John's Jottings for August 2005

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Look to the River

Earlier this month I was again priveleged to participate in the annual River Admiral's down-river cruise. This event is held on (usually) the first Sunday of July, and the current River Admiral for a stretch of the River Medway (the Mayor of Medway for the year) heads a flotilla of small craft from the Rochester Cruising Club who very kindly hos this event and provide the craft.

This is always a special and very enjoyable event, for a number of reasons: a lot happens. During the outward journey to Queenborough, there are gun salutes from the shore, a visit to a wreck and remembrance of those who were lost, the Admiral's pennants delivered to each boat by the Admiral in a speedboat, and (back on land) a short sunset event at which flags are furled with appropriate bugle calls.

This year was, for me, extra special. During the return trip I felt a strong call to climb to the upper deck of the boat I was on, and to really take in the significance of the river, its shore-based communities, and its importance to the future of the Medway area as a whole. For me, living just about as far away from the river as one can without leaving Medwat altogether, this was a very important reminder of what the Medway means to all of us living and/or working here.

Especially with the major riverside developments now starting to happen (with the recent approval of preliminary work on the Rochester Riverside development) this was a most appropriate time to take mental stock of where we are and where we are going with respect to the river and its shoreline communities, both present and future.

It turned out to be a very emotional time for me, as the sheer responsibility of this huge part of our future flooded my mind. I could feel strongly that it was God's Holy Spirit who had guided me to this moment, knowing what lies up ahead far better than I ever could: of this I have not the slightest doubt—I have felt His presence before, and have learned to recognise it. He urged and encouraged me to look at the plaxes we passed through with fresh eyes.

The key message to sink in to me was that we must get this right: the river is a vital and precious resource, and what we as a council decide and how we handle the implementation of those decisions are of tremendous importance in shaping our entire future in this whole area.

I resolved that I would do all that I can to ensure that all our decisions concerning the river and its associated land-based realms are handled with our community's needs and wants foremost.

The timing was spot-on, as it was only a few days later that I was involved in shaping the early stages of the new Local Development Framework (LDF) that central government now require us to produce. I was able to apply my newly-sharpened insight into where we must go with this LDF, including (as another example) ensuring that every new and revitalised community has its own worship facilities. We must never forget our people's spiritual needs in all the complexity of planning new communities...

Just a few days later, my church (the Salvation Army) held a special event to set up "purpose groups" to look to our future, part of which might involve a re-location, possibly into the Rochester Riverside development a few years hence. This is good, as a new community on the other side of the railway at Rochester will need its own place(s) of worship, and those already existing will be inconvenient. Beyond that factor, the feeling at my church is a buzz of excitement as we feel that we are on the brink of a new era.

This new era will be ushered in by the Rochester Riverside development and the big changes to be made to Chatham town centre and waterfront which could well displace the Salvation Army from its present home in Church Street, Chatham. Beyond that lie the Strood, Gillingham and Rainham riverside regeneration projects. The combination of all of these will largely transform the Medway area over the next decade or two, and interestingly all five of these major projects are connected to the River Medway.

So: look to the river to see the future!

Next time: One-Dimensional Thinking