“In 2008 Medway Council published its “Wildlife, Countryside and Open Spaces Strategy 2008-2016” in which Councillor Doe, as Portfolio Holder for Community Services, stated the following as the Council’s vision:
“By 2016 Medway will be characterised by and celebrated for its attractive, distinctive estuarine, downland, woodland and farmed countryside, its rich diversity of wildlife and its high quality open space network. These will be protected to meet the needs of local communities, to improve levels of customer satisfaction and usage, and improved for present and future generations to enjoy and use.”
This “strong vision” was to be placed “at the very heart of the current and future plans” of the Council, although I have noticed that many of the more ambitious headline outcomes in the strategy document seem to have been dropped in recent years. Also the Council’s website currently makes little reference to environmental or wildlife issues at all.
As the published Strategy only covers the period up to the end of next year, can Councillor Doe advise how close he thinks the Council is to making the quoted vision a reality, if that vision has indeed been placed at the heart of the Council’s plans, including in developing its new Local Plan, and if the Council will be producing a follow-up Wildlife, Countryside and Open Space Strategy, with public consultation, to cover the next few years?”
Councillor Doe stated that since the adoption of the Strategy the Council had delivered a number of significant projects and programmes: for example, the Council had now extended the Green Flag accreditation which was a nationally agreed environmental standard and this had been successfully secured for seven sites – The Vines, Riverside Country Park, Capstone Farm Park, Hillyfields, Broomhill Park, Gillingham Park and Great Lines Heritage Park. The Council had also invested just under £3.5million since 2009-2010 resulting in improvements to over 64 of Medway’s Play Areas and this commitment to improving the play offer continued this year with a further Council capital investment of £100,000.
The Council had established 5 outdoor gyms and had created new allotment provision at Hempstead. The Council had looked at volunteering opportunities and as a result of this, the number of volunteer hours had nearly doubled. The Council had also provided funding to support access management and ecological work at Grain Coastal Country Park.
Councillor Doe stated that there was a lot that had been done at ground level. However, in response to Mr Dyke’s question Councillor Doe stated that it was necessary to constantly work at achieving the Strategy and that it constantly
commanded a high priority in the Council’s general work. He expected this to continue in the context of the new Local Plan which was currently being drafted and discussed.
“You have said it is a very high priority concern. But in that original document you said it was going to be central to the current and future plans of the Council. Can you just confirm that it is central and will continue to be central?”
Councillor Doe stated that generally speaking, this was something that was a high priority and was central to what the Council was doing. He stated that the Council looked at the environmental impacts of what it did and that all of Medway’s countryside and wildlife areas received proper attention.
Councillor Doe stated that the Council had received a number of compliments from outside bodies and that whilst this was no reason to take a view of complacency, it did illustrate that this was very much central in the Council’s thinking and was something which the Council maintained despite the fact that the Council was under constant pressure to build more housing and to develop the area generally with things such as airports and so on, which involved a high consideration of the environmental impact.