Friday, 21 December 2012

Rochester Airport

The issue of Rochester Airport is one that dates back to before my time in local politics; indeed the plans to develop the site in 2000-2002 were when I was still at school completing my A-levels such was the period of time between now and then.

This matters because many of my constituents in Blue Bell Hill village and surrounding areas are impacted by this proposal.

What is not known or to which has been reported in the press are that the plan Conservative Councillor's are now supporting is effectively a similar plan to the one they themselves rejected in May 2003. 

If the Tories had acted responsibly a decade ago we would have a fully modernised and developed airport and an industrial park which would have grown from 2002-2008.

There is a long history to this issue which goes back almost a decade in time but the nuts and bolts of this issue surrounds the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats made a decision to put out to consultation the development of the airport site as part of the Local plan framework which was in development at that period. 

It came to ahead because Marconi decided to close down its operation in Rochester, which included airborn travel of parts to other centres in the UK, in favour of freight. As a result the Council having lost a major income stream put out to consultion a series of options including; wholesale closure of the site with a significant open greenspace so giving public access; or the option for part development whereby the airport was secure but with a portion developed into a high-tech industry hub.

There were a series of localised objections at the time from Conservatives - who suddenly found some deep pockets - rightly so in some cases seeking to protect the site as is the right of the local community. The issue was referred to the Inspector for review:

The Inspector's conclusion on Rochester Airfield in 2002 is summarised as follows:

 "The most contentious aspect of the Deposit Plan is undoubtedly the proposals in Policy S11 which involve the closure of Rochester Airfield and its redevelopment for a Science and Technology Park, along with housing, open space, and associated areas. This proposal attracted by far the majority of the objections, totalling over 3,300 objections from over 1,600 individuals and organisations. In principle, I have concluded that this is a soundly-based proposal which would accord with many key elements of national, regional and strategic planning policy. However, I consider the Plan gives insufficient weight to the importance of the existing Rochester Airport, and recommend a redevelopment option which allows the development of a smaller Science & Technology Park, but with the retention of a general aviation facility and omission of the housing element." 

This compromise position of retention of the airport and part development was adopted at the time by the Labour and Liberal Democrat Council in a Council vote. The then 38 Conservative Councillors voted to keep the airport site in its entirety, but the combined votes of the other members - totalling 42 - voted to develop the site as per the Inspector's report. 

This above statement made in 2002 is exactly what the Tories - now some 10 years later - have now come to accept.

The newly elected Conservative Councillor John Ward even said of the proposal to part develop

"It is not an ideal outcome—indeed it is a political fudge, satisfying no-one fully"

I understand that circumstances have changed - and I agree the proposal by the Council is reasoned - but the administration have not been honest with what they stood for in 2002/03, and they have also misrepresented the Council position at the time to state that the then administration wanted full development

That is the reason why the airport leaflet was heavily spun and as to why the electorate are being subjected to a barrage of attempting to re-write history. The column today by Cllr Jarrett that this is the legacy of the Conservative administration is rather ironically true; they are selling the land at the trough of the market with likely limited interest; but they can not deny that it is a policy that they would and did oppose in 2002/2003.

The current proposal is reasoned but the timing will cost Medway taxpayers; not only is the commercial real estate market at rock bottom but if anyone has been up to the industrial estate in Rochester near the airport you will see dozens and dozens of empty units; including Comet which closed this week. 

The Tories are simply out of touch with reality if they think they will maximise return for the rate payer.

The press want to know why Labour has not rejected this proposal outright and have been chasing for some form of opposition; there is no such because it was our proposal in 2002 after the Inspector's Report as they have been told time and time again! There is no row on the concept merely the timing. 

In May 2003; Cllr Rodney Chambers instructed Council officers to stop work as part of a range of initiatives worked out in advance, in anticipation of gaining an overall majority in the local elections (on an airport platform; opposition to Cliffe Airport and that of Rochester Airport). The irony isnt lost now the Tories are in government!

As a result of the election that year the Tories acted swiftly by ensuring that all activity towards proceeding with the compromise policy in the Medway Local Plan ceased.

At the time residents were promised a 'long-term lease' for the airport's operators but that never did materialise. The Conservative group also at the time opposed development, and identified a number of residential and employment sites that 'came' to light after the Inspector's report.  

If they had only accepted the Labour and Lib Dem compromise at the time then  investment would have been easily attracted and the airport facilities may have been modernised and maintained. 

Cllr Chambers called it wrong in 2002/2003 and for moving to accept our position some ten years later once again the towns have been subject to a Conservative opposition policy based on opportunism at the time but which has come back to cost us today.

You have done the right thing but a decade late

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    What is going to happen to the Pistol and Rifle Range at the airport.