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Special report: Medway developers push controversial Capstone Valley and Riverside Country Park plans over Lodge Hill

Aerial view of Chattenden and the Hoo Peninsula
Aerial view of Chattenden and the Hoo Peninsula

Developers are lining up to push for controversial housing schemes across Medway after nightingales blocked a 5,000-home plan on a key site.

Former army base Lodge Hill, near Chattenden, had been chosen for a new town with a third of Medway’s future housing.

It was the cornerstone of Medway Council’s ‘core strategy’ which governs how the Towns will be developed until 2026.

But government inspector Laura Graham has warned the council it must make major changes to the strategy or it could be declared “unsound”.

With days to go until her next ruling, rival developers are urging her to consider their plans instead.

Those attacking Lodge Hill include:

  • Medway Magna, the consortium behind hugely controversial plans for the Capstone Valley which previously attracted more than 10,000 objections.
  • The Church Commissioners for England, who own much of the Hoo Peninsula and Chapter Farm in Strood.
  • Two property firms run by brothers Ivan and Nicholas Kingsley Smith, named Bridgewood Rochester and Medway Sports and Leisure Park Limited. The firms have proposed developing in Station Road, Rainham, and Fort Bridgewood, Rochester.
  • Housing firm Barratt, which has suggested more housing elsewhere on the Hoo Peninsula.
  • Housing firm Taylor Wimpey, which controls land west of Hoo St Werburgh and Mill Hill, Gillingham, once mooted as a new home for Gillingham FC.
  • Several anonymous landowners represented by DHA Planning.

The developers say the council’s “scoring” method which effectively gave 13 points to Lodge Hill and one to the four alternatives – which the council never supported – was deeply flawed. DHA Planning director John Collins said it made “no sense whatsoever”, adding: “Things have just moved on, it’s a fact of life.”

Map of potential sites put before the inspector
Map of potential sites put before the inspector

The comments will alarm residents including those in Lower Rainham and the Capstone Valley, where Medway Magna once proposed 9,250 homes, business parks and a main road linking Hempstead to Lordswood.

Medway Magna told the inspector: “Medway Magna have previously and still do argue that sustainable planned urban extensions should be provided south of Medway, where the labour force is the largest.”

The inspector is due to make her latest findings known on Friday, June 21.

Lodge Hill developer Land Securities, which has already spent £8.5m on the plans, insists a new town will still be possible.

They would provide new nightingale habitats and have already taken advice on how much neighbouring land they could buy up. The firm said: “As a ‘stand-alone’ site it has the ability to deliver a new brand and identity for Medway.”

Retired planning solicitor Brian Kingsley Smith, 76, father of Ivan and Nicholas, called for the strategy to be rejected saying it is hardly different to the previous one – which was declared unsound in 2007.

He said: “There will be a spate of planning applications, all contrary to the core strategy, which I suspect will be allowed at appeal because the council has lost control. Legally the council can ignore the inspector, and they’re so dogged I think they will do.

Rare nightingales have threatened development at Lodge Hill
Rare nightingales have threatened development at Lodge Hill

“I was at the latest hearing listening to all the developers ready to fire the starting gun and there’s Medway Council sitting there sticking to its guns about Lodge Hill.

“Lodge Hill is a red herring because it’s a self-contained settlement. What people need is jobs and homes suited to the people of Medway.”

The process could go on for many more years, he added, saying: “I don’t know how any member of the public without professional experience can understand what the hell’s going on.”

Alternatives not examined, claims expert

A senior planner for Medway Council until just months ago has attacked his former employer, accusing it of failing to properly examine alternative sites for housing.

Dr Morgan Slade, a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, launched an eight-page broadside at the core strategy urging the inspector to reject it. He said: “The council have failed to equally examine alternatives to the same degree as Lodge Hill and have put forward wholly unrealistic ones.”

There was “no evidence that there has been constructive discussion with Maidstone” over the Capstone Valley plans. And plans north of Rainham would mean removing Riverside Country Park, he said.

Cllr Jane Chitty
Cllr Jane Chitty

It is thought Dr Slade worked for Medway Council for more than 10 years until October.

His submission said: “It now continues to blatantly ignore the national planning policy framework. Lodge Hill should be replaced with a sustainable, dispersed pattern of development.”

We're protecting other sites, say council

Cabinet member for strategic planning Cllr Jane Chitty (Con) said: “We’ve put Lodge Hill as part of the core strategy to protect other very important areas within Medway like Capstone Valley.

“The work that was done in relation to the sites identified was a forensic piece of work and if they disagree with that, so be it. Those with a vested interest are always going to have a contrary opinion. At the end of the day the inspector will make a judgement on June 21 and until she makes her judgement we don’t know.

“If Lodge Hill is not suitable we go back to square one and we actually could remove those 5,000 dwellings from a new core strategy if that’s required. But that’s much further down the line.”

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