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Southeastern’s shambolic ticket office consultation
Plus NIMBYs defeat the Kentish Wine Vault, Mojo is coming for you, and more
Editor’s note: Lots of new subscribers to Local Authority this week. If this is your first edition, thanks for joining us! In this week’s Friday roundup, we’re looking at Southeastern’s shambolic ticket office consultation, the latest in the Kentish Wine Vault saga, Medway’s terrifying new mascot, and more. Quick reminder that these Friday editions are free to everyone, but paid supporters receive at least two more editions every week and ensure we can keep this project going, so please consider upgrading if you can!
Southeastern’s shambolic ticket office consultation
There’s been a lot of national press recently about the plans of rail companies to close all of the ticket offices on the rail network.
We don’t tend to like to wade into stories that extend beyond our towns, but this one does have specific Medway connotations that it’s worth getting into.
But, as anyone who has ever experienced Southeastern customer service might attest to, things are not as straightforward as they should be.
So let’s look at what is being planned long-term, what Southeastern is proposing right now, and the shambolic way they have presented these plans.
The core premise here is that rail operators across the UK do intend to close the vast majority of ticket offices over the next three years. Quite how or when we got there is a little more flexible, but there is a clear direction of travel here.
Only 12% of tickets are now purchased at ticket offices (though that’s still quite a lot of tickets!), so it is natural to reassess how to best use resources. Whether or not closing nearly all offices is the solution is another matter entirely.
In our part of the world, the majority of our trains are operated by Southeastern, and they are responsible for the ticket offices throughout Kent.
So what is being proposed for us?
On the face of their consultation document, not very much:
A look at the full document shows that only stations coloured in orange are set to close, which according to Southeastern, are all within the London area. Green stations are due to get fancy new ‘Travel Centres’, and to add a fun element of mystery to the document, there’s no key to what white stations represent.
One reading of this might be that Southeastern is only proposing to close the London stations in the initial stage, and are phasing the rest to mask the backlash. Inevitably, because of the press, people using other stations throughout Kent will respond to demand their offices are kept open, and are less likely to do so for subsequent consultations in their area. Whether or not that is what’s happening here is unclear, but the consultation seems to be deliberately vague in a way that makes it appear that Medway will retain ticket offices. Which, if they do, will likely only be for a short period of time.
In the meantime, Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti appears to have cynically used this to claim stations in his constituency are remaining open, at least this side of any upcoming General Election.
Then there’s the other confusing part of the map: Rochester and its ‘Travel Centre’. Which sounds very fancy until you read the description:
At 14 of our busiest stations on the network Travel Centres will be provided offering a combination of travel information and ticketing solutions.
Travel information and ticketing solutions? Sounds like a, er, ticket office. Which if accurate means Rochester will be the sole Medway station left with a ticket office, while Strood, Chatham, Gillingham, and Rainham all lose theirs.
The consultation was set to be as brief as possible, with the initial deadline being earlier this week, before many would have even heard about the plans. The rail operators found themselves foiled by their own enthusiasm there though, and have been forced to extend the deadline until 1 September after not making the consultation accessible to those with disabilities. Disabled passengers are among the groups likely to be most impacted by ticket office closures, so this seems particularly galling.
Southeastern was one of the companies that failed to make their consultation accessible, and even now still haven’t managed to provide it in the correct formats.
An Easy Read version for people with learning disabilities is described as ‘in production’ with no estimated publication date. Sign language and audio versions of the consultation are still another week away.
If Southeastern is so unable to take those with disabilities into account when putting together this consultation, it does raise serious questions about how thought through their ticket office closure plans might be.
Yes, not that many tickets are bought at offices these days, but a good number still are, and they are important for people who may struggle to buy online or use a bewildering machine. Ticket office staff can be a vital source of information or reassurance. Offices also improve throughput at stations like Rochester where there are only two ticket machines and one of those regularly doesn’t work.
NIMBYs 1 - Kentish Wine Vault 0
The efforts to build a giant vineyard and wine production facility in Medway might have been struck a fatal blow this week after the planning inspector sided with Medway Council in their refusal of the plans.
Medway Council’s refusal for the Kentish Wine Vault facility in Cuxton was despite planning officers recommending the plans for approval, which would have created a new tourist attraction and employment opportunities in the area. Medway Council accepted that the plans were of high quality, and would have been acceptable in a different part of the towns, but didn’t specify where that might be.
The planning inspector backed Medway Council’s position that the public interest in the development couldn’t outweigh the harm to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that the site sits within. As a result, some fields get to remain, and Medway doesn’t get a unique attraction.
The plans were controversial among local residents, who submitted 600 letters of objection to the plans. This represents about 20% of Cuxton’s population, and as such they must be listened to.
Medway Council’s portfolio holder for strategic regeneration (as long as that regeneration doesn’t involve building anything) Cllr Simon Curry managed to somehow take a position that praised both the scheme and those that fought against it when speaking to KentOnline:
“Vineyard Farms’ proposal to construct a new winery building was an exciting scheme of exceptional design that would have enhanced Medway’s local economy.
However, due to the sensitivities of the proposed location in a site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the inspector agreed with the findings of the planning committee that the land south of Bush Road in Cuxton was the wrong location for this project.
It is thanks to the hard work of the parish council, the AONB Unit and our own planning team that the case was made regarding the impact of this development on the AONB and conservation area.”
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Look out, Mojo is coming
Shout out to Medway Council’s Child Friendly Medway team, who came up with the brilliant idea of creating a new mascot.
Throughout this year they’ve been running events and getting young people to draw ideas for what the new mascot could look like. These designs were then passed to artists for some refinement before a shortlist of eight was shown, before the grand reveal last week of the winning mascot.
Some of the shortlisted designs were pretty good, or at least deranged enough to be fun. There’s Robbie the Robin with a cone on his head, because of course. There’s Ozzy the Octopus who impressively has eight tentacles and two human legs. Then there’s Kit, who appears to be a sentient kite in pyjamas. Superb stuff, no notes.
So, from this elite set of options, what has Medway Council gone with?
Mojo is apparently a sea creature who lives in the River Medway. Mojo also looks like they are about to murder you in your sleep.
Our new mascot was revealed at the recent Medway Mile event, where Mojo seemingly lurked behind children with their terrifying grin, tried to overthrow Medway Council Leader Vince Maple in a brutal coup attempt before unveiling their new mascot Cabinet for Medway. Or maybe not. It’s really hard to tell from the photos that Medway Council shared on social media.
Either way, Mojo is coming for us all, and you’d better be ready.
🔧 Someone is stealing steering wheels from BMWs across Medway. Ten thefts have been reported since June across all five towns.
⛵ A lightship from 1840 is set to become an Airbnb. The vessel is docked at Rochester Marina and has been renovated at a cost of around £100,000.
⚓ Chatham Dockyard is offering £2 tickets for those on universal credit. It usually costs £25 to enter the site, which is rather a lot.
🏚️ Medway Council is considering selective licensing for private landlords. The intent is to bring properties up to a higher standard, and landlords don’t seem to like it, so presumably it’s a good idea.
💣 Businesses in Twydall had to be evacuated over a bomb scare. Bomb disposal teams found the device posed no danger.
Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, it was a bit of a local politics bonanza. First off, we interviewed the leader of Medway’s Independent Group, George Crozer. He talked about his political journey and his motivations to protect the Hoo Peninsula from overdevelopment.
Next week should be lighter on politics. Our Sunday interview is with Esther Johnson, a Medway-based illustrator designing some incredible items (including our tote bags!) under her Designed by Esther brand. Then on Monday, we’ll have our monthly events guide. After that, some politics might creep back in as we’re aiming to make the recording from our recent Medway Question Time event available.
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Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Seems Unfair by Trust Fund, Compliments Please by Self Esteem, Bus Route To Your Heart by Milky Wimpshake, Haiku Hands by Haiku Hands, and Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything by Pat the Bunny.