Michael Gove comes for Medway
Plus two car parks to be sold off, exciting rail stats, and a new Medway Christmas song
We’ve been writing about Medway’s Local Plan drama since the dawn of Local Authority, so it seems fitting that we end the year on the latest episode: Michael Gove is coming for us. Further down, we have news of two car parks being sold off for development, some exciting rail stats, and a new Medway Christmas song.
This is the final edition of Local Authority this year. We’ll be back with the next regular Friday edition for all subscribers on 5 January, and content for paid supporters will resume around new year. Thanks for reading and your support over this past year. We quite literally couldn’t do it without you.
Michael Gove comes for Medway
It only seems fitting that we finish the year with a story about Medway’s Local Plan, or more accurately, Medway’s lack of one.
Surprising few, Medway’s inability to enact a Local Plan has now drawn the attention of the government, with Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities writing to Medway Council Leader Vince Maple to inform him that he is intervening to get the process moving.
In his full letter, Gove cites the ability of Medway Council to make progress over the past 19 years, highlighting how the lack of a plan has led to speculative development and building without economic growth and infrastructure.
Of course, he is right. Medway Council has been utterly derelict in its duty to produce a plan, leaving us with piecemeal development across our towns and countryside with very little supporting infrastructure.
On the other hand, it isn’t entirely fair to lay that blame on the current administration of Medway Council. Aside from the past six months, all of those 19 years were under the control of a dithering Conservative administration, and while we are still some way away from completion, the new Labour administration has been making progress.
Cllr Maple has set out Medway’s case in his response to Gove’s intervention:
We were astonished and disappointed that your department lacked the courtesy to inform the council of your directive until after both your speech on Tuesday (19 December) in which you named Medway and six other authorities as underperforming in the delivery of their respective local plans, and the DLUHC X feed, posting about Medway Council.
I might remind you that this council has been under Conservative control for the past 20 years, whereas the new Labour and Co-operative Administration has prioritised production of the Local Plan from day one – this in the face of chronic resourcing challenges, your department’s abrupt withdrawal of £170m Housing Infrastructure Funding and the brakes another Department put on development in Medway owing to a gateway motorway junction on the strategic road network being assessed as not fit for purpose.
His letter goes on to cite the various government interferences that have led to the plan stalling, and delightfully invites Gove to come and visit Medway in the coming weeks. We’ll see if he takes Cllr Maple up on that generous offer.
Much like Gove’s intervention, Cllr Maple’s response is also correct. It isn’t reasonable to place the blame on the new administration, nor is it their fault that Gove’s own department withdrew £170m in Housing Infrastructure Fund. But neither of those things negate that over two decades, Medway has indeed failed to create a Local Plan.
Ultimately, both of them are right, and whatever posturing each side takes isn’t necessarily going to help matters. If Gove intervening gets a Local Plan done faster, great. If Medway Council are going to up their game to get it done, even better.
We are approaching the season finale of the Local Plan drama. Either Medway Council manages to get it done, or Gove’s department will step in and take over the entire process. No one is going to want that outcome, so we’d better hope that Medway can get the job done.
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Two car parks to be sold for development
Medway Council agreed to sell off two car parks this week for development, with Cabinet agreeing to sell off Union Place in Chatham and Temple car park in Strood.
Long-time readers may recall a dispute over the Union Place site earlier this year, with developer Donard Homes blocking access to the car without informing Medway Council first. Donard had obtained the former Buzz Bingo building, whose land included access to the Union Place car park. Cutting off this access has meant the car park has been unusable ever since, and plans to create another access have been deemed financially unviable.
Donard at the time proposed a development that encompassed the Buzz Bingo site and the car park behind. Blocking off the car park didn’t seem like a great way to ingratiate oneself into gaining the site, but the combination of a new administration and a dire financial situation at Medway Council seems to have reopened the possibility.
Temple car park in Strood is wedged between the Tesco and McDonald’s on Commercial Road, and likely somewhere you’ve passed a lot of times and never even noticed existed. Revenue figures from the council seem to confirm that, with the car park bringing in less than £60 per day. There is no plan for how the site may be used, but significant redevelopment of the Tesco site has been proposed several times over the years, with the store gaining planning approval to build a new store on the site over a decade ago. Those plans were scrapped in 2015, and it remains to be seen what the future of the site will look like.
Rail stats nerds, assemble
It’s a big week for rail nerds, as the Office of Rail and Road released its latest statistical update covering usage of rail stations across the entire network. You’ll find a lot of stories elsewhere on the main headline figures, but we know there’s only one important set of data: What’s going on with Medway’s stations?
Gillingham - 2,120,460 (5,809 per day)
Chatham - 2,010,328 (5,508 per day)
Rochester - 1,783,662 (4,888 per day)
Rainham - 1,390,172 (3,808 per day)
Strood - 990,098 (2,712 per day)
Halling - 61,786 (169 per day)
Cuxton - 48,600 (133 per day)
More interestingly is where passengers from each station are going. You might think Medway passengers will largely be heading to the same places, and in a way, they are as most are heading to London. But almost every station has its own main destination:
Gillingham, Chatham, and Rochester passengers are most likely to be going to and from London Victoria. Rainham passengers are most likely to be heading to London Bridge, Strood and Halling to London St Pancras, and bucking the entire trend, Cuxton passengers are mostly just going one stop up to Strood.
Medway gets a Christmas rap
Local rapper Hutch is back with another song about the Medway Towns, following his previous effort last year. This one is ostensibly a Christmas song, and while it isn’t quite as catchy as the last one, the video features several sights that will be familiar to locals.
A bit more questionable is the ongoing use of ‘Billy the Quid’ in these videos, a deeply troubled man who has done some terrible things over the years. He’s certainly recognisable to anyone who has spent some time in Chatham town centre, but whether or not he should be glorified in this type of content is more complicated. We certainly shouldn’t be calling him an ‘icon’ like KentOnline managed to this week either.
🟩 Local Democracy Reporter Robert Boddy has interviewed Matt Nightingale and Cat Jamieson of the Medway Greens.
🎭 The Brook Theatre in Chatham is now set to reopen in autumn 2026, three and a half years after it closed for a refurbishment costing millions.
🗣️ A Medway Council Cabinet meeting this week was disrupted by protestors demanding the council take a stronger stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Israel would be sure to agree to a ceasefire if Medway Council were to call for it.
🚒 A fire broke out at Rochester Cathedral this week. No one was injured and was brought under control quickly, but not before causing ‘costly’ damage to the roof and heating systems.
🍗 KFC has opened at Medway Services on the M2, the latest in the rapid expansion of the chain in our towns.
Our paid supporters receive extra editions of Local Authority every week. This week, Steven sat down to interview the current Mayor of Medway Nina Gurung about what brought her to the role and exactly what the Mayor does. We also published our summary of the year, with our ups and downs of the last 12 months, which have been quite significant for us.
A quick reminder that this is the final edition of Local Authority this year. Thanks for reading and your support over this past year. We’re off to have our annual week off now, and we hope you enjoy your festive period, however you may be spending it. See you in the new year.