Councillor on Medway Council
Speech delivered to full Council about Rochester Airport

John Ward

Speech delivered to the full Council meeting on 11th April 2001

Thank you Mr Mayor.

I wish to explode a few myths surrounding this matter, that are being propounded by Members of the other political groups on the Council.

First, in regard to economic development, successful take-up of the proposed Science & Technology Park is judged “extremely unlikely” by the consultants, and experience in similar situations elsewhere tends to bear this out.
Even if it did get built and occupied, it won’t bring high-quality jobs with it for a very long time. The companies concerned would of course bring their own skilled people with them, as who else would know these high-tech products and services and be able to deal with their development and other work? However these newcomers would bring pressures for housing and more traffic on our roads, along with needs for extra health and education facilities, which could not be provided.
Therefore the only jobs on offer to Medway residents for a long time will be menial, such as cleaners and car park attendants. Even semi-skilled positions, should they eventually appear, will pay too low to attract our skilled Medway workforce—it would probably be around a third of that for comparable work in London, where most of them already work.
Such Science Parks require ready access to all modes of transport, including air, which is one of the many reasons why other countries ensure their flying facilities are not treated as shabbily as this Council is treating ours.

On the planning and transport front, such a scheme will produce significant traffic worsening during the period of this Local Plan (i.e. to 2006) as there will be nowhere for the extra traffic to go until the M2 work is complete—also in 2006. There would thus be a vast loss of amenity to local residents.
It is interesting to mote the use Classes in the Draft Local Plan Policy S11—the part where the airport site is covered—most especially the B8 class which represents storage and Distribution: this would mean distributions centres with only a very few menial-level jobs on offer altogether, and lots of HGV movements.
The newly-updated government planning guidance document PPG13 effectively requires us to consult DETR for advice in cases such as this, and has a very strong recommendation not only to keep small aerodrome-type facilities open, it even urges Councils to re-open already-closed ones.

As the landlord for this site, the Council’s civic duty includes the requirement to protect green spaces. Thankfully, unlike some humans, Mother Nature cannot be corrupted so the vast expanse of green comprising the majority of the airport site continues to take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and pump out oxygen so that we can continue to breathe.
Therefore, whatever technicality gives those with a vested interest in pretending that things are not as they truly are—and of course we saw this with the Linked Service Centres business—the opportunity to try to twist the truth and claim that green is brown, we all know that the airport site provides this essential CO2-to-oxygen conversion function in an area with ever-lessening green space, and thus is never to be allowed to be threatened with development under any imaginable circumstances.
Anyway, why lose an asset—the only one of its kind in Medway—to replace it by nothing definite for the foreseeable future, if ever?

Overall, the previous moves by the other political groups to try to close Rochester Airport smack of the “politics of envy”, reminiscent of Æsop’s fable about “pearls before swine”: they simply cannot appreciate the airport themselves, so they despise it.
This whole issue is now very widely preceived in Medway as a kind of “litmus test” of how representative this Council is of its electorate—overall, by political group, and as individual Members. The way this goes tonight will not be forgotten in forthcoming elections. What today is an airport, the people of Medway realise, could tomorrow very easily be something that directly affects them. They will not make the mistake of voting for anyone who so blatantly and obviously puts personal and party political interests above those of the people of Medway. We all saw what effect even just a partial realisation of the truth had in last year’s elections.
Taking a leaf from Councillor Webber’s book—he has recently reminded us on more than one occasion to heed the views of the local people and the Ward Councillors—I reaffirm yet again that public opinion both locally and all over the Medway Towns is overwhelmingly in support of retaining the airport. Even trying to skew opinion by suggesting that it was “either the airport or jobs” (which is fallacious) made only a moderate impact on that opinion. Originally it was over 99% on the Davis Estate, for which a complete poll was carried out when the news of this threat first broke. Or does Councillor Webber go along with his own stated policy only when it suits him?

Thank you, Mr Mayor.

John M Ward (Councillor, Horsted)