Chatham Docks plan approved - but fate not sealed

The controversial Chatham Docks plans have been approved but its fate is yet to be sealed.

Owner Peel Waters wants to redevelop the site - the last working docks in Medway - into a business hub.

At a special planning meeting on Thursday, Medway Council approved the plans with eight votes for and seven against but the application cannot proceed due to the general election.

Phil Taylor, a member of the campaign to keep the site as a working dockyard, said they were "hugely disappointed" but said the decision "wasn’t unexpected".

The plans have been halted by a call-in request made by former MP Kelly Tolhurst, which would mean the Secretary of State, rather than Medway Council would decide the outcome.

This means the application is subject to an Article 31 direction and it cannot progress until a new government is formed, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

If the call-in request is rejected, Medway Council's approval will come into effect.

However, if the call-in is accepted, the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will make the final decision.

Mr Taylor said: “Although it’s been approved, it can’t go any further as long as Article 31 is in place. The fight goes on, it’s not over.”

James Whittaker, managing director of Peel Waters said they are "very pleased" planning was approved.

He said the plans will offer "much needed, high-quality, new employment spaces for already established Medway businesses, and bolstering Medway’s economic growth".

Legal challenge

The plans include demolishing warehouses and replacing them with workspaces of various sizes, a waterside walkway and cycling path.

The application was due to be considered in May, but was dropped following a legal challenge from a business on the site.

One of the challengers was ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, a company based on the docks site which supplies steel reinforcement to the construction industry.

The firm said it has a right to automatically renew its lease in 2025, which it would be denied if the use of the site is changed.

Mr Taylor, former chief executive of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, told BBC Radio Kent: "If we lose Chatham Docks to this development, then Chatham Docks would be lost forever.

"Every significant infrastructure project that you can think of - HS2, the London Thames Tideway, steel reinforcement - was supplied from Chatham."

Before the meeting started the Save Chatham Docks campaign group protested outside the St George’s Centre.

Peel Waters said the plans will transform existing brownfield land into "adaptable workspace and the opportunity to create hundreds of new jobs and apprenticeships".

It said it also plans to open up part of the waterfront to the public and create a tree lined promenade stretching over half a kilometre.

Campaigners in favour of the site remaining a functioning port said the redevelopment will result in job losses.

The Save Chatham Docks group said the docks generate £258m of business for the area.

The proposed scheme does not affect the Historic Dockyard at Chatham, which is run and operated by Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

The site under consideration is the commercial port, which is separate to the Historic Dockyard.

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