Medway’s wildly unambitious cycling plans
Plus Rochester Castle Concerts get a rebrand, cross-party unity at full council, and BBC Question Time in Gillingham
What should the next ten years of cycling and walking infrastructure in Medway look like? Pretty much the same as it does now if the new plans being consulted on by Medway Council are anything to go by. We have the full details below. Further down, we have news on the new promoter and branding for the Rochester Castle Concerts following some underwhelming years, all the big news from this week’s Medway Council meeting, and of course, we can’t ignore BBC Question Time from Gillingham.
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Medway’s wildly unambitious cycling plans
Driving has seemingly become the predominant culture war in Medway. The Conservative opposition came out strongly in favour of illegal parking by opposing Rainham’s red route. They have opposed selling car parks, which recently included one that was literally inaccessible. The Labour administration introducing School Streets and enforcing offences like yellow box infringements has led to further accusations that the administration is anti-car, or according to the more conspiratorial types, preparing for some kind of Medway ULEZ.
The latest phase in this war came this week with Medway Council launching their latest devastating attack on drivers by consulting on improved cycle paths and walking routes in our towns. Brutal.
The Medway Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (or LCWIP, as it’s more snappily known) consultation began this week, and sets out a ‘framework for infrastructure improvements over the next 10 years’.
So what is being proposed for a grand project over a decade?
Not very much, it seems.
The consultation is based around nine new cycling routes and two new walking routes, though how much that is truly new here is up for debate. Admittedly, for a council with no money, it’s understandable that the ambition won’t be that grand, but the plans on offer here are weak, and in some cases, non-sensical.
The walking routes in particular propose so little that there’s barely any point. The Gillingham route from Canterbury Street to Chatham Docks offers nothing beyond blocking some pavement parking, adding some tactile paving and rephasing some traffic lights. The second route from Brompton to Maidstone Road in Chatham offers the same, with some added footpath resurfacing and enforcement of parking restrictions for a small stretch. Bold stuff.
Plans on the cycling side are a little more ambitious, but only on certain routes. One area that does face significant changes is Maidstone Road in Rainham, which will see several connecting roads closed, raised tables introduced, a separate cycle lane, and a 20mph speed limit that will only apply to the main road, and not the considerably smaller streets off of it.
Elsewhere, Ingram Road in Gillingham will just get the 20mph speed limit (again not on connecting roads though) and some raised zebra crossings. We’re unsure how raised zebra crossings are particularly a cycling facility, but we’re not the experts. Plans for Dock Road in Chatham show a layout almost identical to now, just with an additional crossing a few metres from an existing one.
By the time we get to Rochester, the plans have almost given up themselves. Corporation Street and across Rochester Bridge are significant cycling routes, but no new facility is offered as ‘the busy nature of the route makes any major infrastructural changes potentially disruptive’. Slightly more helpfully, the Intra section of the High Street is proposed to be reduced to 20mph, but not much more than that, despite it being dominated by rat-running traffic
Strood will see the most significant intervention, particularly when it comes to 20mph speed limits, which will be littered across the area in the style of a Jackson Pollock painting. The small street area around the Tesco store will become a 20mph, as well as tiny sections of Priory Road, Cuxton Road, and Darnley Road, the latter of which will also receive a segregated lane for much of its length. None of these things are inherently bad, but the scattershot approach does raise some questions.
For fans of cycling alongside a 70mph dual carriageway, plans are in place to add a cycle lane alongside the A289 between Four Elms Hill and Sans Pareil roundabout, with a crossing being added at the latter, which should be a blessing for those trying to escape the Strood exit in a car for much of the day. The route will continue down Frindsbury Hill before unceremoniously ending before it connects to another proposed route in Strood.
Active travel is to be encouraged, and any progress to improve cycling and walking provision in Medway is welcome, but these plans are disappointingly weak, particularly for something that is supposed to shape the next decade of infrastructure in our towns. Whether the restrained plans on offer are a result of budgetary pressures or wanting to avoid the kind of Low Traffic Neighbourhood blowback that was seen in parts of London is a question that remains open.
The LCWIP (it’s feeling more catchy) consultation is open until 3 March. You can submit your views here.
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Rochester Castle Concerts get a rebrand
The Rochester Castle Concerts have spent years stumbling from one blunder to another. Following the revelation that they were losing Medway Council a ton of money, they were outsourced to a third-party promoter just in time to be spectacularly disrupted by a pandemic. Since then, events by organiser AGMP have been pretty haphazard, with underwhelming attendance figures and potentially unsafe conditions.
It seems AGMP have chosen to tap out now though, with a new promoter stepping forward to promote the events this year, with the shows taking on a new format for 2024.
The Festival Crowd put on a number of mediocre festivals around the country and looks to bring the same to Rochester with three one-day festivals in July, replacing the traditional big evening gig structure of previous years. The new format will see music start at 1pm on Saturday and Sunday with a 4pm start on Friday.
With all events under a Rochester Castle Live banner, each day will have a specific theme. Friday is Downtown Festival, which seems to be something indie rock related. Saturday is Superboxx, some kind of 80s to 2000s nostalgia thing. Sunday is Uptown Festival, a brand that the organisers use elsewhere, and immediately confused social media users when they seemed to suggest Madness would be playing, leading to the promoters having to reply to Facebook commenters that no, they wouldn’t be. Great start.
One slightly positive step though is that ticket prices do at least appear more reasonable than in previous years. While last year saw ticket prices of £60 for individual gigs, these all-day events are currently being sold for £36.
It’ll be interesting to see if these new promoters can make a better go of it than those who fell before them.
Full Council sees (mostly) cross-party unity
The first full Medway Council meeting of the year took place this week. These meetings are in something of a holding pattern at the moment as we await the budget in February to find out if Medway Council can bridge their enormous budget gap.
We also experimented with a new way of covering these meetings. For paid supporters, we posted live updates on our Chat section, as a way to offer something similar to our old-style live tweeting. It seemed like it worked fairly well, and it is something we’ll likely continue in the future.
Instead of the full blow-by-blow account, here are some highlights and key points to be taken from the meeting:
Palestinian Solidarity protestors demanding Medway Council call for a ceasefire in Gaza were once again outside after disrupting a Cabinet meeting last month. It was interesting to see Cllr Shokar (Lab) stand and chant with the protestors outside, while his administration faced questions about their perceived heavy-handed security at that previous meeting.
Before the meeting began, some kind of Medway theme song was played, which is apparently from the Kent Album Project, which features a song for every part of Kent. The Medway one was some kind of soft rock number but it was difficult to make out the lyrics, which might be for the best.
There were some procedural changes to make the meeting flow better: Extra time for public questions (as well as supplementary questions returning), less time on Leader’s Reports and Overview and Scrutiny. Motions were also placed earlier in the agenda to reduce the risk of councillors crankily shouting at each other after midnight.
Chatham Docks was raised as an office. Medway Council Leader Cllr Maple said a meeting between owner who wants to close it down Peel Ports and ‘hold out’ tenant Arcelor Mittal had been “positive” and “constructive” but didn’t go much further than that.
On Anchorage House, Cllr Khan (Lab) confirmed that Medway was receiving no financial contribution from Newham Council, but they are working with Newham to get use of some of the units for Medway residents.
A question asked if any events or festivals faced cuts in the coming year, and Cllr Mahil (Lab) made it very clear that anything is on the table and a final budget will be presented next month.
On the all-important #MedwayBinCrisis, Cllr Maple says that Medway will hold contractors to account for the failures in collection over New Year, and later confirmed Veolia would be giving the council a rebate over the service.
The Conservatives went in weirdly hard on their opposition to the Rainham red route and managed to tangle themselves up in knots with some kind of logic that drivers don’t park illegally in Rainham so one isn’t needed there but they are needed elsewhere because drivers park illegally in those places. Or something. Cllr Perfect (Con) criticised the administration for having an “anti-car agenda”, and it went on like this for some time.
Answering a question on Innovation Park Medway, Cllr Edwards (Lab) made it clear that while discussions are still ongoing, there's no firm movement toward actual tenants on the site.
Medway Council agreed on a cross-party basis to borrow £42m so Medway Council can purchase 150 homes to use as temporary accommodation. This is a significant expenditure, but it will in theory reduce costs of housing families in private rentals over the long term. Cllr Lawrence (Con) pointed out it would be easier to just stop people from becoming homeless in the first place. Cool, simple as that.
They also agreed to spend £2.75m to deliver a Healthy Living Centre in the Pentagon, which will later be reimbursed by the NHS. It will also see over £3m from other budgets to facilitate both the HLC and a new coworking hub on the first floor.
On the always thorny topic of councillor remuneration, an independent panel proposed keeping the basic allowance for councillors at the current level of £11,474, but suggested increasing allowances for cabinet members and chairpeople by between 10 and 20%. Proving that independent panels are only worthwhile when they agree with you, Cllr Maple rejects those increases. This effectively keeps all councillor allowances at the existing levels across the board, despite the significant inflationary and cost of living increases in recent years.
Question Time came to Gillingham
The last time BBC Question Time filmed in Medway, it was a rowdy affair, and this week’s edition proved to be the same.
Recorded from MidKent College and featuring a veritable “who?” of political figures including Conservative Alex Burghart, Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, and Bronwen Maddox from Chatham House, the latter presumably there because someone thought she’d have a short commute.
The tone was set from the off, with the ‘local’ pictures displayed on the table showing two lovely scenes of, er, Chatham, before the audience and participants started tackling the big issues like whether World War 3 is imminent. Cheerful stuff, but it did provide a moment for Gillingham and Rainham Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Stuart Bourne the opportunity to announce how he’d be ready to take up arms. Jolly good.
By and large though, it was same old, same old with the show, but it did provide some illuminating moments, such as when the audience broke into laughter at Burghurt’s defence of the government, which can hardly be a positive sign for the Tories in an area where they swept to victory five years ago. Similarly, when the audience was asked who could say anything positive about Rishi Sunak, only one individual was willing to come to his defence.
The final question of the night was when things properly kicked off, over the issue of ‘what hope can we give to our young people’, which descended into a shouting match between one angry audience member and the panel. This just seems to be how we roll in Medway if Keir Starmer’s visit to the same venue last year is anything to go on.
🧗 Chimera Climbing is set to replace the Flip Out trampoline park in Chatham. It is unclear exactly when the change will occur, but it looks to be during February.
🚧 Medway Council is struggling to remove travellers from the former commuter car park in Wigmore. Travellers were granted permission to use the site for three months, but remain there six months later.
🚌 The Canal Road bus lane in Strood has generated nearly £100,000 in fines from drivers who ignored the multiple signs and warnings on approach to the area.
⚽ New Gillingham FC player Remeao Hutton has been filmed claiming he will bring “gay business, racism, and shagging” to the team. Big yikes.
🚉 A vehicle crashed into the side of Rainham rail station this week. It is unclear how this was even possible, but the damage is significant.
Events this week
🎭 The latest production from the Medway Little Theatre starts on Monday (29 Jan). The Weir combines chilling tales of the supernatural with the hilarious banter of a small community in the heart of rural Ireland. Tickets cost £12.
🍸 Rochester Cocktail Week kicks off on Thursday (1 Feb) and runs for closer to two weeks than one. Wristbands cost £10 and grant you access to unique £5 cocktails across an extensive range of venues in the heart of Rochester.
Our paid supporters receive extra editions of Local Authority every week. This week, it was a veritable Steven bonanza, as he looked at Medway’s latest Monitoring Report, which assesses how our area is doing on a variety of metrics. Elsewhere, he also interviewed Cllr Gareth Myton, a new councillor first elected in May last year who was immediately propelled into the position of Group Whip for the new Labour administration.
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An earlier edition of this piece suggested the Conservative group opposed all red routes across Medway, but has since been updated to specify that the primary campaign has been against Rainham’s scheme.
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