Thu 21 June 2018, 4:58 pm
Medway Council is 20 years old in 2018. In an exclusive interview with council leader Alan Jarrett and director of regeneration, community and culture Richard Hicks, Sarah Herbert looks at what has been achieved in regenerating the area over the past two decades and what is planned for the next two, via its new initiative, 'Medway20'
It’s remarkable to think that Medway Council is only in fact 20 years old. Formed in 1997 from Gillingham and Rochester town councils, the unitary authority is well on the way to creating a 21st century waterfront university city. So how has it all happened? And what’s next?
Where has Medway come from?
Alan Jarrett: “The unitary authority has put Medway on the map. Before 1997, it wasn’t a place – just a river. We’ve brought in 12,000 university students, where there were none at all. We’ve increased Medway’s identity across Kent and further afield, enabling us to lever in £200 million of external funding, making possible our monumental regeneration projects.”
What makes Medway special?
Richard Hicks: “Our heritage and back story, our growth, and the breadth of opportunity, not to mention the fast trains, strategic positioning, green spaces and our cultural offer.”
Jarrett: “A big draw for many has been our affordable housing – considering we’re only 34 minutes from London on the fast train. But it’s not all about bargain housing, we’re more than that. Our tagline ‘rich heritage, great future’ really does seem to capture everything that makes Medway special, something our ‘placemaker’, Thinking Place, is currently working on."
What will ‘placemaking’ bring to Medway?
Hicks: “Our placemaking activity identifies what makes Medway special – its buzz, vibrancy and energy. By giving Medway a brand, it will be taking us to the next level. We need all partners and champions sharing the same message when advocating for Medway, and telling the story of a great place to live, work, learn and visit.”
Jarrett: “It’s the easiest thing to build homes, but that could be anywhere. We are building ‘Medway the place’.”
Where is it going? What are the priorities for the future?
Jarrett: “The closure of the Chatham Dockyards was a real blow to everybody here. We’ve worked ever since to give Medway a more prosperous economy. The way we can do that is through SMEs, to give the area economic resilience, and not just rely on one big employer like the dockyard. As well as this, we have to provide the economic conditions necessary for big employers such as [aerospace company] BAE Systems.
Which current project are you most proud of?
Jarrett:“I think it has to be the project to protect Rochester Airport from closure and turn part of it into Innovation Park Medway. This combination of history with forward-looking industry and commerce, so typical of Medway, will both create a more viable airport – which has just persuaded Kent Air Ambulance to move back to Rochester, after 18 years away in Marden – and develop the infrastructure for future businesses, which will benefit from Enterprise Zone status.
“I’m also very proud of projects in Chatham, which are transforming the city centre and waterfront. The improvements to the built environment between train and bus station seems a small change, but one that will make such a difference to visitors’ first impressions.
"We’re also opening up the town’s historical defences and barrier ditches, transforming the waterfront. “In the future, the regeneration of the centre of Chatham will focus on housing schemes on council-owned land. “And of course it’s wonderful to see the first two phases of Rochester Riverside, our flagship regeneration site, transforming that area.
"Countryside is working on 200 houses, while a new multi-storey car park has just gone up, the land has been made up, the river wall improved and all that contaminated land has been remediated for the future.” “But it’s not just physical infrastructure; our education, social care, things are really going well.”
The full version of this article appears in the 11th edition of Medway1 magazine, out this month. Watch this space to read online