Rainham North councillors begin fight against new Gillingham Football Club stadium

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Rainham North’s Conservative councillors appear to have begun their fight against a new football stadium being built in their ward.

Gillingham Football Club Chairman Paul Scally called on fans to write in support of the Mill Hill site being pencilled in as the location of a future 25,000-seat stadium during Medway Council’s Local Plan consultation.

The consultation document itself is relatively mute on the subject of a new stadium, referring to the club only three times over its 132 pages:

The regeneration area would extend beyond Gillingham to include a modern football stadium for Gillingham Football Club at Mill Hill, supported by a mixed development of apartments, shops and wider leisure facilities. An iconic building would establish the new character of this area and mark the extent of the regeneration zone. – p23

Gillingham Football Club was established in 1893 and is based at Priestfield Stadium, Gillingham with a capacity of around 11,000. The stadium is within 0.5 miles of Gillingham Railway Station and is located in a predominantly residential area. The club has aspirations to upgrade its stadium and has actively been contemplating moving from its Priestfield site, developing this site for housing. The club has made representations to the council as part of the Local Plan process, promoting its interest to develop a new site at Mill Hill, Gillingham, that would involve a major new stadium supported by wider leisure, retail and residential development. – p86

Gillingham Football Club
The Council will work alongside Gillingham FC to develop an appropriate strategy to secure the club’s future development in Medway. – p89

Following Mr Scally’s decision to ask fans to write in support of the club, two local councillors, whose ward includes the Mill Hill site and surrounding area, have written to local residents, on Council-headed paper, urging them to make their own representations to the Council before the 18 April deadline.

GFC Councillor Letter

Vaughan Hewett, then a UKIP councillor for the area, presented a 400-strong petition of local residents against a stadium in 2015 and promised to continue to oppose any such plans in that year’s local elections, which he lost.

Now it appears Councillors David Carr and Martin Potter, whilst striking a conciliatory tone in their letter, are ready to take up the mantle of a fight against both the ground and its enabling development.

The councillors’ letter comes as Mr Scally has written to selected households in Gillingham with free tickets for the Gillingham v Fleetwood match on 22 April, in what appears to be the start of a PR campaign in support of his future plans for the club, their new ground and the site of Priestfield Stadium, the club’s home since it’s formation in 1893.

Anyone who wishes to respond to the Local Plan consultation, whether on the stadium or any other matter, can do so either by email to futuremedway@medway.gov.uk or by post to Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR. The consultation closes at 5pm on Tuesday, 18 April.

Medway Tories rip up Human Rights convention

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Bad news for those who support the European Convention on Human Rights in Medway, as this week the Tories wilfully ignored it.

Article 10 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.

However, following the decision of Cllr David Carr, newly-appointed cabinet member for community safety, to use his Article 10 rights to impart his opinion on the much-despised traveller communities, Tory council leader Cllr Rodney Chambers instead decided that, in fact, Cllr Carr had no such rights and suspended him from his cabinet duties – less than two weeks into the job.

In an interview with the Medway Messenger shortly after his appointment, Cllr Carr said:

I would have no hesitation in strategising a solution for travellers if travellers were going to be responsible community inhabitants, but that in itself is questionable against their name – ‘travellers’. If they’re going to travel they can hardly become part of the integrated community.

They move on and turn it into a building site. They crap all over the place, they p*ss over the field, they throw rubbish all over the place.

The majority of comments on the linked article are in Cllr Carr’s favour, leading to speculation once again that the Tory council is out of touch with the ordinary, hardworking Medway taxpayers. Instead, Cllr Chambers has chosen to respond by Labour’s party political hijacking of Cllr Carr’s comments by suspending him and holding a review of the incident before deciding whether to reinstate him or replace him so soon after his initial appointment.

Most people who know me will know that I remain broadly supportive of the local Tory council in many areas, although I would of course campaign and vote for UKIP in a local election, but actions such as these lead me to question whether my trust in the Tories on Medway Council is, instead, entirely misplaced.

Cllr Les Wicks sacked as schools supremo

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As far as political inevitability goes, the departure of Cllr Les Wicks from Medway Council’s cabinet ranks pretty highly.

However, the surprise is that it has taken until last night’s annual meeting of Medway Council for the Leader of the Council, Cllr Rodney Chambers, to show Cllr Wicks the door.

My position on this issue has been clear for a long time. Back when my blood ran in the deepest blue imaginable, I argued that Cllr Wicks and the relevant Director should resign in the best interests of Medway’s children. She left, but Cllr Wicks stayed.

This sorry saga has become a drawn-out embarrassment for the Conservative Group and was one of the few local issues which influenced my decision to leave the party. Cllr Wicks’ continued presence on the cabinet became one big distracting sideshow, while the children in Medway suffered, partly as a result.

It may be that Cllr Chambers hoped that the furore would die down in time, but bad news kept piling on the pressure and the anger from parents in Medway never subsided. At last month’s full council meeting, yet another petition of 800 signatures was presented, calling on his resignation. Cllr Chambers continued to praise his embattled cabinet member, but the writing was surely on the wall.

When I wrote my notorious post calling for Cllr Wicks to resign in 2011, I did so with a heavy heart, because he was a councillor I respected. Such respect has been severely dented after he hung on to his post far longer than he should have.

Now that Cllr Wicks and his cabinet colleague for children’s social care, Cllr David Wildey, have gone, I hope that we can finally put this matter to bed and support the pairing of Cllr Mike O’Brien, taking both jobs, and cabinet newcomer Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, taking a newly created Educational Improvement portfolio (under the direction of the Children’s Services portfolio holder), as they settle into their new roles.

Only time will tell if they are the right people for the job, but I wish them the very best of luck and will reserve judgement for a suitable period of time. After all, change doesn’t happen overnight.

But if it change doesn’t happen at all, it is only the children of Medway who suffer.

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Other changes were introduced to the cabinet last night. In moving to the Children’s Services portfolio, Cllr O’Brien vacated the Community Safety and Customer Contact portfolio he inherited from Cllr Rehman Chishti when he became an MP in 2010. This portfolio has been taken over by another cabinet newcomer, Cllr David Carr.

Meanwhile, veteran Cllr Tom Mason has been removed from the cabinet as his Corporate Services portfolio was abolished. The functions he carried out have been split amongst the remaining portfolio holders, of which there are now nine (down from ten).

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The new cabinet looks as follows:

Leader – Cllr Rodney Chambers
Deputy Leader and Finance – Cllr Alan Jarrett
Adult Services – Cllr David Brake
Children’s Services (Lead Member) – Cllr Mike O’Brien
Educational Improvement – Cllr Kelly Tolhurst
Community Safety and Customer Contact – Cllr David Carr
Front Line Services – Cllr Phil Filmer
Housing and Community Services – Cllr Howard Doe
Strategic Development and Economic Growth – Cllr Jane Chitty