Discover more from Local Authority
The 4 Wilko problem
Plus a new community parkland for Hoo, join us for Peninsula Question Time, and more
Editor’s note: Thanks for reading Local Authority. This week we have two main stories, one of ending and one of beginning. We’re looking at the imminent loss of one of the most recognisable retail chains from our towns and at the creation of a new community parkland. Beyond that, we’re thrilled to announce our next Medway Question Time event taking place on the Hoo Peninsula - more on that below. As always, thanks so much for reading this. If you enjoy what we do, please consider becoming one of our paid supporters that keep us going - it costs less than £1 per week and you’ll get a whole lot more of us in your inbox.
The 4 Wilko problem
The biggest retail news this week was the collapse of Wilko, a chain with the same energy as Woolworths without the CD singles and a boatload more laundry detergent.
With that in mind, it maybe isn’t entirely surprising that the company entered administration this week. Formed in 1930, the chain now has 400 stores around the UK and employs 12,000 people.
It’s fair to say that if the worst case scenario happens and their stores close, which now seems more likely than not, it will have a devastating impact on a number of communities across the country.
But what is the situation here in Medway?
Medway is home to four Wilko stores, with their outlets being a significant presence in all of our town centres other than Rochester. For context, no store other than Poundland has the same footprint in our main retail centres.
If these four stores are to close, it would be heavily detrimental to our town centres. Wilko is one of the biggest retailers in Chatham, filling the largest unit in the Pentagon, which is also the only one that reaches across two levels. The store in Gillingham High Street is also significant to the area, particularly in a town centre that has seen more and more chains depart in recent years. Rainham’s Wilko is the only store of similar size to the town centre Tesco. The Strood outlet is likely the least relevant of the four, but its shared space with Asda does raise some logistical issues if it were to close.
The damage to our town centres won’t be unique to Medway, but it is striking just how similar our high streets are in both retail offer and recent decline. Chatham and Gillingham have faced years of stores like these gradually withdrawing, leaving each with lines of empty shops and increasingly low-value tenants filling some of the gaps. Rainham and Strood have weathered the storm a little better, but still feel like they are always on something of a knife edge.
Quite what led to Wilko’s collapse is a little beyond our scope, but based on Medway, there are some familiar patterns that maybe offer some answers. Wilko stores tend to be located on central high streets or shopping precincts, most of which have seen a decline in footfall over recent years.
It is also notable that competitors like B&M and Home Bargains have mostly opened in out-of-town retail parks, which despite the best ideals of planners, continue to thrive. After all, if you need a new bin, some dinner plates, and a tin of paint, it’s easier to drive to Dockside or Strood or Horsted Retail Parks than it is to navigate the labyrinthine streets of Chatham before seeking a car parking space that will cost you money on most days of the week.
Wilko leaving our town centres will be a significant blow to the retail offer in our towns. But at the very least, hopefully it can trigger a conversation about what modern high streets need to look like to be fit for purpose. The old ways of doing retail clearly aren’t sustainable at the level that they were, and if we want our high streets to thrive, we need to find new and innovative ways to make them viable.
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Deangate golf course set to become a community parkland
Despite the recent loss of £170m in Housing Infrastructure Funding for the Hoo Peninsula, Medway Council is moving forward with a new community parkland north of Hoo. On the face of it, there’s little to complain about it, but some questions do linger about exactly what isn’t included within the consultation and how the project will be funded and maintained.
Deangate Ridge golf course closed in 2018 as a cost-saving measure by Medway Council. The closure was controversial at the time, with many local residents believing it was a foreshadowing of new homes to be built on the course, as they have around so much of the village of Hoo in recent years.
Since then, the future of the Deangate has remained uncertain. Recently, plans to turn it into a country park were included as part of the failed Housing Infrastructure Fund plans, leaving its future up in the air when they fell through.
Medway Council began a consultation this week into turning the area into a new 43 hectare ‘community parkland’. The plans set out plans to retain much of the current golf course geography, keeping the established tree lines and open grassland where the holes used to be. These would be bolstered with new viewing and picnic areas as well as new trails around the site. The intent is to improve wildlife habitats in the area too, and the site is already home to nightingales, bats, slowworms, and more.
Notable from the graphic above is that the proposed parkland doesn’t cover the entire footprint of the former golf course. The south side of the course, which contained holes 4-6 are excluded from the plans. Residents and campaigners in the area have noticed this and are already raising questions about what plans Medway Council has for this area, and whether the parkland is a trade-off for future housing development in the area.
There is also a lack of detail within the consultation on how the project would be funded, both in terms of creation and on an ongoing basis. Section 106 agreements from future development around Hoo could be an option, leading to a scenario where the parkland possibly needs further development in order to be viable.
Still, it should be welcomed that a new community parkland is being proposed at all, particularly after the initial funding for it collapsed. Medway’s housing need isn’t going away, and more development to some extent is to be expected on the Hoo Peninsula. If a substantial space can be protected amongst it, and is accessible for the community to use, it doesn’t seem like such a bad deal overall.
You can take part in the consultation on the Deangate Community Parkland from now until 22 September.
Join us for Peninsula Question Time
We’re delighted to announce that our next Medway Question Time event will take place in Hoo at the Hoo Village Institute on 6 September, with a discussion on the issues facing the communities across the entire Hoo Peninsula.
Peninsula Question Time features a panel of relevant Peninsula figures, and you'll have the ability to submit questions to them to answer.
Taking part so far we have Michael Pearce, Deputy Leader of the Independent Group on Medway Council and councillor for Hoo St Werburgh and High Halstow, Chris Spalding, independent councillor for All Saints, Simon Curry, Medway Council Portfolio Holder for Climate Change and Strategic Regeneration, and Carl Guerin-Hassett, Principal of Hundred of Hoo Academy.
By booking a ticket - either free or with an optional donation - you will have the ability to submit a question for the panel. We can't guarantee we'll ask them all, but we will be selecting as broad a cross-section of them as possible ahead of the event.
Our recent Medway Question Time at MidKent College saw a good natured and wide ranging debate on the issues facing Medway, and we aim to bring that to a conversation on the current and future state of the Hoo Peninsula.
We hope that you’ll be able to join us. Tickets are available now and can be booked here.
🛗 Sun Pier House is one of the best venues in Medway. They desperately need a lift and have secured the majority of funding, but they still need £3,000, which they are trying to crowdfund. Take a look at the project here and consider contributing if you’re able.
🗣️ Cllr Andrew Lawrence has published his thoughts on the recent full Medway Council meeting in his own newsletter, which he describes as “less sarcastic than other better known newsletters.” Hmm.
⚡ Hundreds of homes in Wayfield have been left without power for days following a power surge. The surge resulted in smoke coming out of power sockets and electronics being fried, as well as the problems that come with being powerless for so long.
🩺 Junior doctors are on strike from today until Tuesday. Medway Hospital may need to reschedule some non-urgent appointments but you should attend as normal if you don’t hear from them or in an emergency.
🏗️ Future Chatham has relaunched as Future Medway, offering a view of regeneration across all five of our towns with a shiny new website.
🍺 The Carpenters Arms pub in Rochester has closed after 168 years. After popping in a few times a decade ago, the surprising fact was that it was still open up until now.
⛰️ Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch has climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. She and her group have raised over £140,000 for Breast Cancer Kent in the process.
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