Medway isn't being levelled up
Plus the administration has checked out, another terrible property, and our unwelcoming green spaces
Quite a big news week in Medway, with levelling up funding, last night’s full Medway Council meeting, and once again, one of the worst rental properties in a while..
Medway isn’t being levelled up
The government announced this week which areas were successful in the second round of levelling up funding bids. Now, while the concept of levelling up areas around the country sounds laudable, no one seems to really understand what it means, which effectively gives the government free rein to freely pick and choose any projects they like.
So what did Medway miss out on?
Medway submitted two bids in this round of funding. One was to improve the public realm around Gillingham, including the creation of a new greenway between Gillingham station and Chatham Waters using a disused railway line. The second sought funding for buildings at Innovation Park Medway, which Medway Council seems desperate to find any alternative to having to fund themselves.
Both of these projects would have brought potential benefits to Medway, even if arguably one was rather more valuable than the other.
None of it matters now though as the government says no, and that’s that.
Medway did previously win funding in the first round of the levelling up bids, which will see £14.4m poured into the creative industries in Medway. This is primarily to be spent around Chatham Dockyard but will also see the restoration of the Brook Theatre, which is definitely somewhere that needs some restoring.
It emerged today that Medway Council was presumably wasting its time with the second round of bidding in the first place. Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan revealed that you couldn’t win a round two bid if you succeeded in round one, which begs serious questions about exactly why those bidding weren’t aware of that before putting time and resources into their bids.
Still, while Medway didn’t succeed in this round, four places in Kent did meet the government’s opaque standards. Sheerness will get £20m to redevelop their town centre, including new business space and further education facilities. Folkestone will get £20m for town centre improvements and a new bus station. Canterbury will also get £20m to, er, open their castle. Finally, Dover gets more than everyone else combined with £63m, of which £18m will be spent on town centre redevelopment and £45m will go on keeping the Port of Dover working following a regrettable decision seven years ago. Still, good thing that bus promised us an extra £350m every week.
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NHS in numbers
I’d rather not be writing this section, but it is clear that nationally the NHS is under significant pressure. As such, I’ve been digging into the key metrics on how our system is coping locally.
Ambulance queues: 3% of patients arriving at Medway Hospital are waiting more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E. This is down from 8% last week, and does suggest Medway Hospital have broadly got on top of the issue, against a national average of 23%.
A&E waits: 44% of patients are waiting to be seen for longer than 4 hours at Medway Hospital. This is the same as last week, and worse than the national average of 40%.
Waiting lists: 38% of patients are waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine treatments. This is the same as last week, and slightly below the national average of 41%.
The administration has checked out at Medway Council
Last night saw the first full Medway Council meeting of the year, and with local elections coming in May, and the political winds largely against them, it appears that the ruling Conservative administration has given up already.
I’m not going to extensively write up this meeting as frankly not very much of any interest happens, but it is worth noting just how unengaged so many of the ruling party are from the process at this point:
One Cabinet member spent much of the evening checking the football on their laptop, occasionally being interrupted by having to answer a question.
Another Cabinet member spent a full minute answering a question with a prepared script for another question before anyone actually noticed.
One councillor spent a full hour of the meeting browsing Medway Elects, presumably regretting their decision to seek re-election.
Another councillor snapped at a member of the public who wished another councillor well.
Five members of the group didn’t even turn up.
We seem to have very much reached the end-of-school vibes that usually kick in around April. It’s hard to imagine the council achieving much of any consequence between now and the elections at this point.
If you hate yourself, you can sit through the entire meeting right here:
Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no specific data, but 2.5% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, down from 4.5% last week. This is in line with the wider national picture of rapidly falling case rates.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 17 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with none of them on a ventilator. This is down 27% on last week.
Deaths: No new deaths were recorded this week, keeping Medway at 1000 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.
64% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
Explore our green spaces if you dare
It’s easy to overlook some of the incredible green spaces we have on our doorstep. One of the best-kept secrets is definitely the area around Cobham and Ranscombe Farm. Swathes of unspoilt land, good walking routes, and the possibility of meeting some highland cattle.
Much of the problem is that the area feels largely inaccessible. Outside of a small car park at Ranscombe, which is often full, there’s no easy location to access the area. One way in is via an underpass at the top of Strood, which Medway Council has allowed to become as unwelcoming as possible:
Surely we can do better than this?
Another terrible property
Look, I’m as sick as writing about these things as you are of reading them, but Medway Council planning enforcement does nothing to stop this sort of thing, so here I am again.
This rental property listing recently popped up on Rightmove, which immediately set off my ‘dodgy rental red flags’ radar.
The listing described the property as a ‘ground floor maisonette’, which looks like this inside:
Cool. That seems totally fine. This is pretty much the whole property by the way. There’s a small shower room and a tiny bedroom down the back, but that’s it. Barely 2m wide with a total floor space of less than 29sqm, less than the minimum space requirements of 39sqm for even the tiniest studios.
Depressingly, none of this was the biggest red flag though. It was listed describing the place as both ‘council tax exempt’ but there would be a ‘£50pm council tax contribution to landlord’. Big yikes.
Assuming none of this has put you off, you can move in for a mere £800pm.
A little digging around on Google Maps turned up this, which suggests the flat is indeed just tacked onto the side of someone else’s house, presumably built as an annexe rather than an independent dwelling.
The usual trip through Medway Council’s planning documents suggests this is indeed the case:
As we’ve established previously, you can’t usually just build a flat in your front garden to let out, but you can propose a small living space usually designed for a family member who needs to live nearby but still have their space.
Of course, this is happening all over the place. This is the third (one and two here!) flat like this that I’ve covered since writing this newsletter, and of course, I’m only seeing the ones brazen enough to do this so publicly. There will be tons of these kinds of spaces flying under the radar, but Medway Council seems to have no will or resources to actually launch any kind of enforcement action.
People want to get away from Medway
Some interesting new polling from YouGov. The organisation has been investigating how people feel about their local areas. Residents of Medway consider that the area has “generally declined” in the last few years and a majority describe it as “the sort of place people try to get away from”.
It makes you proud.
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One reporter spent the day travelling across Kent on buses with the new £2 fare cap (KentOnline). They got from Dartford to Dungeness for £10, which feels quite impressive.
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