Developer miraculously finds money for affordable homes
Plus farewell to Rochester Pier, updated ambulance response times, and Medway Light Nights is this weekend!
Thanks for reading Local Authority! It’s been a relatively slow news week in Medway, but there are still some interesting stories, starting with an unusual bout of good news…
Developer miraculously finds money for affordable homes
If you’ve been reading Local Authority for a while, you might remember a story last year about how the developer of Chatham Waters was trying to wriggle out of their financial obligations. To quickly recap, developers Peel agreed to build 237 affordable homes as part of a wider 950-home residential development, as well as contribute £440,000 towards local services and infrastructure. But last year they decided they couldn’t afford to do these things, despite already building hundreds of flats that sell for up to £400,000 each.
They generously proposed to continue with the building of the affordable homes but claimed they would unable to provide the £440,000 financial contribution.
Peel was direct in their ultimatum and made it very clear that if Medway Council refused to allow the £440,000 to be dropped, they wouldn’t be building the affordable homes.
Thankfully, Medway Council developed a backbone for once and was having none of it.
The minutes from the Planning Committee meeting where the issue was discussed raise some interesting points. Councillors pointed out that the development was generating £200m for Peel, so this was a small sum in the grand scheme of things. They also questioned how Peel could be making a loss on the project given the increase in house prices since the original permission was granted. Further, they were worried if they allowed Peel to get away with this, a precedent would be set and other developers would likely attempt to follow suit.
The councillors resolved to refuse Peel’s request, insisting that the developer complete the 237 homes as well as make the originally agreed financial contribution.
This decision was taken only four months ago, and yet something strange happened this week: Peel celebrated that building of the new homes was now underway and one of them was already up to roof level. Their press release goes on to trumpet the £470,000 they have provided to ‘support’ the development, while seemingly forgetting that only four months ago they were trying to get out of providing that same support. The first homes on the site are due to be available by the end of the year.
From claiming the development wasn’t financially viable four months ago to topping out the first building now. Funny how quickly you can get these things done when you need to.
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NHS in numbers
999 calls: South East Coast Ambulance answered 60,888 calls in January. The average time for a call to be answered was 26 seconds, a significant improvement from the 3-minute answer time in December. 10% of callers waited longer than 105 seconds for an answer.
Ambulance response times:
South East Coast Ambulance Trust has improved response times for all categories from the scary times they recorded in December. While target times are still not being met for the most urgent calls, they are now closer to what they should be.
Ambulance queues: 2% of patients arriving at Medway Hospital are waiting more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E. This is the same as last week, and represents Medway Hospital taking in patients relatively quickly, against a national average of 24%.
A&E waits: 28% of A&E patients waited more than 4 hours to be seen during January at Medway Hospital. This is down from 44% in December, and in line with the national average of 28%.
Waiting lists: 40% of patients were waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine treatments in December. This is up from 38% in November, and slightly below the national average of 42%.
Farewell then, Rochester Pier
Last year, following years of neglect, Rochester Pier collapsed into the river. This didn’t come entirely as a surprise. In 2019, the pier was closed as it was found to be structurally unsound, so it was closed to the public.
And then nothing happened. Until 2022 when it finally collapsed.
The state of Rochester Pier is a metaphor for how things have been going in Medway for some time. Infrastructure and services have faced years of managed decline, with little ability or inclination to actually fix or improve things.
This week, Medway Council decided to remove the parts that had fallen into the river, which should be good news as it signals something being done. But as ever, it’s just the bare minimum.
As there is no money available to restore the pier in full, Medway Council is spending nearly £140,000 just to remove the collapsed section, and that’s about it. A significant sum of money still gets spent, but Medway gets nothing in return.
There’s little prospect of the pier being restored in the near future, and so a little bit more of our infrastructure becomes unusable. Infrastructure that until fairly recently was used to host events and visiting boats, particularly around the times of Rochester festivals.
But now it’s gone, unlikely to be back again anytime soon. This should be unthinkable in a set of towns that styles itself as a “waterfront city”. It remains baffling how inaccessible our river is despite its prominence in our towns.
Hopefully, it won’t always be.
Covid in numbers
Cases: Once a month, the ONS do publish local data on cases. It is now estimated that 1.6% of the Medway population would currently test positive for covid. In the wider south east region, the figure is 1.7%, up from 1.3% last week.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 27 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with none of them on a ventilator. This is up 35% from last week.
Deaths: 4 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 1011 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 60% of the 12+ population in Medway have received at least three doses of covid vaccine.
9% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
65% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
Come and see some lights
This weekend sees the second edition of the Medway Light Nights events, which will see an extensive programme of light installations throughout the centre of Chatham. Wandering through Chatham in the evening isn’t usually a very appealing prospect, but it might just be worth it tonight (Friday) or tomorrow (Saturday).
A full trail of installations will extend right along Chatham High Street, around the bus station and Chatham Library area, as well as a fringe event throughout the Intra area towards Rochester. Food stalls will be dotted along the route, and a pop-up food market will be happening in the Intra area too.
There’s a full programme and map on the Visit Medway website. Parking may well be limited in the town centre, so Medway Council is running a park-and-ride from Chatham Dockyard between 5pm and 10pm for just £1 per adult, with free tickets for children.
The event last year in Rochester was really well received, so hopefully this will be a worthy follow-up and a clear marker of intent for a great new annual event for Medway.
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Some people think Liam Gallagher played in Halling last week (Daily Star). Yeah, sure, okay.
The Splashes car park has closed so that construction of the new leisure centre can begin (KentLive). Whether or not it actually gets completed within budget or at all remains to be seen.
Council tax in Medway is going to rise by 5% (KentOnline). In an election year, no less. Things must be desperate.
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Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Jonathan Sings! by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Tourist In This Town by Allison Crutchfield, and Club Anthems 2001 by Ballboy.