internationally recognised for its creativity and culture by 2030."
Professor Catherine Richardson, director of the University of Kent's Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries, added: "This gives us the crucial boost we need to get started on a state-of-the-art home for cultural and creative industries skills development for Medway at the Docking Station. It will make a huge positive impact on the cultural regeneration of the area."
But opposition councillors have called into question the use of the funding claiming the levelling up agenda is failing to address other areas and will not benefit many other parts of the Towns.
Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), ward member for Gillingham North, said: "As we emerge from the pandemic, we need good quality, well-paid jobs which benefit all of our local communities but the projects announced are unlikely to deliver the direct improvements we urgently need across Medway right now.
"This money won’t do anything for some of our suburban estates such as Twydall, Weeds Wood, Parkwood, Wayfield, Darnley Road, or isolated villages such as Grain.
"We stress that it should be vital that any levelling-up is beneficial to the entirety of Medway"
"The funding could have delivered a whole network of employment, skills and training hubs in our communities, but they appear to have just shoehorned in their predictable priorities and pet projects which do nothing for our communities across Rochester, Strood, Gillingham or Rainham.”
Meanwhile, Labour member for Twydall Cllr Hazel Browne said it was "once again noticeable" the funding focussed on Chatham and "excludes all other parts of Medway".
She added: "We stress that it should be vital that any levelling-up is beneficial to the entirety of Medway.
"In order to plug the gap of their failure in running the Brook Theatre as a commercial entity, they are deliberately starving Twydall and other similar estates across Medway of investment."
Responding to the opposition's concerns, Cllr Jarrett said: "We did make another bid for Gillingham under the Levelling Up fund, however it was unsuccessful on this occasion.
"We are investing heavily in Gillingham and the other Medway towns which is evidenced with developments such as Britton Farm and we will continue to pursue other funding opportunities to make updates and upgrades across Medway.”