Medway gets a new independent councillor
Plus a footbridge is shelved to save Costa, Medway Council living in the 80s, and time to nominate your community champions
Greetings from a very cold Local Authority Towers, where the boiler decided to pack up last night.
What we learnt from the Peninsula by-election
Yesterday saw the Peninsula by-election triggered by the death of independent councillor Mick Pendergast. It wasn’t an election that anyone wanted, and getting voters out on a frozen Thursday in November was always going to be quite the challenge.
Still, the results are in, and Medway has a new councillor: Independent candidate George Crozer won the election, and by a significant margin.
Peninsula by-election results:
George Crozer (Independent) - 1038
Harold Ogunfemi (Conservative) - 371
Julian Sutton (Green) - 255
Chris Spalding (Independent) - 230
David Hodges (Labour) - 215
Sharon Jackson (Independent) - 89
Ben Rist (Liberal Democrat) - 29
Turnout was 18.7% of the electorate on the Peninsula, which is pretty abysmal but not entirely unusual for by-elections in Medway sadly.
Obviously, the key takeaway here is the gap between Cllr Crozer and his nearest rival, Harold Ogunfemi of the Conservatives. Crozer has the advantage of being a long-time campaigner in the area that voters recognise, and who isn’t attached to any political party. This plays well in an area that seems to be bloody-mindedly independent when it comes to elections.
Crozer’s campaign was largely based on protecting the peninsula from overdevelopment, which is by far the biggest issue in the area. While other candidates made the right noises in this direction, the difference with Crozer is that he’s been at it so long that people actually trust what he says.
The Conservatives coming second could actually be regarded as a pretty good result for them given how disastrous the party is performing on a national level. Given there seemed to be little campaigning to support Ogunfemi beyond some token efforts, it could have been much worse for them.
Medway Greens also had a good night by their standards, coming in third place with very little effort being put into campaigning. While the smaller parties obviously have very few resources to operate with, it feels like the Greens missed a trick here by not pushing harder, which it feels like could have pushed the Conservatives into third.
Perennial independent candidate Chris Spalding ran on a ‘continuity Mick Pendergast’ platform but had recently faced some criticism for not being local to the ward. All things considered, fourth wasn’t a terrible showing, but he would have been hoping for more.
There has to be an element of disappointment for Medway Labour, who only managed to come fifth even with the national political winds being in their favour. While the party did little campaigning, instead focusing on the wider Medway areas they need to win the council next year, there will be concerns they couldn’t push up to at least third.
Independent candidate Sharon Jackson seemed to have a nice time and can take solace that she didn’t come last, a privilege won by Liberal Democrat Ben Rist, whose party undertook no actual campaigning ahead of the election.
Trying to figure out what all of this tells us ahead of the local elections in May is difficult as Peninsula is unlike any other ward in Medway. The picture is also complicated by this being the very last Medway election to be held on the current political boundaries. May will see Peninsula ward split in two, with three councillors being elected in the new Hoo and High Halstow ward, and another in All Saints, covering the more remote parts of the peninsula.
Cllr Crozer is standing on a joint platform with existing independent Cllr Ron Sands and another local campaigner Michael Pearce, who seem almost certain to win all three seats in the Hoo and High Halstow ward. All Saints looks more open, with Conservative Harold Ogunfemi set to stand there, which appears to be the area he’s more competitive, and where he already sits as a parish councillor in Grain. So it’s not entirely beyond possibility that both Crozer and Ogunfemi will find both of themselves on Medway Council next year after their battle here.
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Save Costa by removing bridges
The Rochester Riverside development has changed form several times since first being proposed. While the original plans saw a more vibrant, leisure-orientated space, as the years have gone the plans have gradually focused more and more on the housing element. Which, fair enough, housing crisis and all that.
Since gaining planning permission though, developers have repeatedly sought to tweak the plans, in turn stripping out much of the elements that made the site interesting. As well as pushing more units in than were originally agreed, the developers have won planning permission to remove public art installations they originally agreed to, and now they are back to ask that a footbridge be removed from the plans too.
As part of creating a safe, attractive walking and cycling route through the site, a river walk running the full length was included, stopping pedestrians and cyclists coming into conflict with traffic on the site. Some of the creeks on the river make walking around them fairly lengthy, so a footbridge for both pedestrians and cyclists was proposed to allow these users to cross Cory’s Creek without going too far out of their way.
The proposal is set to be discussed at Medway Council’s Planning Committee next week, with officers proposing that the plans be accepted because the bridge would, er, reduce footfall to Costa:
This is a pretty wild reason to scrap a link that would be more direct and avoid forcing pedestrians and cyclists into the busy centre of the development which straddles the main road through the site. Good news for Costa though.
Still, if the bridge is scrapped, the developers will still have to pay what it would have cost toward other projects in the area. Which isn’t really good enough but it’s better than nothing. So where would the money go in this scenario?
For that, we have several answers. In the first instance, the money would go to restoring Rochester Pier, which Medway Council recently allowed to fall into the river. If this isn’t financially viable, and it may not be as repairing a pier you’ve allowed to completely collapse doesn’t come cheap, there are other options:
So, as ever, all roads lead back to Dickens in these towns. Brilliant.
Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no Medway-specific data, but 1.8% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, up from 1.7% last week.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 8 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with none of them on a ventilator. This is up 100% from last week.
Deaths: 2 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 998 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 80% of the 12+ population in Medway have had at least one vaccine dose, 77% have had two doses, and 60% have received a booster dose.
77% of those eligible for a spring booster received one.
10% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
63% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
Medway Council is living in the 1980s
I don’t want to say Medway Council is living in the past, but this is what they were using to heat the Regeneration, Culture and Environment committee meeting last night:
It’s been clear for some time that the St. George’s Centre isn’t fit for purpose as a location for council meetings. Medway Council, despite being a relatively recent creation, has no council chamber of its own, instead using small meeting rooms at Gun Wharf for some committees and holding the larger ones in the St. George’s Centre. Which is a large, cold room with terrible acoustics and nearly impossible to get to in the evening without a car.
More meetings moved to the building during the covid pandemic to aid social distancing, but now that Medway Council and seemingly everyone else now seems to think the pandemic is over, it’s odd that they haven’t moved back. Medway Council recently gave up some of their Gun Wharf building so that Medway Family Court could move in, so it’s not clear if this limits the ability for meetings to return to the site.
Open and accessible local democracy in Medway as ever.
Time to nominate your Medway community champions
Pride in Medway is an awards ceremony that takes place in Medway each year, highlighting local heroes in a range of areas.
Categories include those working in charities, sports, volunteers, or the delightfully vague community service. Anyone can nominate someone from Medway doing incredible work in our community.
If you can think of any outstanding community champions who might deserve a nomination, whether it’s for important charity work or, just as an example, someone who works tirelessly to keep people informed on local issues, now is the time to nominate them.
You can head over to the Pride in Medway website to nominate someone ahead of the 2023 awards now.
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Medway Family Court is set to open within Gun Wharf. (KentOnline)
Two more Chatham car parks are set to close. (KentLive)
Anchorage House in Chat could be used to accommodate asylum seekers. (KentOnline)
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Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Well Soon by Walter Mitty and his Makeshift Orchestra, Please Don’t Take Me Back by Martha, and The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats.