Published: 05:00, 07 October 2021
| Updated: 15:45, 07 October 2021
Demonstrators are still expected to gather tonight ahead of a council meeting despite the subject of their anger being pulled from the agenda.
Medway councillors were due to debate the local authority's draft Local Plan before voting on whether to send it out for public consultation.
But bosses decided to postpone the matter after it became clear council leadership might not have the required votes needed to pass the plan to the next stage.
This came after a rebellion in the ranks of the ruling Conservatives which saw a cabinet member sacked from his position by leader Cllr Alan Jarrett.
Tonight campaigners against thousands of houses planned for Hoo and Chatham Docks are set to protest outside the St George's Centre in Chatham where the full council meeting will go ahead.
Meanwhile, the authority has moved to explain that although it understands opposition to some of the housing, it is bound by a government-imposed quota for more than 27,000 new properties.
Cllr Jane Chitty, portfolio holder for economic growth, and head of planning, Dave Harris, say hard decisions have to be made and wherever the homes go, they'll be met with opposition.
She said: "I absolutely understand how people have valued their living in the open countryside, of course we all value that.
"However, when we had as part of the Local Plan process a call for sites, you can't ignore it.
"There are those people who have held these sites over many years to develop it.
"Of course it is not what local people would find acceptable but it is something that comes under evolution if you like, and that's a very difficult thing to deal with.
"It's tough when life creeps much closer to your doorstep, it's never a comfortable place to be."
Phil Taylor is the chief exec of Arcelor Mittal Kent Wire and head of the Save Chatham Docks campaign
In terms of the docks, she predicts trouble ahead with legal action likely between landowner Peel L&P and businesses based there.
She said: “This is a private matter between Peel and those people who actually rent, or have an interest on Chatham Docks, and I am absolutely convinced it will be end up probably in the courts, but that is a private matter.
“We can only respond positively and if people have fears about relocation, we can respond to that. We cannot or should not be held responsible for commercial decision made totally outside of our remit.”
She added how she had recognised the need to diversify the Medway Towns’ economy following the closure of the dockyard in 1984, adding how she thought previous administrations showed they were dedicated to encouraging new businesses to come to Medway.
She said: “I do find it very difficult when people point a finger and say, ‘you don’t care about employment’ – that’s what we have been doing for the last 20-odd years, creating employment, creating the right atmosphere for companies to come here, and it really has worked.
“Because of how seriously we take employment, never again will we find ourselves in a position where nearly 27% of the adult working population are in desperate need.”
Mr Harris said: “We are working with all the companies in the dock to look at potential relocations. Moving forward, the potential allocation there is for a mixed use so there will still be employment on that, so we will relocate the distinct jobs that are there but we will have new employment coming forward there.”
Cllr Chitty added: “The draft Local Plan is important because it will affect everybody across Medway and it is a very complex piece of work.
“The mass of people are trusting us to act in their best interest and we’re doing that within the framework that government has laid out, so therefore, it is about people right across Medway and the quality of their life.”
Ahead of the meeting, Peel L&P responded to concerns – suggesting a homes and leisure hub at the docks could create thousands of permanent jobs, but would not elaborate further on what these may be.
Speaking before the Local Plan was dropped from the agenda, MP Kelly Tolhurst – who wants the commercial docks kept in operation – said she viewed the authority’s position on the possible docks closure as a “cop out”.
She said: “They’re saying Peel will close it anyway, well actually they do have tenants in there that fall under the Tenancy Act and they are protected leases so there would need to be a legal process in order for those tenants to be evicted.
“Quite frankly, if Medway were to allocate that land within the Local Plan for residential, it just makes Peel’s job easier for evicting those tenants when they come to the renewal of the lease.
“It’s very simple for me: they are choosing not to protect it as commercial space they are saying, we’ll build houses there.
"It's tough when life creeps much closer to your doorstep, it's never a comfortable place to be..."
“Ultimately, what they’re saying is, building flats is better for the river economy than supporting working with and growing marine-based businesses that are using the water.”