The Medway guide to mourning
Sports events? Yes. Comedy? No. Council meetings? Yes. Other council meetings? No. Buses? Yes. Bin collections? No. Half-arsed tables in pet stores? Absolutely. Performative mourning? Fill your boots.
Another weird week in Medway, where almost everything changed in one way or another as a result of the queen’s death last week. So we’re taking a look at all of the highs and lows of this strange week below, including a truly phenomenal entry thanks to, er, Pets at Home.
Local Authority is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Medway guide to mourning
They say a week is a long time in politics, but politics has nothing on a local authority falling over themselves to honour a recently passed monarch.
Following last week’s rapidly cancelled full Medway Council meeting following the news of the queen’s death, the authority has gone to extensive lengths to make sure they are publicly mourning to an appropriate degree.
Flags were rapidly lowered to half-mast, books of condolence were opened across our towns, the Leader of Medway Council Cllr Alan Jarrett put out a statement, and a floral tribute arena was rapidly created at Rochester Castle.
The floral tribute arena became the home for a local proclamation of the new king, something that is absolutely necessary for a democracy in 2022. Medway Council warned people that the area would be incredibly busy on the day, and they were certainly right, as this overhead shot of the event shows:
It wouldn’t be an event like this without things going very Medway, so it felt appropriate that as Cllr Jarrett bent down in reverence to the queen, the portrait they had placed on display nearby decided to throw itself to the ground.
Still, all of the things above felt fairly normal under the circumstances.
Then it started to get a little strange.
The new Medway Food and Drink Festival that was scheduled to be held this weekend was quickly cancelled. Ostensibly this was as a result of the queen’s death, but it’s hard not to imagine the organisers breathing a small sigh of relief given how little buzz there seemed to be about the event.
Then came the news that bin collections would be cancelled on the day of the queen’s funeral, a message seemingly only announced via Medway Council’s social media channels. It’s unlikely all residents will get the message in time, so what better way to pay respects than to let uncollected rubbish pile in the streets for a week?
Next to go was anything fun. Thankfully, not much fun seemed to be happening in Medway this week anyway, so cancelling everything at the Central and Brook Theatres didn’t have a huge impact. One casualty was Mark Steel’s comedy show that was scheduled to be held at the Brook tonight (Friday 16th), who made it very clear on social media that it wasn’t his decision to cancel the show.
He’s got a point.
On the other hand, plenty of things were deemed acceptable to continue as normal.
Following an initial weekend of disruption, sports events resumed this week, so it’s only the wrong type of enjoyment that is not okay. More bus journeys than expected were available this week as the unions at Arriva called on strike action for a while. And for whatever reason, despite being cancelled last week, a special full Medway Council meeting this week was able to go ahead (as long as we all sang the national anthem anyway, more on that below), while the scheduled cabinet meeting for next week is now cancelled, despite taking place on a day after the period of national mourning ends.
So you have to carry on working as normal, can’t watch a comedy show, can go to a football match, can’t take part in industrial action, can attend a council meeting, can’t attend another one, and absolutely no way are you getting your bins collected.
Is that all clear?
The Pets at Home guide to mourning
Shout out to the Gillingham Pets at Home store for this utterly phenomenal and not remotely half-arsed tribute table to the queen.
Respectfully wedged in next to a giant stand of high protein pet food, there’s the obligatory photo of the queen, a beautiful balloon, a few flowers, some tossed-down flags, and of course, two battery-powered tealights. So urgent was the desire to pay tribute to the queen, there wasn’t even time to remove the old pricing stickers from the front of the table. It brings a tear to the eye.
Covid in numbers
Cases: It’s a good day for stats fans, as the ONS is publishing local data again, establishing that 1.3% of the Medway population are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 18 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with 1 of them on a ventilator. This is down 10% on last week, although it is worth noting that total admissions did rise 47% this week.
Deaths: 1 new death was recorded this week, taking Medway to 975 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 81% of the 12+ population in Medway have now had at least one vaccine dose, 77% have had two doses, and 60% have received a booster dose.
79% of those eligible for a fourth dose have now received one.
10% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
2.5% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
It is worth highlighting that bookings are now available for autumn boosters, despite very few public announcements making that clear. If you are aged 65+, or younger with a chronic health condition, you can now book an appointment using the NHS booking system. Appointment availability in Medway seems to be plentiful, with a number of sites offering the boosters. I’ve got mine on Thursday!
An entirely pointless meeting
Last night saw the emergency special meeting of Medway Council, based around the call-in decision from a group of Conservative backbenchers regarding the council’s Future Hoo proposals.
Despite the fact this was the only item on the agenda, it took 40 minutes to get started, as we first had to hear lengthy tributes to the queen from a number of councillors, have a minute’s silence (which lasted 40 seconds), and then have the room sing a rousing rendition of God Save the King while Cllr Barry Kemp played with his organ.
The proposals being discussed dictate how the £170m awarded by the government from the Housing Infrastructure Fund will be spent. The money is earmarked to improve infrastructure on the Hoo peninsula to facilitate more houses there. As such, you can already guess how popular this is with the locals.
The money is primarily set to be spent on transport infrastructure, including a new relief road to the peninsula and a new rail link. These plans have already been watered down from their initial proposals. The road is now set to be a traffic light-controlled junction onto the A289 instead of the previous grade-separated plans. The rail link is now set to only send trains to Gravesend instead of also connecting to Strood.
I wrote previously about how the documents for the proposals were put together in an incredibly sloppy manner, meaning they had to be rewritten during a cabinet meeting. Rebellious councillors within the Conservative group saw this as an opportunity to push back against the plans, though it remains unclear what the long-term aim of this would have been other than trying to wreck the plans altogether.
Ultimately though, the whole thing turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. The usual rebel voices continued to oppose the plans during the meeting, with no new voices joining their ranks.
The Conservative administration accepted moving the Future Hoo proposals back to extended public consultation but taking no further action, and the Labour group supported that, so there was little chance of any further delays to the process.
A cynic could suggest that this was an attempt to destabilise outgoing leader Cllr Alan Jarrett by those who wish to change the course of the administration, but if it was, it wasn’t a particularly successful attempt.
You can never leave
Long-time residents of Medway will know that you never truly leave this place, and even if you try, you get pulled back here eventually. Turns out these towns can even follow you all the way to Portugal too:
Local Authority is now publishing three times a week for paid supporters, meaning you can get an incredible two extra editions beyond this core Friday newsletter.
This week saw my monthly look at the most important planning applications across Medway, while Steven Keevil dug into the demographic data to see just how much Medway has changed in only a few short years..
Becoming a paid supporter costs as little as £3.75 a month and ensures we can keep this thing running for the long term.
Strood McDonald’s are now in the business of catching drunk drivers. (KentOnline)
Medway’s oldest Grade I listed buildings. (KentLive)
Boyce’s Bakery is set to open in Rainham. (KentOnline)
If you’ve reached this newsletter through the web or someone sending it to you, subscribe to get new issues delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!
If you hear about any Medway news that might be of interest, let me know! Hit reply to message me directly, DM me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
I realise it’s the least important part of this newsletter, but I feel I have to add to the ridiculousness of the Pets at Home “tribute”. The flowers in that display could actually be responsible for another death or two: lilies are poisonous to cats.
Bloody hell. I could feel the blood draining from my face just reading that tweet, let alone living it.