Major blow as Medway’s housing strategy thrown out by government inspector
PUBLISHED: 15:55 25 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:55 25 June 2013
But critics of Medway Council’s ambitious plans say the authority must take note
Council chiefs in Medway have been dealt a major blow after a government planning inspector threw out plans to redevelop a former military site – plans which have cost the taxpayer some £27 million.
The ambitious proposal to develop the land at Lodge Hill had been the focus of two decades of work and formed a key part of Medway Council’s core strategy for the area.
But the planning inspectorate this week deemed the strategy unsound due to significant issues surrounding the development, putting the brakes on plans and potentially seeing them axed altogether.
Medway has been working with developers Land Securities, the government and relevant environment agencies on proposals to build 5,000 homes and associated facilities on the Ministry of Defence-owned land in Chattenden, located north of Rochester in Hoo.
But earlier this year, charity RSPB opposed the scheme due to the 70 nightingales discovered at the site following a survey.
Government body Natural England declared the area a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to the nightingales and a special type of grass, called MG5, also discovered there although opponents still have time to appeal this.
Leader of Medway Council, Rodney Chambers, called it “unthinkable” that more than £35m invested, which includes funding from Land Securities, could just be “written off”.
“This won’t just cost public money – it will cost local people 5,000 much needed new homes, and 5,000 jobs,” he said.
“There was extensive public consultation before the plans were put forward including nearly 90 hours of public exhibitions and design workshops.
“As a result of that consultation nearly half the 620 acre site has been devoted to public open space, community gardens and extensive areas of woodland.
“We have worked with numerous people over a 17 year period since this site was first identified by the government as one for development to make sure this site is suitable for sustainable development, bringing the housing needed to support our area’s growth in a way that is sensitive to the natural habitat.
“This is what the government decided to do as part of its drive to redevelop former military sites.
“Yet – despite ministers from the past and current governments supporting the development of Lodge Hill – their unelected quangos seem intent on throwing a spanner in the works, which quite simply beggars belief.
“It is surprising and frustrating that this has been delayed in this way at the 11th hour.”
Cllr Chambers demanded the government “sort this out – for local people, for the growth of our area and for the economy”.
“It is now for the government to get to grips with its own agencies, who appear to be trying to stop its economic growth and housing agenda – growth that we are led to believe the country desperately needs,” he said.
While the council is furious over the decision by the planning inspectorate, RSPB is renewing its calls for Medway to “reconsider its criticised proposals”.
Director of conservation, Martin Harper, said council leaders needed to stop wasting time and money and identify alternative sites for development to provide jobs and housing for people “while protecting the environment for future generations”.
“This is not a case of wildlife versus jobs and houses,” he said.
“We perfectly understand Medway Council’s desire to create employment and homes for the people of north Kent.
“However, the Government’s own guidance is perfectly clear: housing shouldn’t be proposed for nationally-important wildlife sites before alternatives have been considered.
“It is difficult to see how any rational planning authority could grant consent for a planning application now that a government inspector has made it clear that the proposal is against national planning policy.
“We think now is the time to draw a line under the Lodge Hill proposal.”