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'Chatham Docks closure will be a regional catastrophe' - say Liberal Democrats

October 4, 2021 10:52 AM
By alan wells - medway liberal democrats

CD3 CD2Local Liberal Democrats believe that the closure of the Chatham Docks has a much more wider, regional impact and the case put forward for relocation does not stand up to scrutiny. The major employer on the site is profitable and would be looking to invest to expand at the location, but does not have a business case that would support relocation.

The other major port in the area, on Sheppey is looking to expand freight shipping rather than industrial berths. Sheerness or Thamesport is not suitable for the existing tenants because of the road network in and out of Sheerness / Thamesport which cannot cope with a further 400-600 vehicle movements, and the quayside at Sheerness / Thamesport has an 8mtr tidal movement that is unsuitable for the coastal vessels using Chatham Docks or for the vital ship repair works undertaken in Chatham Docks. Additionally, the cost of relocating businesses in Chatham Docks will put many of them out of business.

The closure would have a disastrous impact on the environment. The use of the river to transport materials up and down the country and across to Europe means that countless heavy goods vehicles are kept off the road, not contributing to traffic congestion and road emissions, and Chatham is the only dock that is fit for this purpose. The Council's Climate Emergency Initiative will be impossible to achieve if the water traffic from Chatham Docks and along the River Medway move onto roads with the effect of increased CO2 emissions. On a local level, the majority of people who work at the Docks are local and 65% either cycle or walk to work, but if over 800 jobs moved to Sheerness most employees would have no choice but to drive.

We believe that the Docks represents a potential investment opportunity for Medway Council. Portsmouth International Port is a successful Municipal Port with very strong links to its owner (Portsmouth City Council) and through the city to its stakeholders. It is market led and committed to long-term growth through the development of infrastructure and resources in line with market needs. More than this, is the contribution that the Port makes to the City Council's budget that allows the City Council to fulfil its own obligations to the people of Portsmouth. Medway Council, by adopting this strategy, would allow Chatham Docks to execute corporate social responsibility by contributing to the work of the Council.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council said," In times where the government funding of local government through the grant has been slashed using strategic investment in the commercial docks has brought massive benefits to the City. Providing not only a significant return on investment of £7m, but by purchasing land to increase the size of the docks to cover greater activity has also brought a boost to tourism. It's good for residents because there's more money to spend on services, the investment has a sound businesses case and the local economy is also strengthened ."

John Castle, Chair of Medway Liberal Democrats said "The business case for investment in Docks is also very strong. Portsmouth City Council has taken long term investment in the docks as a key means of diversifying income, and with a revenue stream that achieves long term growth."

Antony Hook, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Kent County Council said, "the case for closing Chatham Docks and moving elsewhere is not a viable argument. The Docks have a strong contribution to the local economy, providing valuable high quality employment on a sustainable basis. The current site is also making a significant environmental benefit employing local people and cutting down on road transport and journey by the increased use of active travel to work."

Medway Liberal Democrats fail to understand why the Conservative administration is seeking to play into the hands of big business, that seeks to exploit its position not just locally, but regionally. The Council's best interests and the interests of Medway residents lie in investment not redevelopment of Chatham Docks.

Chatham Docks is a thriving and expanding enterprise, and we want the land kept for commercial shipping and retained for that use rather than turned into non-shipping developments. With investment from Medway Council, it could aim to provide its customers with modern and ever improving facilities whilst yielding a good return for the Council on its investment and a wealth creating enterprise.


Notes for Editors:

Additional Text:

Portsmouth International Port

In the case of Portsmouth International Port the Port contributes financially to Portsmouth City Council (the Port's owner), each year. Whilst this does not preclude the exercise of independent Corporate Social Responsibility, it means that the use of that surplus in both developing the Port and contributing to the social structure of Portsmouth City Council satisfies both the owner/stakeholders as well as the customer/stakeholders.

The results of the Economic Impact Study show that the Port is responsible for the direct employment of 805 FTE jobs and the injection of £38.7m of income into the greater Portsmouth area economy. Additional indirect and induced effects created by a 'multiplier effect' increase the value of the Port by £32.5m to £71.3m. In addition the Port's direct spending within the local economy supports a further 482 FTE jobs, whilst the action of the multiplier effect upon this direct spending also leads to the creation of a further 308 FTE jobs.

This brings the total employment due to the Port within the local economy to 1,595 FTE jobs. Value to the local Economy £71.3 M Full Time Equivalent Jobs 1,595 The core values of Portsmouth City Council are the core values of Portsmouth International Port including all commitments towards Corporate Social Responsibility.

GPS Marine report (website - https://gpsmarine.co.uk/ ), sets out the key benefits that can be readily secured simply by moving freight off the road and onto rivers.

The South East is extremely well placed to take advantage of the benefits that water freight brings, but the opportunity to take advantage of such benefits will be lost for ever if facilities such as Chatham Dock are continually lost to residential development. Promoting the use of Chatham for intra port freight would be a second step and the Council using the dock area for its waste and refuse services and shipping waste by barge to the incineration facility would constitute a real step change in terms of the Council's environmental credentials. Chatham Dock is an irreplaceable strategic asset in terms of water freight and water freight derived benefits.