Chatham Docks campaigners given major update on controversial scheme decision

People in orange jackets holding placards
Campaigners are celebrating a victory move for the scheme -Credit:Robert Boddy

Campaigners are celebrating a victory after it was announced the government will make the decision on whether a controversial scheme in Kent should go ahead. Workers at Chatham Docks cheered as a planning application to redevelop the site was deferred for Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, to make a decision on its future.

A large crowd of supporters for the Save Chatham Docks campaign attended a planning committee meeting last night (May 8), where the proposals were due to be voted on. Instead, Peel Waters’ plans – which would see the demolition of warehouses, eviction of businesses, and the creation of a business campus called Basin 3 – will be considered by Mr Gove to decide if he needs to intervene.

This is after a request by Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst (Con) to call-in the application to the planning inspectorate – asking it to determine the plans. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) confirmed it had filed an Article 31 direction, meaning the application cannot be approved until it has considered the call-in request.

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This essentially puts the application on ice until Mr Gove considers whether to get involved and approve the call-in, which would mean the planning inspectorate makes a judgement on the plans, rather than Medway Council officers. At the same time, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire says it has written to the authority with legal advice it has received which claims approval of the proposals would be illegal.

The council says it is deferring the decision on the Basin 3 redevelopment until it has considered the legal situation. Members of the Save Chatham Docks campaign staged a protest at the meeting at the St George’s Centre to demonstrate the strength of feeling about the plans.

Among them were Kelly Tolhurst MP, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidates Graham Colley, Stuart Bourne and Nicholas Chan, Medway Greens’ parliamentary candidate Cat Jamieson, and three of the four Independent Group councillors from Medway Council. A crowd of workers from Chatham Docks were also there and, when the chairman of the planning committee announced the application would be deferred, they cheered and applauded.

Phil Taylor, the former chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, said he was pleased with the government intervention and the delay – but said he was not complacent about the campaign. He said: “I’m delighted that we’ve got an Article 31 at the moment.

“I’m delighted that Medway Council have decided to pull the planning application from the meeting, however, I’m hearing already that it’s going to come back in June at the next planning meeting. You can be sure that we’ll continue the fight and we will not go away.

“Chatham Docks is a unique asset that once it’s allowed to be redeveloped, will be lost to the community forever. And it’s not just about the companies here now, it’s about the future. We’ve got a rich heritage of marine activity in Medway and if Chatham Docks goes it’s lost forever. We’ll never build another dock like it.”

James Whittaker, managing director of Peel Waters, said he was disappointed but understood the council needed to follow the proper process for the application. He said: “If there’s a process they need to go through in terms of something hasn’t been done correctly, then obviously it’s down to the local authority to ensure that it is done correctly.

“Obviously, it’s slightly disappointing it wasn’t done in the first place, but we’ll be supportive of the local authority in ensuring that it’s done in the legal manner as it should be.” He also said it was “peculiar” one of the issues raised was the lack of public consultation as Peel had conducted a four-month long consultation.

He continued: “We did a huge public consultation and it’s been four months in terms of its process, which is beyond the standard public consultation period. So that’s a bit of a strange one. So, obviously, it’s down then for the local authority to answer those points in terms of the process.

“We are proposing new businesses, new workshops, new environment, better connectivity, more jobs on part of the site, so I don’t quite understand the controversy around it because all we are doing is replacing employment for employment on the Chatham Docks industrial estate.” No specific date has been given as to when the application will be deferred to, however it cannot progress so long as DLUHC has an Article 31 direction in place.