Labour councillors accused of 'treachery' as controversial Chatham Docks plans approved

Save Chatham Docks protest outside of St George''s Centre ahead of May 8 planning committee meeting where the application was deferred
-Credit: (Image: LDR Service)

Medway Labour have been accused of "treachery" following the approval of controversial plans to redevelop Chatham Docks.

Landowner Peel Waters want to close the industrial estate and turn it into a new business campus, to be called Basin3.

At a special Medway Council planning committee meeting on May 30, plans to allow the redevelopment of the docks were approved by eight votes to seven but the application cannot proceed until a final decision is made by the government after the general election.

All Labour councillors on the committee supported the proposals, while the Conservative group and Independent Group members voted against.

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Planning officers had recommended the application for approval on the grounds they could offer greater working opportunities and the changes to the employment rules would not necessarily prevent the current businesses from operating on-site.

However, members of the Save Chatham Docks campaign many of who work at businesses from the site, such as ArcelorMIttal Kent Wire shouted "shame", "disgrace" and other remarks from the public gallery when the decision was made.

Now the Labour group has been accused of U-turning on promises made before they gained control of Medway Council at last year's local elections.

The Medway Tories accused the ruling group of putting jobs, livelihoods and businesses at serious risk, saying the move amounted to "treachery" and had broken all promises they had made.

Cllr Andrew Lawrence, shadow cabinet member for regeneration, community and housing, said: "I am very sorry for those workers that are going to lose their jobs and I call on the Council to provide all necessary support to ensure that as many of the skills are retained in our local economy.

"I am not surprised by Medway Labour and Co-Operative Group's treachery as they continue to row back on previous promises made to residents on this matter.

"It is clear that residents should not believe any promise made by Medway Labour."

Tory leader Cllr George Perfect added: "The planning commitee decision was wrong, and Independent and Conservative councillors were right to vote against the application.

"The Labour and Co-Operative Group have had several cabinet members including their leader and parliamentary candidates speaking out publicly in support of the docks for years.

"It shows that you can't trust Labour locally or nationally, who break their promises. It's only the Conservatives that have a clear plan, taking bold action, for a secure future."

Council leader Vince Maple said the committee members had considered the application as it was set out and considered the independent advice of planning officers before each making its decision.

He said: "A majority on the planning committee reached a considered decision on an outline planning decision for employment use at part of the site at Chatham Docks.

"This has been a sensitive issue, but we value and support our hardworking planning officers who prepared the work on this report, and took time to seek expert, independent legal advice on the issue.

Illustrative Views Of What Basin3 development
Illustrative Views Of What Basin3 development -Credit:Peel Waters

"Labour & Co-operative members came to their conclusion based on this advice in a strictly non-political way. Our members behaved in a responsible way to avoid the risk of legal appeals.

"In opposition Medway Labour & Co-operative Party had given their support to the Save Chatham Docks Campaign, and upon taking control of the council, orchestrated the first meeting between Peel and ArcelorMittal in over a year.

"This is a dispute between a landlord and their tenant, and we have done everything in our power to mediate that dispute.

"ArcelorMittal is the second largest steel maker globally, valued at over 20 billion euros.

"They could move at any time to secure their presence and the current jobs at Chatham Docks by making a serious offer to Peel for the site. To our knowledge this hasn't happened."

The Medway Lib Dems also criticised the decision, saying it was shocking considering Labour's previous support for the Save Chatham Docks campaign and, they said, there were clear grounds to refuse the application.

A spokesperson for the group, John Castle said: "I strongly believe this decision is wrong and that the jobs at Chatham Docks should be kept.

"It's now clear that the decision must be called in and the wider issues placed in front of the planning inspectorate.

"The fight to Save Chatham Docks has lost this battle, but the fight goes on to the next stage."

The approved plans pave the way for Peel Waters' Basin3 development, a business campus which would mean the demolition of the current warehouses on the site and their replacement with office and workshop spaces for creative industries.

Following the approval, James Whittaker, managing director of 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."

The application was approved by eight votes to seven but it currently under an article 31 direction after a request to the department for levelling up, housing and communities was made to call-in the application.

The direction means the plans can't progress until the secretary of state considers whether they need to intervene and have the final say on the proposals which will now have to wait until after the general election on July 4.

Former chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire Phil Taylor said the decision by the planning committee was not the end of the matter.

He 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."

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