9 March 2014

Help throw the Lodge Hill project into the dustbin of bad ideas!

Yep, the outline planning application to build a new 5,000 dwelling town (or a ‘new heart for the Hoo Peninsula’ as I was unashamedly told by project architects last month) is set for its grand appearance at Medway Council’s Planning Committee within a matter of months.

The application, originally submitted in 2011, has reared its ugly head once more and local people are encouraged to speak up loud and clear.

Land Securities say numerous and extensive consultations have been carried out with local people over many years - and rightly so of course! That said, I think it strange, even bizarre, that so many local people are completely unaware of the Lodge Hill project. And those that do have knowledge of it either believe the whole thing is a done deal (because the site is owned by the Ministry of Defence) or that it’s a dead duck (referring, I suppose, to the SSSI notification - Site of Special Scientific Interest - confirmed by Natural England last year).

I believe the Lodge Hill project would have a major impact on the identities of existing villages and communities on the Hoo Peninsula. Despite this, the only ‘public’ sign of its re-emergence that I have so far seen is a solitary laminated A4 size yellow notice tied to a lamp post near SPAR supermarket in Hoo village centre - and it only uses the words ‘Lodge Hill’ once. (Update on 13/03/2014: Have seen two more signs - one opposite the parade of shops on Knights Road in Hoo and the other at Main Road (Chattenden) at the junction with Elm Avenue.

As far as I am concerned, the Lodge Hill project would bring chaos and disruption to our communities for the best part of 20 years. I see it as one of the biggest threats to the way of life enjoyed by so many on the Hoo Peninsula. Generation after generation of local families have appreciated our unique local landscape and we must do all we can to protect it for future generations.

Aside from the destruction of more countryside and the impact on wildlife (including the nightingales), there are many other reasons why the Lodge Hill project should be confined to the dustbin of bad ideas. We are told that it is ‘the most significant development in Medway’s history’, but the latest plans don’t even show any major changes or significant improvements being made to the existing road network, which already feels pressured by increased usage.

Local people can submit their views about the Lodge Hill project to Medway Council, as part of the consultation for the ‘refreshed’ outline planning application. The consultation formally closes on Wednesday 2 April, although I understand Medway Council will continue accepting responses until 12 noon the day before the application is presented to the Planning Committee. A specific date for this meeting is not yet known. (Update on 11/03/2014: The formal closing date on the consultation has been extended to Tuesday 15th April).

My advice to anyone reading this blog: get writing straightaway and submit your views to Medway Council. Be sure to tell all your friends, family and neighbours as well. Everyone needs to take this opportunity to voice their concerns, views and opinions in what is probably the very last chance to do so.

Only two exhibition events about the Lodge Hill project (concerning the refreshed outline planning application) have been organised by Land Securities (agents acting on behalf of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation). Despite the impact that this proposal would have on everyone living on the Hoo Peninsula - both events will be held in Chattenden. It is, of course, completely understandable and correct that events are held in Chattenden, as it is the front line community affected. I do think though that it would have been appropriate for additional events being held in other villages too. Nevertheless, the scheduled events will take place at Chattenden Community Centre (Swinton Avenue, Chattenden, ME3 8PH) on Thursday 20 March (6pm to 8.30pm) and Friday 21 March (4pm to 8pm).

Should approval be given - it will mean valuable parts of the Hoo Peninsula are permanently deleted from the map, no doubt opening the door to developers for many more years to come.

I wish someone somewhere had the imagination, vision and confidence to look seriously at the advantages of protecting the entire Hoo Peninsula landscape. If handled correctly, sensitively and in partnership with local communities and interest groups - our area, particularly the natural environment, historically important locations and sites of local heritage, could be positively transformed for the benefit of the whole community and visitors. This could be achieved without damaging or destroying the things we care about. Take a good look at other parts of the UK, like Scotland, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk, Suffolk, Wales etc. These areas have sympathetically and fundamentally protected important areas like the Hoo Peninsula. By doing so they have created thousands of new jobs and opportunities for local people. It can be done!

To read the refreshed outline planning application for the Lodge Hill project (MC/11/2516) click here. By clicking the ‘documents’ tab you will find all application documentation. To go directly to the feedback section, click here.

Alternatively, you can email your responses to: planning.represenations@medway.gov.uk and quote reference MC/11/2516. You can also write to: Development Control, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR - remembering to quote the application number on all correspondence.

If you would like further reading - take a look at an informative article by Martin Harper (RSPB Conservation Director). This was produced earlier this year - click here.