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Gun Wharf is falling down. Maybe.
Plus there has been some weather.
Medway Council’s headquarters have had to close for a week due to dodgy concrete. What impact does this have on services, meetings, and the courts that now use the building?
Our main story looks at the slightly rocky past and present of Gun Wharf. Further down, we take a look at the battering Medway took from Storm Ciarán, as well as a roundup of the other big stories in our towns this week. As always, these dispatches are only possible thanks to our generous paid supporters, so if you find value in these updates, please consider joining them.
Gun Wharf is falling down. Maybe.
Medway Council continued its stumble from one problem to another this week, with the discovery that reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (or RAAC as the kids call it) in the roof at Gun Wharf.
The headquarters of Medway Council has been something of a pain for the authority since its inception in 1998. Following the merger of the old Rochester-Upon-Medway City Council and Gillingham Borough Council, the civic centres of each of those authorities were disposed of and the new Medway Council set up shop in the former Lloyd’s building in Chatham, originally built in the 1970s.
The building has always felt like a slightly odd home for the authority, lacking many appropriate rooms for council business, to the point where full meetings have to be held at the appalling St. George’s Centre down the road as nowhere within Gun Wharf is large enough. The retrofitted building as a whole has the vibe of a modernist care home which, given some of the previous administrations, feels kind of appropriate.
In the years since, the building has proven to be a cost black hole, has sat largely empty since the pandemic as more staff work remotely, and due to its listed status ended up with a surreal situation where Medway Council rejected Medway Council’s plan to put solar panels on the roof of Medway Council’s headquarters. By 2020, there were serious discussions about abandoning the location altogether.
In more recent years, efforts have been made to make the building more cost effective and better utilised. A large chunk of the building has been converted for use as Medway County and Family Court, which took less than a year before being infested by bugs.
This year’s Medway Council budget also included a £320,000 budget spend to convert an area of the building into a proper council chamber, just like the grown-up authorities have. This is urgently needed given the current site at the St. George’s Centre is utterly unfit for purpose, being inaccessible and with such horrific sound it can be difficult to follow proceedings even when you’re in the room. Inevitably, many of the usual suspects have complained about this ‘waste of money’, even though it’ll likely earn money in the long-term by giving the council the ability to offer the St. George’s Centre.
So just as things were looking slightly more positive for the site, the news arrived this week of the dreaded concrete being found in the roof, and worse still, signs of damage alongside it.
Gun Wharf isn’t the first building in Medway to be struck down by the RAAC blight. Part of Holcombe Grammar School in Chatham was found to have used it, as were some areas of Medway Hospital. Neither of those appeared to be overly problematic though, with each location experiencing only minimal disruption as a result.
Not so with Medway Council though. Which is how we found ourselves with the headquarters of the local council having to fully shut down for an entire week, and the public-facing reception of the council seemingly being a cabin in the car park.
Repeated statements from Medway Council have emphasised that services are still operating as normal, and staff now know how to easily work remotely following the pandemic years. The average person contacting Medway Council shouldn’t notice much difference in responses or service.
This does slightly raise an issue of the ongoing necessity of Gun Wharf, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Following a further inspection of the building, some areas of the building have now been reopened to staff, though Medway Council don’t seem eager to say precisely how much of the building this constitutes.
Public council and committee meetings scheduled for next week have been moved out of the building, meaning anyone wanting to attend the riveting School Transport and Curriculum Appeals Committee or Licensing Sub-Committee will have a trip to Medway Park to look forward to instead.
More concerning is the impact that is currently being felt by the Medway County and Family Court operating out of the building. Their own website is highlighting that the court will remain closed for at least another week. Glancing through court records, it appears that proceedings are still taking place, but have instead been shifted to the Mercure Hotel in Maidstone, a mere 70 minutes on three buses away.
A statement from Medway Council Leader Vince Maple sets out that the problem is still far from resolved:
“Whilst some areas of Gun Wharf have now reopened, we are continuing to work with the specialist contractors and, when we have further details, we will consider the options available to address the RAAC going forward.”
With the council already facing a significant budget blackhole, having to patch up their headquarters at a potentially high cost will hardly be welcome to the already beleaguered authority.
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We have had some weather
People in Kent seem to get a little jumpy at the thought of extremely high winds arriving in October, and with good reason. Many of us will have memories of that night and the havoc it wreaked.
Nearly four decades on, weather prediction is much better than it was in those days, so we had a better insight into exactly what to expect. People were urged to work from home where possible, public transport warned of reduced services, and preparations were put in place.
Overall though, Medway seemed to escape pretty lightly from the wrath of Storm Ciaran. The biggest impact seemed to come with the downstairs of the Pentagon Shopping Centre flooding, but that seems to happen every other month anyway. Elsewhere, Chatham Library had to close its waterfront site, and the Esplanade in Rochester saw some flooding along with some other roads. But things were fairly quiet for the most part.
That isn’t to say we didn’t have a significant weather event. Other places didn’t escape so lightly, and extreme weather is becoming increasingly common. But thankfully, in this case, it wasn’t Medway that got to bear the brunt.
🚏 Buses will no longer serve part of Medway City Estate as they are unable to safely turn around at the end of route. The area is poorly served by public transport as it is, and this makes it more difficult to reach an even wider area.
🏥 Medway Hospital has launched ‘Patient Initiated Follow-Up’, a new system which allows patients to schedule their own subsequent outpatient appointments when they need them. What could go wrong?
🧑💼 Medway Council is spending tens of millions on agency workers to fill positions that they can’t find full-time staff to take on. Nearly 200 are currently employed at the authority, with agency staff costing up to £690 per day.
⚽ Gillingham Football Club have appointed Stephen Clemence as their head coach, replacing recently sacked manager Neil Harris. Clemence has no previous managerial experience but has served as an assistant at a number of clubs.
💩 Nearly 600m litres of sewage was spilt in the Medway area last year, the vast majority of which were in the Gillingham and Rainham areas. Pretty shit.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, we investigated just how many people in Medway are living in extreme poverty, and the answers aren’t fun. We also published our monthly event guide of interesting Medway things coming up in November. Finally, we interviewed Stephen Morris, music critic and author of Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway.
Coming up this week, our paid supporters will receive a deep dive into the world of skateboarding in our towns, our monthly planning report, and Steven interviews Labour’s Lauren Edwards, who is aiming to unseat Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst in the coming General Election.
Putting together this kind of in-depth reporting on Medway isn’t cheap, and becoming a paid supporter helps us cover the costs of running this thing. It costs less than £1 per week when joining us for a year, so please consider it if you can.
Additionally, we’ll be at the Pentagon Food & Craft Market in Chatham tomorrow (Sat 4 Nov) selling our range of Medwayish products and Local Authority subscriptions. The market takes place on the first floor of the Pentagon, so please pop up and say hi if you’re in town.