We owe it to future generations to Save Chatham Docks

The closure of Chatham Dockyard in 1984 had a profound impact on our community. The fallout from redundancies reverberated throughout the Medway towns, reshaping lives, and landscapes. Over a number of years, the Dockyard has been revitalised blending residential areas, offices and shops, a living museum and a water sports centre, all of which happily exist as neighbours to Chatham Dock Basin 3, a working commercial port. Basin 3 represents a unique piece of infrastructure, being the only enclosed non-tidal dock in Kent and thanks to the tenant businesses currently in place, it is a hub of skilled manufacturing. However, 40 years on, Peel Waters’ proposal to redevelop Basin 3 into a residential-focused, mixed-use development jeopardises the livelihoods of many and could lead to serious economic and environmental setbacks for my constituency.

I have been very vocal in my opposition to Peel Waters’ proposal, raising the issue in Parliament on multiple occasions, from Adjournment Debates to Prime Minister’s Questions, I have highlighted the success of businesses at the docks and urged for their protection. Despite our efforts, the Peel Waters’ proposal continues to gain traction, this prompted me to hold a Westminster Hall Debate on the Redevelopment of Chatham Dock Basin 3.

This debate allowed me to highlight the progressive plan put forward by the Save Chatham Docks campaign. This plan, alongside the unwavering support from the primary tenant Arcelor Mittal who, given the opportunity stand poised to make the investment into Basin 3 that would allow the commercial dock to reach its full potential in terms of waterborne transport and in turn, allow the incumbent businesses to flourish. Unfortunately, this potential is being hindered by the threat of closure and the current live application being recommended for approval by planning officers at Medway Council. This recommendation not only fails to recognise the value of the non-tidal dock, it also forces out existing operations which rely on their proximity to the dock basin and their ability to utilise sea-freight for the import and export of goods. These businesses will not just re-locate to another industrial park, they will leave the region and, in some instances, withdraw from the UK altogether.

Chatham Docks’ significance extends beyond economic concerns to environmental implications. As a vital hub for UK imports and exports, the docks play a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions by utilising sea freight. Analysis indicates that in 2019 alone, sea freight usage at the docks saved approximately 9,100 tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to about 13,000 lorry trips. Redeveloping the docks in a manner that shifts transportation to roads would pose a significant environmental risk, worsening air quality and conflicting with our progress towards achieving Net Zero emissions.

The debate also allowed me to call on Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to not only recognise the power and potential of the Basin 3 infrastructure but also to shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of the Local Plan put forward by Medway Council’s labour administration. Despite the evidence presented the Shadow Minister proved that labour are not a party representing the workers, they are blinkered in their approach to hitting house-building target with the economic and environmental arguments for saving the docks and it’s highly skilled workforce simply being brushed off as NIMBYism. It is hugely disappointing that the Labour party, at all levels, has decided in the past 12 months to reverse its support of Chatham docks as a working port.

Fortunately, recent revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework offer some hope. Housing targets are now advisory, giving local authorities more flexibility and should ease the pressure on Medway Council to push for housing development at Chatham Docks. Sacrificing high-quality jobs for short-term profit is shortsighted and would be detrimental to our community’s future.

I have been overwhelmed by the support of local residents, but also by support from businesses and groups in other parts of the country. In the face of Peel Waters’ relentless push for redevelopment, it is so important for Medway’s future that we preserve our heritage of commercial and manufacturing activity and safeguard the industries that underpin our economy. We owe it to our community and our workers to get planning right in my constituency of Rochester and Strood and in doing so we also owe it to future generations to Save Chatham Docks.

Kelly Tolhurst MP

The Rt Hon Kelly Tolhurst is the Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood, and has been an MP 2015