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MP Kelly Tolhurst criticises Medway Council decision to have Hoo peninsula consultation in places like Hempstead

A decision to hold consultation events about new homes and services over six miles away from the affected area has been criticised.

MP Kelly Tolhurst said Medway Council's plan to host consultation sessions on a document called the Hoo Development Framework (HDF) as far away as Hempstead was "strange" and had caused upset among Hoo residents.

MP Kelly Tolhurst. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv
MP Kelly Tolhurst. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv

The 116-page document sets out how the Hoo Peninsula could be developed, with the delivery of six neighbourhoods.

The document also includes plans for new community parks, and a number of services including a healthy living centre, leisure centre, and two new schools.

Consultation events had previous taken place in High Halstow, Hoo, and Chattenden.

But earlier this week, the council announced it would be running further events in Rainham, Lordswood, Hempstead, and The Pentagon in Chatham.

The consultation began in September and will close on Friday, November 25.

The Hoo Development Framework will include an overview of potential new development on the peninsula over the next 30 years
The Hoo Development Framework will include an overview of potential new development on the peninsula over the next 30 years

The HDF will form part of the evidence base for the draft Local Plan which will come forward for consultation next year.

Ms Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, said she had been contacted by residents about the events this week and found the decision "bizarre".

The Conservative said she would have liked to have seen more events on the Hoo Peninsula and in places such as Wainscott, Strood, Frindsbury, and Higham - although this is over the border in Gravesham.

She said she wrote to council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) and the authority's chief executive Neil Davies last week about the matter.

She said: "I would have thought they would have had five days of presentations for the people who will be impacted.

"I don't think the people in Hempstead would have strong views either way.

"I do find it strange that we're doing this, I don't think it's ideal, and it has upset the community."

Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con) - who represents Strood Rural and is the chairman of the council's regeneration, culture and environment overview and scrutiny committee - said: "It appears to me on the surface that they haven't got the positive response they were expecting and therefore, in order to bulk up those positive results, they're putting it out to the rest of Medway.

"The rest of Medway's got absolutely nothing to do with the HDF or the peninsula.

"In fact, if that was the case, why didn't Medway get a consultation on how we're going to spend all these extra millions on Splashes? It just seems to me an absolute farce."

Meanwhile, the council is also devising how it will spend £170 million from the government's Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) to support the delivery of 10,600 homes over the next 30 years.

In August, eight members of the ruling Conservative Group called in a decision taken by the council's cabinet members to start the survey on the Framework over concerns about a funding gap of over £75 million.

Cllr Gary Etheridge. Picture: Medway Council
Cllr Gary Etheridge. Picture: Medway Council

Call-ins allow councillors to intervene when they feel a decision being made by the executive needs to be revisited or changed.

It meant the survey start date was pushed back. Officers explained to councillors during a meeting of the regeneration committee how £10 million of the £170 million budget had already been spent despite no work beginning.

Council members agreed to take no further action as a result of the call in during a meeting the following month.

A spokesman for Medway Council said: “Since the launch of the consultation on the HDF, extensive work has taken place to reach every household on the peninsula to give local residents and businesses the opportunity to learn about the proposals and have their say.

"This has included a leaflet drop to every household, letters to local businesses, three exhibitions over a weekend, afternoons and evenings, regular newsletters, communication via councillors and other stakeholders, information on the council’s website and in the library.

"The council has prioritised making sure we can hear from local people as part of this process both on and offline.

“The HDF does set out significant proposals for the Hoo Peninsula that would have Medway-wide implications because it seeks to answer the key questions on subjects such as housing, the environment, transport and local services.

'Many of Medway’s urban residents value the special character and environment of the peninsula'

“The issue of new homes is high on the public’s agenda across Medway, with the government setting the housing targets that are driving the pace of change.

"The growth of communities on the peninsula as well as elsewhere in Medway is important for the whole of Medway, which is why we have been clear that we are keen to hear from all Medway residents on the proposals and make no apology for trying to inform residents across our whole area about issues affecting all our futures.

“Many of Medway’s urban residents value the special character and environment of the peninsula.

"It is therefore important that residents in wider Medway understand the potential changes that could take place.

“Although the consultation has been more light touch elsewhere in Medway we have taken the opportunity to put information into each of Medway’s libraries and have a presence in places such as The Pentagon and Hempstead Valley shopping centres where people could take a look at the plans and ask any questions.

“The public engagement on the HDF comes ahead of the next stage of consultation on the Medway Local Plan, which will give all residents and businesses the opportunity to comment on proposals for development in urban, suburban and rural areas.”

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