Agenda item

Public questions

This report sets out the public questions received for this meeting. 




The Mayor stated that as Council Member and public attendance at the meeting was reduced due to COVID-19, it was proposed that everyone who had submitted a public or Member question would have their question answered during the meeting, irrespective of whether they were present, within existing time limits.


The Mayor, supported by Councillor Kemp, proposed that Council rules 8.6 and 9.1 be suspended for the duration of the meeting.




The Council agreed to suspend Council rules 8.6 and 9.1 for the duration of the meeting.


Public Questions Asked:


Question A – Giovanni Nasillo of Gillingham asked the Portfolio Holder for Inward Investment, Strategic Regeneration and Partnerships Councillor Rodney Chambers OBE, the following:


“Gillingham is almost forgotten about in the Council’s 2035 regeneration document, there is a lack of vibrancy in the High Street that the Council says it hopes to maintain. Councillors should look at Gillingham on the Nextdoor social media site.


Why is the Council treating Gillingham residents with such contempt?”


Councillor Chambers said he appreciated that the current climate was challenging for most town centres due to the changing retail trends and the advent of online shopping. 


In Gillingham, regeneration sites in the High Street area had been identified at Britton Farm Mall, the Railway Station public realm and the Riley’s building in Green Street. The Council was also undertaking extra general cleaning and maintenance of the general public realm.


At Britton farm, a £850,000 project had been completed to convert the former supermarket into office accommodation and this was now occupied by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust. It was hoped that this would positively impact on the local economy with 170 staff members using and supporting the high street businesses.


Medway Council had worked hard to secure £1.99million of Government funding for the upper floor of Britton Farm Mall to create an Adult Learning Skills Employment Centre. This would have flexible classroom space with high quality digital training equipment.


Councillor Chambers said the project also included funding towards 44 affordable homes at the rear of Britton Farm, alongside additional public realm improvements within the mall. This included greening, new flooring and the installation of new gates. These developments all aimed to bring more people into Gillingham High Street to shop.


Gillingham High Street was a priority for external investment and the Council’s external investment officers were working closely with the town centre team to ensure that advantage was taken of future funding opportunities.


Question B - Keith Slucock of Halling asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“In response to the above proposals [Cuxton Winery Development] the Kent Downs AONB unit sent Medway Council a detailed and strongly worded objection.


Yet, at the planning meeting held on 8th December, it was clear that few of the most significant objections raised by the Kent Downs AONB unit had been considered by Medway Council's Planning Department, whose head spoke passionately in favour of approval of the proposal.


Noting the exceptional circumstances and public interest (as required by Paragraph 177 of the NPPC), the legal clarification of the agricultural building status and that the Council’s Planning department has so strongly recommend approval of the winery development, can the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation please clearly state why the Planning Department has rejected the majority of concerns raised by the Kent Downs AONB unit?”


Councillor Chitty thanked Mr Slucock for his question. She said that the application would be considered again at a future Planning Committee meeting where Members would consider and balance all the material planning considerations before determining the application. 


When the application was initially considered by the Planning Committee, Members had received a detailed report presented by the Head of Planning. He had explained the proposal and summarised all the issues. In particular, he drew the Committee’s attention to the objections from the AONB unit and the Parish Council. He set out the various issues, both in favour and against the application and explained that Members would need to balance those issues in reaching a decision. It was also explained how officers had balanced those issues and how they had come to recommend the application for approval.


Councillor Chitty said that the report provided to the Planning Committee was available for the public to view and that when the application returned to the Committee, this report would be available to view five working days in advance. The meeting would be open to the public to attend or watch online.


Question C - Jonathan Pearce of Gillingham asked the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer, the following:


“On the evening of 10 January, I arrived home at 21:25hrs and was unable to park in my street and despite 5 minutes of driving around adjacent streets there were no spaces, so I left my car on a single yellow. Walking back to my house I noted that there were at least 4 vehicles, the majority of which were work vans, without permits, parked in residential bays.


I got a parking ticket at 21:51hrs, however none of the vehicles without permits were fined, and these vehicles were the reason I had to park illegally. Please could I ask that parking be enforced properly!


I also believe 10pm is far too late for restrictions, I would suggest 8pm is late enough, (Victoria Street is 6pm) and it is unsafe for elderly and vulnerable people walking to find spaces.”


Councillor Filmer thanked Mr Pearce for his question. He said that the Council asked its Civil Enforcement Officers to check that all vehicles parking in a controlled parking zone had the appropriate permit or voucher and he apologised if this had not happened on this particular occasion. The matter had been passed to the Enforcement Team for further consideration.


Councillor Filmer said that the times of restrictions were subject to consultation before being implemented but that they could be reviewed from time to time where residents felt that they were unsuitable. It was requested that Mr Pearce contact the Parking Team should he want the matter to be considered further.


Question D – Sarah Manuel of Rochester asked the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer, the following:


“How do the Council intend on dealing with the short fall in waste capacity from 2028 onwards in light of the extra housing proposed for Medway?”


Councillor Filmer thanked Ms Manuel for her question. He said that the Council had a waste disposal contract with Veolia for all residual household black sack waste until 2035, with a possible five-year extension to 2040. This contract would be sufficient to deal with Medway’s residual household waste needs until then regardless of the additional house building planned. 


When contracts were due to expire, a new procurement process would be commenced to ensure that Medway had sufficient capacity for its household waste.


Question E – Bill McLennan of Rochester asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“The Town and Country Planning Act 1932 was enshrined into law in 1933. The Act principally sought to rid the UK of its slum housing by introducing uniform planning guidance and regulation which promoted a healthy living environment for all.


In accordance with the government directive at the time, the City of Rochester Council tasked their surveyor William Law to produce a draft Town Planning Scheme No1.


The draft Planning Scheme No1 received Housing ministerial approval in 1935 and was officially adopted by Rochester Council May 1936.


The Council Planning Scheme No1 and latterly No2 identify areas designated for housing, business use and general amenities in the Medway area. The plans detail roads, pathways, passages and housing estate layouts specific to thousands of homes built across the towns during the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s.


The plans detail tens of miles of passages to the rear of thousands of Medway properties as an amenity for local residents. Collectively these four feet wide passages total a significant amount of land the boundaries of which have been respected by abutting property owners for decades.


In recent years Medway Council under its Gating Policy has paid for many of the passageway entrances to be secured. However, it has failed to direct on the retention and protection of the passages themselves.


Many of the passages are now unused and overgrown due to their natural soil surface. However, despite the passages today being compromising for human traffic they play an important role spawning a host of local flora and fauna acting as an environmental amenity.


Mother Nature in her wonderful way has repurposed many of the overgrown passages into an array of wildlife sanctuaries and habitats. The natural vegetation, decaying leaves and carbon capturing soil provides vital bio diversity for grubs and insects at the bottom of nature’s food chain supporting a host of animals from Toads, Frogs, Hedgehogs, Butterflies, solitary Bees, small nesting birds and the like.


The neglected passages not only provide shelter and food for wildlife but vital contiguous corridors for small animals such as hedgehogs through the urban landscape invisible to residents who have fenced their gardens to their entitlement and estate planning scheme.


Unlike respectful home owners of the past, possibly emboldened by the Council Gating Policy restricting access, a new generation of residents view the passageways as an opportunity to profit by incorporating them as part of their own property, unlawfully fencing, clearing, excavating, concreting, and building across the amenity, desecrating Mother Nature’s years of excellent work.


Similar to our protected country roadside hedgerows small overgrown tracks of land play an important part in the cycle of life.


Should local residents wish to use the passageways, the clearance of debris or natural growth is often deeded to be at their own expense and not a Council responsibility. However, an alteration to the amenity boundary, changes to designated land use and modification to estate structure and layout prescribed and in accordance with an adopted Council planning scheme is unlawful without local planning authority approval.


Today's Town and Country Planning act supports environmental action in combating climate change however small.


Medway Council's initiative, "Action on Climate Change" has been well received by residents. The retention and protection of the overgrown natural soil passages is within the Council's legal jurisdiction and will combat climate change.


Can you please state Medway Council’s view or policy on the retention and protection of these important passages not simply for local residents but as a benefit to our natural environment, wildlife and wellbeing as a whole?”


Councillor Chitty thanked Mr McLennan for his question. She was particularly pleased to be answering this question as it was an issue that affected lots of people and caused lots of challenges.


The alleyways were private and therefore the responsibility of those that had the right to use them. As a result, their condition varied throughout Medway.  Some were well maintained by surrounding residents and used to provide rear access to properties. Others had fallen into disrepair and were mis-used, while a number of others had been impacted by garden extensions and fences. Such incursions could be with the agreement of the residents with rights of passage and were seen as a way to enhance security and privacy. Where there were disagreements, that was a civil matter between those residents and was not something that the Council would be involved in.


Councillor Chitty expressed her sympathies to residents who were unable to contact the original owners or developers of alleyways and had therefore needed to take on responsibilities themselves.


Question F – Vivienne Parker of Chatham asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“What is the Council going to do about the building on the corner of Marlborough Road and Gillingham High Street which is made of asbestos, is dangerous and is now falling down?”


Councillor Chitty thanked Ms Parker for her question. She said that the site had been sold by the Council in reasonable condition in 2017. At this time, the future of the site had been discussed with the new owner. However, the owner was not considered to have taken appropriate action and the Council’s Planning Team had raised concerns in relation to the continued deterioration of the site and buildings. The site had recently been sold again and Planning officers were engaging with the new owners in relation to site security, condition of the buildings and the action needed as a result. This could include the demolition of the building and the safe and careful removal of material from the site. Additionally, early stage discussions were taking place regarding the potential long term future of the site.


Question G – Stuart Bourne of Rainham asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“Last summer saw large areas of Medway’s grass verges and parks uncut and long, which not only led to Medway being untidy but also dangerous to drive in. Councillor Jarrett blamed this on the poor organisation of the No Mow May scheme and threatened to end this vital programme set up to protect our dwindling bee population. Yet in a Medway Norse update to the Cabinet on the 19th October 2021, their green space team said they have 20% less staff and this is what ‘led to delays in grass cutting this spring and summer.’


I trust Councillor Jarrett is going to apologise to Medway Council staff for blaming their poor organising of No Mow May, and what is he doing to ensure Medway Norse has a full complement of staff by the summer?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Mr Bourne for his question. He said that 2021 had been an exceptional year as Medway Norse had needed to deal with unusual weather patterns, which had led to fast growing grass, as well as depleted staffing levels due to the pandemic. Despite this, Medway Norse had worked more hours on grass cutting in 2021 than in any previous year. However, the weather conditions had meant that they had been unable to catch up with the grass cutting cycles.


In readiness for the current year, Medway Norse and Medway Council had been working together with the Kent Wildlife Trust and Plantlife to ensure a programme was in place to take a balanced approach to ensure verges were a haven for insects, while maintaining road safety. Medway Norse was also working to increase summer working hours which would have a positive impact on the 2022 season.


Councillor Jarrett said that along with the Deputy Leader, he would be meeting with officers in the week following the Council meeting to ensure that all the arrangements were in place.


Question H – John Castle of Chatham asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“The draft Local Plan published before the meeting in October 2021 allocated 3,625 homes to site B.8, currently the commercial dockyard Chatham Docks, which is the same as the number published by Peel L&P in December 2021.


Setting aside that the site is best used in its current allocation for employment as a viable Dockyard, the site is not particularly large and the number of homes allocated is considerable. The density of building looks unreasonable for such a location without a significant number of high rise buildings, which require large footings which limits the feasible density of housing in the location.


Does the Council believe this density of housing is viable in the location?”


Councillor Chitty thanked Mr Castle for his question. She said that the site was an urban site and not a suburban green field site where the density would be much lower and, therefore, the land take much greater. Therefore, any development, should it come forward, was likely to reflect what had been achieved at the award-winning Victory Pier site and what was being delivered at Chatham Waters as well as on part of St Mary’s Island. Recognising this, Councillor Chitty was satisfied that the provisional density was appropriate.  Should the site be allocated for development, the owners would need to develop a masterplan. Exact housing numbers would depend upon detailed design work that would ensure that what was delivered would be appropriate and of the highest quality, including provision of open spaces and amenities for residents.


Question I – Paul O’Neill of Chatham asked the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin, the following:


“As part of the landmark Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, new laws will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission. The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites. The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people and we must ensure that there are legal sites available for travellers.


Behind Aldi on the Gillingham Business Park is a 1.4 hectare derelict car park site which has no residential properties nearby and could be used for both temporary and settled traveller plots.


Is the Council prepared to turn the above site into a traveller site?”


Councillor Gulvin thanked Mr O’Neill for his question. He said that the Government was encouraging councils to have a site or sites that the travelling community could temporarily go to when in that authority’s area.


Whilst welcoming the positivity of Mr O’Neill’s suggestion, although the Council owned the freehold of the land, it was held on a long lease until 2280 and it would be up to the head lessee as to the appropriate future use of the land.


Question J – Chris Spalding of Gillingham asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“At the Cabinet meeting in September when the draft Local Plan was unanimously approved for publication, with Councillor Potter stating he was happy to support the recommendation, because "without it, it is a road to ruin", you were at great pains to stress the need for compliance stating:


“The reason I am pushing about complying with government requirements, the first thing the Inspector will do is measure Government requirements and what this authority has done to comply and I have to say with absolute honesty if we had missed out on one of those compliances it would fall at the first hurdle and we cannot allow that to happen.” 


There can be no doubt about the emphasis you placed on the compliance requirement because you confirmed:


“Compliance has to be the key word. And we have actually employed people to check and double check to ensure that that compliance is fully understood.”


How much did this checking and double checking cost the people of Medway? I hope we got our money back because they clearly did not do their job properly.”


Councillor Chitty thanked Mr Spalding for his question. She said that the first hurdle she had been referring to was submission of the draft Plan to the Planning Inspectorate for examination in public. This was because there were a significant number of Plans across the country that had failed at that point, including some locally.


In order to ensure this did not happen, Medway’s draft Plan was being checked by Counsel and by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS). The work engaging with Counsel, the PAS and with an Inspector was continuing. The advice being given was that the emerging work showed no significant signs of weakness and that the Plan was being informed by a strong evidence base, following Government planning policy and guidance. Councillor Chitty considered this to be a clear demonstration that officers had been doing their job thoroughly and properly and that some people disagreeing with the conclusions of the work did not mean that the work itself was deficient.

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