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Councillor on Medway Council: Letter to Medway News

John Ward

Letters
Medway News
12 New Road
Chatham
Kent
ME4 6AT

11th March 2002

Dear Sir

Rochester Airport

Well, the Medway Locan Plan Public Inquiry is now complete and the
Inspector's report (a hefty tome as expected) recently arrived—some two
months before the 26 April deadline. Although I had seen a summary of the
report a few days earlier, the full report has only just been copied and
sent to Councillors last week. I have been ploughing through this document
during the past week or so.

A sizeable chunk of the report (some thirty pages) concerns the
controversial plans for Rochester Airfield, as it's called within the
document.

A recap on the dispute: the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of Medway
Council decided about three years ago that they wanted to sell off the
airfield, purporting that this would be for a so-called Science and
Technology Park.

There are several clues to indicate that this would be unlikely ever to
happen, and it is almost certainly the case that the administration of the
council at the time were after a "fast buck": they needed to get some money
back into the council's coffers after having reduced the level of reserves
by around a tenth of a billion pounds during the past several years, leaving
only a fraction of the original amount.

Where all that money that we, the people of Medway, entrusted to the care
of the then Labour-run council has gone is unclear, as there is little if
any evidence around the Medway Towns of any reason for depleting the
reserves. No wonder we could not justify continuing to fight the
threatened cement works, with such small remaining reserves...

This issue will return with a vengeance at next year's local elections, I am
certain.

Anyway, one can see why the administration at that time was so desperate to
"sell the family silver", as the expression goes. Interestingly, they
maintained throughout that the whole of the Rochester Airfield site would
be essential for the Science and Technology Park to be viable.

In the meantime, the people of Medway, mainly—but nowhere near
exclusively—those living near the site, almost unanimously opposed the
closure of the (now thriving) Rochester Airport and its redevelopment, for
a number of very good reasons. I'm sure we all recall what they were and
indeed still are.

Now to the Inspector's proposal.

Well, it's a political fudge, neither one thing nor the other. The
Inspector proposes development of part of the site and a reduced-size
flying facility.

On the plus side, this does mean that at last someone in authority has
listened to what those outside the council's Labour and Liberal Democrat
members had been stating all along—that the flying facility should be
retained—and the proposal also completely removes the provision for some
two hundred houses.

On the minus side, it means that the Science and Technology Park cannot go
ahead, which will disappoint the political groups who were insistent that
this was to be the future of the airfield site. An effect of the proposal
would be to have building development (for whatever purpose can be found
for the land) much closer to the one remaining runway, which doesn't seem
very sensible.

Obviously, anyone with any sense can see that, in effect, the original
plan—the only stated one—for the Rochester Airfield site now has to be
completely scrapped. There is little if any realistic prospect of
challenging the Imspector's conclusion as it clearly shows that Medway
Council failed in their duty to take into account the topic of General
Aviation when formulating the Local Plan.

We are nowhere near the end of this already thirty-months-old saga, but at
least another milestone has been reached. I still strongly believe that it
will be possible to ensure that the threat to the Airport is one day
removed for good, but for that—and many other reasons close to the
hearts of the majority of Medway residents—the Conservative group will
need to have overall control of Medway Council after next year's local
elections.

Remember that.

Yours faithfully

John M Ward — one of the two Councillors for Horsted