Published: 12:57, 24 January 2022
| Updated: 14:19, 24 January 2022
Council leader Alan Jarrett says there is no public support for keeping Chatham Docks open.
The top Tory made the remarks last week about the closure-threatened site, which supporters say could force hundreds out of work.
The authority’s draft Local Plan, which was published in October before being withdrawn hours before councillors were due to debate it, indicated Medway's wish to re-designate the land from employment to mixed-use which could include 3,625 new homes.
Last month, landowners Peel L&P unveiled a masterplan of its vision for the site, which it plan to close by 2025.
The campaign group Save Chatham Docks, which estimate the plans threaten 800 jobs, headed a protest outside the council’s last meeting in October which was attended by Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst who has thrown her weight behind them.
A number of questions regarding the progress of the draft Local Plan and the prospects of Chatham Docks were lodged by councillors from both sides during a meeting of Medway Council on Thursday night.
Backbench Tory councillors – some of whom have been vocal in their opposition towards plans to include the docks in the blueprint – were not in attendance as a result of agreement between the parties to cap numbers due to Covid.
Cllr Jarrett said he thought Labour councillors made the issue of the docks an “election issue” during the 2019 General Election.
He said: “The public did not and are not rallying around Chatham Docks.
“As council leader I get many many letters, including emails of course, on many subjects. I have not had one letter from any member of the public on the subject of Chatham Docks.
“We will bring the Local Plan back when we have political consensus to do so.
The Tory added how he thought it was Labour’s aim to push the process back to a previous stage of consultation called Regulation 18.
He said: “I suspect you will have your way; I suspect we will go back to Regulation 18, another two years of work to establish an evidence base (and) by that time, the inevitable closure of the docks will be that much closer.
“While you continue to fuss over this one part of the plan, I’ve not heard one sensible suggestion for an alternate location."
Cllr Jane Chitty (Con) – who oversees the process in her role as portfolio holder for planning, economic growth and regulation – gave no indication on how much longer the work towards the draft Local Plan would take to complete.
Despite previously saying the plans were withdrawn from consideration so officers could complete the full evidence base, she accused Labour councillors of trying to block the plan’s passage to the next stage of consultation.
She said: “Residents have the right to have access to the draft Local Plan.
“They have the right to see the draft Local Plan and if it cannot go out for consultation – something you have quite clearly said on the basis of Chatham Docks – if you prevent it from going out to consultation, you are preventing those people right across Medway to have their democratic right to have access to that draft Local Plan and so be able to make their contribution to an inspector, whether it’s positive, whether it’s negative.
“They have had that right and so should they.
“I am appalled if any politician prevents that from happening they should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Responding to the council leader's comments, Phil Taylor, chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire and spokesman for the Save Chatham Docks campaign, said: "Mr Jarrett is delusional if he thinks that the public aren't engaging.
"The council meeting on October 7 last year when there was more than 250 people campaigning outside, you think that that's not the public engaging?"
He added how he had noticed a Facebook campaign advertising the new homes at Chatham Waters – spearheaded by Peel L&P – was met with criticism from the public, with many leaving comments in favour of keeping the docks open.
He added: "Is that just not another example a clear public evidence?
"The public do not want to see Chatham Docks closed and re-developed for residential housing that's going to cause any amount of further problems for the community in terms of hospitals, doctors, schools, infrastructure snarling up because there's not enough capacity for the road system to cater for 3,600 apartments here.
"It's absolutely not inevitable the docks will close in 2025. We have leases here which fall within the Landlord and Tenant Act that give us automatic right to renew our leases provided Medway Council do not change the designation of the site.
"I have laboured this point with Alan Jarrett and members of his leadership, and officers.
"They have complete autonomy and power over the future of Chatham Docks and so long as they don't change the designation, we will renew our lease and continue operating from here."