Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Chatham Docks legacy

The news that the £650m Chatham Waters project is to go ahead is a welcome sign to the towns that investment and regeneration in core areas is hopefully around the corner 

The fact that Peel are seeking to invest at this point - when the construction industry is struggling and prior to any change in government Planning policy - highlights how viable this project is as a generator for social, economic and educational success. 

The scheme will provide an employment-led mixed-use redevelopment of the site of approximately 1.9 million sq. ft. including a commercial heart incorporating office space, education facilities, an ‘EventCity’, and a hotel alongside apartments and townhouses, plus landscaped public areas and a foodstore. 

The development has the potential to create approximately 3,500 jobs once completed but in construction will hopefully utilize local contractors; it is hoped that Peel could partner with Mid Kent College and others to provide apprenticeships.

It will also see up to £1bn invested in the Medway towns once completed. £1bn in one scheme is larger then the entire annual Council budget and represents a vast sum of money into an area which has a mixed demographic of incomes 

Incidentally; to those who say that only a mega-airport can generate 'much needed' jobs it can be pointed out clearly that two such schemes in Medway could cut our unemployment, provide opportunities and not destroy our quality of life. Of course such projects are sustainable and in keeping with the area and the other is not.

The Council can not however rest on its laurels; there are a number of other sites including Rochester Riverside and Strood Waterside that have been stymied because of financial viability; the Council is right not to cut corners on infrastructure capability but with the changes in Planning coming down the pipe, there remains a real risk that regeneration could become illsuited and without the support structures in place. 

The regeneration in the Chatham Docks area has been an ongoing programme since the closure of the Docks - which was a major employer in the area - by the Conservative government. 

The issue that is conveniently overlooked is it took 10 years for the then  Tory government to recognise the problem - under John Major - after they closed the docks under Thatcher. 

It took a Labour government to start the construction work and it was the Labour MPs who fought hard for the modernised Mid-Kent College and the mixed Medway Universities we see today which in part drove the Peel application on Chatham Waterside. The area is still recovering in employment terms from the decision to close the Docks today - as it in one decision decimated blue collar working and the employment route of thousands - for many that delay on a legacy for the docks in the 1980s and 1990s by the then government left many with no jobs and nowhere to go.

It is true Eric Pickles did give the green light for this scheme, after a planning review, but it is worth remembering that before anyone clamour to take the credit (as CCHQ was doing yesterday) this regeneration has been a long-term strategic project and one which was caused by a rushed closure of an historic dockyard, and a total lack of planning for its immediate legacy on our area

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