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Another chaotic year of the Rochester Castle Concerts
Plus MP celebrates Medway losing £170m in funding, a Kent news website that hates competition, and loads more
Editor’s note: Today’s edition of Local Authority is with you a little earlier this week because the team is clocking off early to head to the Kent Press & Broadcast Awards, where we’re a finalist for Kent News Website of the Year. So please don’t do anything particularly newsworthy today. We still have a packed edition today, including more chaotic stories from the Rochester Castle Concerts last week, the loss of £170m in infrastructure funding for Medway, and us getting on our high horse about a fellow Kent news website trying to stop competition. Let’s get to it.
Another chaotic year of the Rochester Castle Concerts
Last week saw the third year of the Rochester Castle Concerts in their new privately operated guise, and once again, a number of issues were reported throughout the four days of events.
Several weeks ago, we reported that tickets were being given away for just a £5.50 booking fee. This has become a tradition for these events, with ticket sales at the full £50-55 price point proving sluggish, the promoters make them available on seat-filling websites like SeeFilmFirst for a token amount. This makes the event look busier than it might otherwise be, and at least gets customers in spending money on food and drink.
This was even less subtle this year, with the promoters imposing a final entry time of 7pm for the events. Now, there are very few concerts where you’re obliged to turn up hours ahead of the act you’ve paid to see, and while watching support bands is always to be encouraged, it should never be mandatory. The 7pm deadline feels even more silly given some of the events took place on weekdays when people might only be getting home from work at that time.
This rule didn’t seem to hold even on the first night though, with attendees reporting to Local Authority that they had little issue getting in as late as 8.30pm, with others reporting that so many were still outside as the deadline approached that people started being let in without tickets even being checked.
The first night of the event, featuring Nile Rodgers & Chic seemed to experience the largest number of problems this year. The event was presumably the only one that sold well given it wasn’t made available on seat-filling websites, and users reported that the arena felt very full.
Attendees told us of queues exceeding an hour to get drinks at the bar and giving up on even attempting to get food in light of similar scenes. On two occasions the concert had to be stopped due to events in the crowd, at least one of them being a fight between multiple attendees. This kind of thing has happened before at the Castle Concerts, but it’s an unfortunately common occurrence and raises questions about how the crowds are managed at these events.
Just as troubling were reports of how disabled visitors to the event were not appropriately catered for. We heard stories of users not getting carer passes until the last minute, a lack of accessible routes through the site, and a lack of disabled parking anywhere near the event location. One reader, Maria McCarthy, talked to us about her experience using the access platform for those with mobility problems, and it paints a pretty damning picture:
The access platform was tiny, about a third of the size of most access areas. It's usual for access areas to have their own toilets, so people with mobility problems don't have to queue. There was no such provision. There was a toilet cabin behind the area, behind a barrier. This was for the crew only (I didn't see it used the whole evening). The one disabled toilet was in the VIP area. I asked to reach this, and it took about 15 minutes for security to get permission to allow me through the barrier. Thereafter, people on the access platform were allowed through, but had to ask a steward every time they wanted the toilet.
The last two women to arrive on the platform found that there were no chairs left. The steward in charge of our area looked lost; she asked another steward to take the problem upline as there were no more chairs to be had. One of the women had to stand for over half an hour until a chair was found. The only space for her to put her chair was halfway across the exit to the ramp. Some people told me that they didn't feel safe.
It does seem like the experience for attendees of the other nights was better, and most of the people we spoke to who attended the Soft Cell and Sugababes show didn’t have any serious concerns to report. One attendee at Soft Cell painted a very different picture when compared to the experience at Nile Rodgers & Chic, telling us it was “well organised, no queues” and that they “got served a reasonably priced beer in 5 minutes”.
How much of this is down to the promoters changing things based on the issues of the first night, and how much is just because significantly fewer people attended the subsequent nights is hard to gauge. But it’s clear that several years after being dropped by Medway Council and moving to the private sector, there’s still a long way to go to make these viable, enjoyable events once again.
MP celebrates Medway losing £170m in funding
Confirmation came this week that Medway will lose £170m in vital infrastructure funding after the government pulled the plug.
Homes England awarded Medway the Housing Infrastructure Fund money back in 2019 to facilitate new infrastructure on the Hoo peninsula, which would have allowed appropriate levels of housebuilding to follow.
The ambitious plan was to support 12,000 new homes on the peninsula, and the money would have been spent on a new rail connection, a new access road, and other environmental improvements for the area.
Nearly four years on, little work had been done to move forward on the project, with the previous administration dragging their feet and cancelling key elements like the rail connection, and now the government have withdrawn the money.
It is fair to say that all elected representatives in the area were opposed to the plans and fought against any development on the peninsula, as is the way of local representatives.
Despite this, it was still galling to see Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst gleefully celebrate the loss of the funding in a post on her website. It’s one thing to oppose new housebuilding in your patch, it’s another to celebrate the loss of hundreds of millions of funding to improve roads and public transport on your patch, and certainly, an interesting stance to take with a General Election on the horizon.
This newsletter is like a broken record at this point, but significant housebuilding needs to be delivered in Medway. If it’s not on the peninsula, it needs to be somewhere. But everyone wants it ‘somewhere else’ rather than their patch. It’s not sustainable and is condemning a generation of Medway residents to a limited and unsuitable housing supply, or being forced out of the area.
Medway Question Time is this Wednesday
Last call for our very first Medway Question Time event, which will be taking place at MidKent College this Wednesday.
Medway Question Time is an opportunity to directly ask questions to significant Medway figures on any subject that interests you.
It’ll be a quarterly event that will take place at various locations across Medway, each with a unique panel of Medway figures answering questions from you.
The panel for this event on Wednesday:
Vince Maple, Leader of Medway Council
Elizabeth Turpin, Deputy Leader of Medway Conservative Group
Cat Jamieson, Medway Green Party
Simon Cook, Chair of the Medway Place Board
Rose Stokes, Chair of Medway Youth Council
Tickets are free but booking is essential. By booking a ticket you will have the ability to submit a question for the panel. We can't guarantee we'll ask them all, but we will be selecting as broad a cross-section of them as possible ahead of the event.
We hope you can make it along with some challenging questions for the panel!
KentLive is afraid of competition
KentLive recently posted a rare opinion piece, attacking the BBC for wanting to employ more local journalists. They see this as a threat to their work “challenging authority” and “holding power to account”. This will seem ridiculous to anyone who actually reads KentLive as very little of what they do can seriously be considered important journalism.
At the same time as they posted the piece, the KentLive Medway section had articles on where the most Greggs stores are located, a debate on veganism, a tour of an Eastenders star home, and an advert for homes in Chatham.
We all know that local journalism is pushed to the bone and the corporate overlords at places like KentLive publisher Reach are trying to protect the pathetic crumbs they have, but still, how they can ever publish that piece with a straight face is incredible.
The state of local journalism is exactly why we should all be welcoming more local journalists, particularly ones who don’t need to chase clickbait. It’s clear that the advertising-loaded free model for local news is broken. A larger local journalism ecosystem is better for all of us.
We launched Local Authority with a paid subscription model from day one. None of us are able to work for free, but news outlets have to give readers the kind of content that they want to read. Chasing the lowest common denominator clickbait material will only go so far.
We’re proud to be doing a different kind of local news, that covers the big issues while keeping it easy to read. Our core Friday newsletter is free to everyone and always will be, but if you like what we do and would like to receive more of it, please consider supporting us with a paid subscription. Our subscriptions start from less than £1 per week, and ensure we can keep doing this without covering our content with ads or writing about celebrities or manufactured outrage.
🎨 The Medway School of Arts is set to open within Chatham Dockyard. The new campus will be operated by MidKent College, which is seeking to replace the closed UCA campus in Rochester. The first intake of 100 students is set for this September.
🩺 Junior doctors are now on strike until Tuesday. Medway Hospital says some non-urgent appointments may be rescheduled, but emergencies are being handled as normal.
🔽 After nearly a year of rises, unemployment fell in Medway last month. 6,610 are currently unemployed in the towns, down from 6,780 in the previous month.
🎬 Medway Council would welcome Netflix “with open arms” if they wanted to move into the Innovation Park. Which they almost certainly don’t.
📸 Gillingham Street Angels staff are going to start wearing cameras after being spat on by service users. Chief Executive Neil Charlick, who with his team posed for photos with Nigel Farage, claimed people are “less respectful” now.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, we published our exclusive interview with the former Labour MP for Chatham and Aylesford, Jonathan Shaw. He discusses how he became a Member of Parliament, his regrets over the Iraq war, and his advice for future candidates in Medway.
We also published our monthly planning update, looking at what is in the pipeline for Medway. A range of applications feature this month from an expanding school to a change at Dockside to the inevitable flats to a, er, CT scanner in a car park.