Wed 9 December 2015, 11:03 am
Since taking over in May 2015 as leader of Medway Council, Alan Jarrett has made clear his intention to step up the pace of regenerations. He invites Siobhan Crozier on a tour of major opportunity sites
We meet amid the sleek glass and curves of Chatham Waterfront, in its riverside setting of heritage buildings and mature trees, looking up towards the Great Lines Heritage Park. Chatham’s state-of the-art bus station replaces a dark and miserable public transport hub, where residents often complained of feeling unsafe.
Looking away from the park towards the riverside, Councillor Alan Jarrett shares his vision for even greater transformation. “This waterfront site will kickstart the gradual redevelopment of Chatham. We plan to build about 140 high-quality apartments, with retail and restaurants at ground level. It will be similar to the scheme at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, with high-quality development that will encourage people with more disposable income into the centre of Chatham.”
The design for the original scheme has consent for a hotel but under Jarrett’s leadership of Medway Council, use of part of a prime waterfront site for a hotel is seen as making no sense, when the authority’s objective is to create aspirational, residential developments that will attract people to live in the town centre, where their spending power will support local businesses and contribute to Chatham’s rising fortunes.
Jarrett knows that his council has one opportunity to develop the waterfront and he is determined that the asset will be utilised only for an innovative scheme of genuine quality.
A redbrick pumping station dominates the view across the river from the bus station but the addition of a huge screen has created a new focus for the public space. Opera has been shown here and there are plans for live sporting and cultural events. The screen also promotes the council’s free festivals, concerts and events throughout the year, the programme of the town’s two theatres and other community information.
Apart from its theatres, Jarrett explains that Chatham has little night-time economy: “The challenge is how we change that by providing the facilities, building units for high-quality restaurants that can be the genesis for lifting Chatham as a better place.”
“Over time, Medway has attracted so much inward investment, and brought the universities here – an enormous change to Medway. And we’re protecting and enhancing our heritage offer.”
Jarrett took over in May from Rodney Chambers who had been leader of Medway since 2000. Chambers remains in Jarrett’s cabinet and the council continues to be run by a Conservative administration. But there is also perceptible change, his officers say, of focus and pace. “We brought in some new people with new ideas; we set some very clear objectives and targets. It’s about being ambitious but realistic,” says Jarrett.
Developers considering potential sites want certainty in dealing with local authorities – so what’s to be expected of Medway? “They can expect us to be very focused on what we want to achieve, hard but fair in our negotiations, and we absolutely want to work with people who will do what they say they’ll do – deliver on time and on budget,” says the leader.
“We’ll be flexible and fair with those that work well with us – and we will be very intolerant of those that don’t deliver. There’s no free ride but there is a huge opportunity in Medway, for us and developers and investors to make the most of those opportunities.”
A longer version of this article appears in the latest edition of Medway1 magazine