Controversial Chatham Docks application approved despite protests

Proposed plans to turn the Chatham Docks industrial estate into a business campus
-Credit: (Image: LDRS)


A controversial planning application for Chatham Docks has been approved - despite protests from residents. The fate of the Chatham Docks Basin 3 application by Peel Waters is however yet to be sealed.

The plans to turn the Chatham Docks industrial estate into a business campus were approved by eight votes for and seven against at Medway Council’s special planning committee meeting on Thursday (May 30) night. However, the application still cannot proceed until the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) decides whether to accept a request for a call-in made by Kelly Tolhurst, Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood after parliament was dissolved for the general election.

The decision would have been made by Secretary of State, Michael Gove, but because of the calling of the election, a verdict will not be made until a new government is formed. Until that decision is made the application is subject to an Article 31 direction which means it cannot progress.

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The approval from Medway Council’s planning committee will only come into effect if the Secretary of State decides to reject the request for a call-in. If they accept the call-in, DLUHC will make the final determination on whether the application is approved.

The proposals by Peel Waters were submitted in January and would mean the demolition of the existing warehouses in favour of workspaces of various sizes and the creation of a waterside walkway and cycling path. They received significant opposition from businesses currently operating on the site, including ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, as well as the Save Chatham Docks campaign group.

Chatham Docks in its current form
Chatham Docks in its current form -Credit:LDRS

The application was supposed to come before the planning committee on May 8 but due to a legal challenge from businesses on the site, it was deferred while planning officers responded to the arguments made. The responses were included in the new report presented to the committee and addressed in the meeting.

At the start, officers gave a reminder that the matter being voted on was exclusively about the application and not the wider Chatham Docks site. Before the meeting started the Save Chatham Docks campaign group protested outside the St George’s Centre, chanting “save Chatham Docks”.

When planning officers detailed the application and their reasons for recommending approval, particularly about the determination there would be no impact on employment, members of the public heckled, shouting: “Rubbish”, “nonsense!” and “you’re talking out your backside”.

During the meeting, Cllr Habib Tejan (Con) spoke as St Mary’s Island ward councillor, opposing the application by saying the loss of jobs would be significant and long-lasting and said the application should not be decided.

He said: “These jobs are not just numbers, they represent families, they represent dreams. They are the backbone of the economy.

“It would be best for the council not to seek to determine the application today. The consideration of the application seems rushed. ArcelorMittal Kent Wire raised several concerns about this application.”

There have been heated protests over Chatham Docks
There have been heated protests over Chatham Docks -Credit:LDRS

He also said it would not be appropriate to decide the application before the general election and his remarks were received with applause. Cllr Phil Filmer (Con) asked whether it would be too soon to consider the application considering the involvement of DLUHC, but lead planning officer Dave Harris said it was not uncommon for a holding direction to be applied.

He added the Secretary of State had not yet taken a view on the application and civil servants in the department had encouraged Medway Council to consider the proposals.

Cllr Gary Hackwell (Con) said: ”We must stress this is just for the south side [of the docks], it is a difficult decision. This is a promise of jam tomorrow, with employment there already.

“We tried something similar ourselves [Innovation Park Medway], and the high-technology jobs didn’t materialise.”

Cllr Michael Pearce (IndGr) said the national planning policy framework said economic harm should be considered and he said the application would cause significant harm and so would not support the application. Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con) said the application was probably the most controversial considered in some years but no Labour member other than Cllr Hazel Browne, who reiterated the committee was only considering the application, had commented either way.

Cllr Gulvin went on to say the application was nothing compared to Peel Waters’ other development in Salford – MediaCityUK – and called it “replacing our old creaky sheds with shiny new creaky sheds”.

He continued: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The employment here is already providing good jobs here in Medway.

“If Peel wants to put something on this site, they’ve got to do a lot lot better than this.”

Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab) criticised Cllr Gulvin’s accusation the Labour group had gone quiet, saying the previous Conservative administration had intended the site for residential. When votes were cast and the application was approved, shouts and boos came from the public gallery which was filled with members of the Save Chatham Docks campaign.

The entire Labour group voted in favour, while the six Tory members and one member of the Independent Group voted against.

Phil Taylor, a former chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire and member of the campaign to keep the site as a working dockyard, said: “We’re hugely disappointed, but it wasn’t unexpected. Although it’s been approved, it can’t go any further as long as Article 31 is in place.

“We set up, through our barristers, a number of scenarios and this was top of the list that we anticipated, so don’t worry – the fight goes on, it’s not over.”

James Whittaker, managing director, Peel Waters said: “We are very pleased planning has been approved for Basin3. Our vision for Basin3 will create a dynamic, employment enterprise destination that integrates with existing communities whilst attracting new employers and business to the area, offering much-needed, high-quality, new employment spaces for already established Medway businesses, and bolstering Medway’s economic growth.”

Although the committee supported the application, the proposals will not progress until after the election and a decision over Ms Tolhurst’s call-in request is made.