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Forresters Hall planning application

July 28, 2015 7:24 PM
By Chris Sams

There has been a furious response from the Medway Labour Group to Tony Jeacock's letter in the Medway Messenger (24/07/15) regarding the Planning Committee's stance on the redevelopment of the Forrester's Hall site in Gillingham South. They feel it is an unjust personal attack on Labour (although the Conservative-run council was also criticised in the piece), and that events did not play out in the way they are described.

Planning Issues

Forrester's Hall on Sturdee Avenue had been abandoned since the late spring of 2013, when I was advised by the caretaker that it was up for sale. Since then it has been boarded up and derelict.

Neighbours on Sturdee Avenue and Valley Road had noticed that it had been used by local youths as a squat, come drug den and has not only been vandalised but also set on fire. I was deeply saddened to have to report this to the Police myself back in January when I found it broken into and the level of damage inside.

The property has since been bought by a developer who is proposing to build four-bedroomed houses on the site. The big concern for residents on Valley Road is that these new houses are set back on the land and will now be overlooking their gardens and back windows, effectively compromising their privacy.

The second issue was the now derelict British Legion building on Livingstone Road which is likewise to be demolished and have houses built on it. The big problem with Livingstone Road though is parking. Although Council officials and enforcement officers may have noted that during the day time there is no excessive parking, they seem not to have noticed that in the evening and weekends the pavement becomes impassable with cars parked upon it. It is something I have written about extensively on my blog and is a constant annoyance for families like mine who cannot pass the parked vehicles with a pram or indeed with my disabled daughter's walking frame and we are forced to cross the road on the bend to get to an easier path. Basic road safety is thus unacceptably compromised, especially when witnessing the speed at which some people drive down Livingstone Road. It can only be a matter of time before there is a fatal accident.

I raised my objection for the development based on a worry that there would be less adequate parking and that pedestrians like myself would suffer. It was a complaint loudly echoed by other residents.

PACT Objections

Both issues were discussed at length at the Valley Road Neighbourhood Watch / PACT meeting before the election in May and objections were lodged with the council before the deadline in April.

The excuse that Labour has given is that no one told them about these issues and that they had not attended the aforementioned meetings prior to the election and that these issues were not subsequently discussed at the meeting after the election.

Firstly, the Labour candidates would have known about the Neighbourhood Watch / PACT meetings as the first meeting I attended was also vociferously attended by Gillingham North's very own Cllr. Pat Cooper (Labour), subsequent to which all the Labour candidates for Gillingham South had their photographs taken outside the Forrester's Hall and published on the front page of their election literature. Cllr. Cooper was invited to subsequent meetings but failed to attend. I would have thought it would have been in the interest of any prospective candidate to attend such meetings and get a feel for their area and with the open nature of the forum I'm sure they would have been more than welcome.

The other issue is of course that planning complaints were not brought up at the last meeting (the first since the election in May) as the deadline for lodging concerns had passed and it was "old business."

Secondly; I find it hard to believe that the new Councillors didn't use the ability to look at the upcoming planning proposals before the meeting on 30th June. All upcoming planning proposals were on the website with complaints/comments posted and would have been made available to Councillors by officers beforehand. If, again, they had done their homework they would have seen what was proposed in their ward, what issues were raised and by whom and they would have had the opportunity to contact residents regarding such issues.

Conclusion

Maybe the locally perceived lack of genuine concern regarding resident's issues is why, after having suffered years of the Conservative-run Medway Council not listening to residents, Labour failed to increase their number of Medway ward councillors overall. They may accuse the Liberal Democrats of harbouring sour grapes at losing Gillingham South in the recent 2015 Local Election, but the truth is, the Lib Dem membership is growing at a tremendous rate since the election, whilst nationally Labour are in some disarray, as manifest across the party's leadership campaign. In the meantime, LibDems are winning Local By-Elections throughout the country, taking council seats from both Labour and Conservatives.