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Paved runway set to be dropped from Rochester Airport redevelopment plans

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

Controversial plans for a paved runway at an airport are set to be dropped as a result of rising project costs.

Rochester Airport Limited, the private company aiming to transform the site, says the cost of its scheme has escalated by 30%.

This means the first phase of its redevelopment proposal - which had been due to create 37 jobs - is no longer covered by a £4.4 million grant it received from the government-funded South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).

An aerial shot of Rochester Airport
An aerial shot of Rochester Airport

RAL – which has received support from airport landlord Medway Council – has requested permission from SELEP to axe plans for one of the two proposed hangars, as well as a hard-paved runway.

The latter has been met with criticism, with both Natural England and Highways England asking for more details about the environmental impact of a paved runway before the outcome of a planning application is determined.

Local residents have also raised concerns.

RAL says inflation is the “key factor” as to why phase one costs have surged “given the unforeseen delays and issues encountered with the project.”

It believes the amendments, if approved, will satisfy the complaints from Natural England and Highways England.

It is now working on amending the planning application and is due to resubmit it to Medway Council next month.

A report, due to be discussed by SELEP's accountability board on Friday (April 27), reads: “Removing the paved runway from the proposed list of phase one project outputs would take away the most controversial element of the scheme and significantly reduce the considerable risk currently associated with the planning application.

Rochester Airport
Rochester Airport

“The ongoing objections to the airport infrastructure improvement proposals, and the additional work required before the planning application can be determined, stem from public safety and environmental concerns related to the paved runway.

“In addition, Rochester Airport Ltd has indicated that it was the inclusion of the paved runway which resulted in the need for an environmental impact assessment."

Medway Council's Rochester Airport Masterplan – published in January 2014 – says a paved runway would allow flight movements to be spread “throughout the day”, while there would be "less noise" as a result of planes being able to accelerate quicker before take-off.

The scaled-back application would still include a new control tower, hub building, runway lighting and “visitor viewing” facilities.

The aim of the scheme is to safeguard the long-term future of Rochester Airport, while creating 37 new jobs and safeguarding a further 25.

RAL also says the airport’s viability depends on businesses being based at the site, meaning the project would still offer “value for money” despite the lack of a paved runway.

The report adds: “Provision of a new paved runway alone would not safeguard the future of the airport, as without improved buildings onsite there is a significant risk that business would relocate due to the existing poor working conditions.

“Customers would also look to move the storage on their plans to an alternative location due to the poor condition of the existing buildings, which increases risk of damage.

“Delivery of these works will offer Rochester Airport greater security for the future, allowing the closure of the second runway – releasing the land required for the development of Innovation Park Medway.”

If the plans are approved, Rochester Airport would retain one grass runway.

The second is due to be closed by the end of this year.

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