Published: 15:16, 24 March 2021
| Updated: 21:26, 24 March 2021
The Prime Minister has backed a campaign to stop the closure of docks where hundreds of skilled jobs are at risk.
Chatham Docks has been earmarked for closure by landowners Peel Ports with ambitions to replace the site on the banks of the River Medway with new apartments, restaurants and shops.
MP Kelly Tolhurst, who has been a vocal campaigner against the closure, raised the issue with Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons this lunchtime.
Ms Tolhurst highlighted the "regionally important asset" was home to growing maritime and construction firms expanding despite the economic crash caused by the pandemic.
The Rochester and Strood MP hit out at plans for the docks to be shut "to make way for flats and short term profit for the landowner at the expense of long-term economic and environmental benefits".
She asked Mr Johnson: "Does my Right Honourable friend agree with me, local councillors and the Save Chatham Docks campaign that coastal infrastructure plays a significant role in the growth of our local economies, creating jobs and clean maritime technology contributing to our net zero ambition?"
The Prime Minister said in response: "I hope very much that Chatham will benefit from the £100m funding we put in on December 24 to rejuvenate coastal towns.
"The planning issue she raises is a matter for the local council but I do hope a solution can be found which gives the benefits she describes for the local community."
Ms Tolhurst earlier made reference to the damaging impact the closure of the naval dockyard at Chatham in 1984 had on the Towns 40 years ago.
Speaking afterwards Ms Tolhurst said she was "pleased" Mr Johnson had acknowledged her concerns and said he hoped there would be an answer to support the Medway economy and community.
Ms Tolhurst reiterated her promise to continue raising the fight with ministers and councillors in Medway to "safeguard Chatham Docks from any future development".
The site has been included in the initial assessment for the new Medway Local Plan as having the potential for redevelopment as a mixed use space.
The first draft of the Local Plan has suffered multiple delays and is due to be published this spring when it will be finally set out whether Chatham Docks has been officially allocated or discarded as a site for development.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also backed the campaign to keep the docks open and protect the 800 direct jobs and hundreds more supported by the supply chain.
Phil Taylor, founder member of the Association of Chatham Docks Commercial Operators (ACDCO) which launched the Save Chatham Docks campaign in 2019, said: “Chatham Docks is the jewel in Medway’s maritime crown, the beating heart of this great river.
"We’ve said all along that closing them would be disastrous for Medway and it is great to see Kelly raise this with Boris Johnson.
"Even without proper investment over the last 10 years - the Docks are still thriving.
"Just imagine how much better Chatham Docks could be doing under a management that believes in its long-term future – more jobs, more trainees and apprentices, more businesses working here. That’s what we all want going forward.”
Rochester West councillor, Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con) said he was pleased the matter had been raised in Westminster.
"The damage to Medway is not only about the loss of skilled jobs but the river is at the heart of Medway’s communities and the reason these towns even exist," he said.
"The protected basins, built so many years ago, provide irreplaceable facilities for ship repair, value adding industry and energy efficient transport of goods which benefit not only this borough but the whole region. Not only are the docks thriving, the businesses there want to expand, and invest in new equipment and want to increase employment.
"I, and many other councillors, are deeply worried at the prospect of Medway Council designating this land as ‘residential’ or ‘mixed use’ in the new local plan.
"We can understand it would be a windfall gain in land value for the owner, Peel Ports, but is certainly not in the best interests of the people of Medway. We understand the need for new homes, but to rip the heart out of Medway to build them would be irresponsible.”