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Medway Local Plan setting out new homes blueprint dropped as council leaders face defeat in key vote at Medway Council meeting


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A vote on the council's planning blueprint for 27,000 homes has been sensationally pulled at the last minute following a backlash among councillors with concerns the plan was "incomplete and flawed".

Members at Medway Council were due to be asked to give the Towns' new Local Plan – setting out housing and development needs up to 2037 – the nod to go to public consultation.

The plan being scrapped has focussed around major concerns about the proposals to close Chatham Docks for redevelopment in the Medway Local Plan. Picture: Association of Chatham Docks Commerical Operators
The plan being scrapped has focussed around major concerns about the proposals to close Chatham Docks for redevelopment in the Medway Local Plan. Picture: Association of Chatham Docks Commerical Operators

But it is understood Conservative council leaders were set to face an embarrassing loss in the vote after a swathe of opposition from within the party and across the council chamber.

The row has already cost one cabinet member his job – yesterday Rupert Turpin was sacked over his opposition to the plan and allocation for redeveloping Chatham Docks.

It leaves council leader Alan Jarrett facing difficult questions about his leadership after one councillor suggested colleagues had been "treated like fools" to vote on a plan lacking important details.

The plan was missing vital documents surrounding transport and sustainability measures and concerns remained about decisions to allocate thousands of homes in controversial locations including Deangate, Chatham Docks and the Hoo Peninsula.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, cabinet member for planning Cllr Jane Chitty said after listening "carefully to the views expressed" the item set to be discussed at the full council meeting tomorrow night has been scrapped.

Cllr Jane Chitty, cabinet member for planning, said they had been listening to concerns raised as temperatures rose ahead of the crunch vote planned tomorrow night at Medway Council's full meeting
Cllr Jane Chitty, cabinet member for planning, said they had been listening to concerns raised as temperatures rose ahead of the crunch vote planned tomorrow night at Medway Council's full meeting

A protest will continue outside the St George's Centre ahead of the meeting from residents from groups on the Hoo Peninsula and businesses and residents concerned about the closure of Chatham Docks – which saw proposals for 3,600 flats and mixed leisure and retail replacing the commercial port which employs more than 800 people.

Cllr Chitty added: "I feel that, at this stage, the best course of action would be to complete the full evidence base for the draft plan and to present the full suite of documents once that has been finalised.

“It may take us a bit longer, but the local plan process is incredibly complex and seeks to address a number of challenges, including a government imposed quota for more than 27,000 new homes, as well as chart a course to a prosperous, sustainable future which offers residents a good quality of life.

"It is the most important issue that will shape the future of Medway and it is vital that we get it right. We will publish the Local Plan in due course."

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst described the plan due to be presented to councillors as "flawed".

The Conservative said the council has to propose a complete plan to allow councillors to be able to vote on whether it should be published and put out to the public.

Cllr Rupert Turpin was sacked from his cabinet position at Medway Council over his opposition to the plans for redevelopment at Chatham Docks and concerns over the Local Plan
Cllr Rupert Turpin was sacked from his cabinet position at Medway Council over his opposition to the plans for redevelopment at Chatham Docks and concerns over the Local Plan

"It was one of my concerns that they were publishing incomplete document and deferring to officers to complete those," Ms Tolhurst said.

"It's about putting forward a complete plan.

"The strength of feeling among residents and councillors is very clear and it's been pulled through fear of not getting the vote."

Ms Tolhurst would not be drawn on what this meant for the future of individual council members and the leadership adding it was about "getting the right outcome for Medway".

"The leadership might not like the views from the public and what I'm putting to them but that's what I'm here for.

"I hope Medway Council will work in a more transparent way. Maybe the leadership of the council should start listening to the councillors and those representing people."

Kelly Tolhurst described the plan as 'flawed'. Picture: ParliamentTV
Kelly Tolhurst described the plan as 'flawed'. Picture: ParliamentTV

But Tory backbencher Cllr Stuart Tranter said: "I think one has to question the judgment of those and leaders who felt it was acceptable to try to seek approval for a plan that was not finished and strategically flawed.

"Members having not seen the full plan was a major issue. I would welcome being able to see the detail behind the plan.

"I'm sure every member and the public will want to see that and the rationale behind some of the extraordinary strategic decisions that are being made in this plan.

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett is facing a tough job reuniting his party after a wave of his own councillors were set to vote down the council's planning blueprint
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett is facing a tough job reuniting his party after a wave of his own councillors were set to vote down the council's planning blueprint

"Regarding the controversial decisions at Chatham Docks, Deangate and the infrastructure requirements, transport and sustainability, at least we will be able to make a more comfortable and reasonable decision rather than being treated like fools to vote on a plan we've not seen."

Meanwhile, the Labour group says there are serious doubts over the leadership and the way the Local Plan has been handled with the opposition group calling for cabinet members to "consider their position".

Cllr Simon Curry, Labour's community and regeneration spokesman, said: "Cllrs Jarrett and Chitty clearly have lost the confidence of the majority of the council on this critical issue – this is a failure of leadership on their part and I believe they should therefore consider their positions.

Cllr Vince Maple says the loss of Chatham Docks through its allocation in the plan was not acceptable. The Labour group has also said Cllrs Chitty and Jarrett should 'consider their positions'
Cllr Vince Maple says the loss of Chatham Docks through its allocation in the plan was not acceptable. The Labour group has also said Cllrs Chitty and Jarrett should 'consider their positions'

"The threat to 1,400 high skilled jobs has galvanised the community to show their strength of feeling. Any local plan must keep those jobs in Medway.”

Labour group leader Vince Maple said the decision to pull the vote on the plan made it clear "leadership knew they would lose the vote".

He added: "The Labour and Co-operative Group have been calling for two years for Chatham Docks to be designated as employment land.

"I firmly believe if that doesn’t happen then any draft plan will fail to have the support of the majority of Medway Council and more importantly the people of Medway.”

Businesses based at Chatham Docks are continuing to step up their campaign to save the future and have celebrated news the plan has been withdrawn.

Phil Taylor, chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire – the largest business based at the docks – and spokesman for the Save Chatham Docks campaign, said today: "We are delighted that Medway Council has withdrawn publication its draft Local Plan and that the leadership has finally works out that its plans for Chatham Docks do not have the support of a majority of its councillors.

"Time to produce a vision for Medway that guarantees the future of Chatham Docks as a working dockyard and the 2,100 jobs that rely on it.”

The protest ahead of the council meeting will begin from 6pm at the St George's Centre at Chatham Maritime.

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