Regulation 18 Consultation – Setting the Direction for Medway 2040

Ended on the 31 October 2023

2. Context

2.1 The Local Plan will set out the direction for Medway's growth over coming years. It will be a Plan for people who live, work, or study in Medway and visitors. It will be a Plan for Medway as its own place. A complex place, which encompasses distinct towns and villages, with their own strong identity and history. A place of contrasts, from remote marshes and mudflats to busy urban streets. A place of noted heritage, but also looking to the future, with innovation and enterprise, and universities and colleges equipping students with skills for the changing world of work.

2.2 People will be at the centre of the Plan. The Council wants Medway to be a healthy place to live, with clean air, high quality, well designed housing, greenspaces for people to enjoy, places for people to mix, and job opportunities to support a good quality of life. Currently there are marked differences in health and wellbeing across communities in Medway. The Plan needs to look at how we plan for the use of land to help people to live healthier and longer lives, and provide safe, connected and sustainable places.

2.3 The Plan will consider the diverse communities who make up Medway. Policies for housing, employment, transport, services and community facilities, retail and design need to take account of the needs of different sectors of the community. This will be reflected in the types of housing planned and infrastructure required, such as schools and parks.

2.4 The Plan must address big issues for Medway – the environment, high quality energy efficient homes that are affordable and within the reach of residents, health and wellbeing, boosting the economy and tackling deprivation. There are many areas where we need to improve on the current position. The Local Plan is one of the approaches that the Council can take to help address inequalities, poor environmental standards and reduce pressures on services. The plan will be about ambitions that can be achieved for a confident future Medway.

2.5 Climate change is a global emergency but needs to be addressed at all levels. Medway as a coastal area is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, and changes in temperature and precipitation have impacts for landscape, food production, nature and people. The new Local Plan will help to secure a more resilient future for Medway.

2.6 The River Medway is a key asset, providing a strong sense of place and identity. However, the river bisects the area and movement is constrained by four crossings. The severance caused by the river, established commuting flow patterns and travel behaviour, the legacy of post-war development designed for the car, generous car parking provision in dense employment areas and the existing public transport offer make for a challenging environment in which to accommodate Medway's development needs. The new Plan will need to set out a strategy for how we can reduce car dependency. This will involve thinking differently about how people can move round the central urban areas on foot or bicycle and improving sustainable transport connections from the suburban and rural areas, including consideration of better use of the river for transport. Medway's location in north Kent gives rise to additional opportunities and challenges associated with wider growth, such as the proposed Lower Thames Crossing (LTC).

2.7 The Local Plan will be about much more than identifying sites for new housing, but this will be a key part of the Plan and generally attracts the greatest levels of interest at consultation. There are huge pressures on housing. Decent homes are unaffordable for many people. Unfortunately, some of the accommodation locally is sub-standard and there are challenges in securing decent standards with some conversions, particularly where they are undertaken under permitted development. The supply of new housing is central to the new Local Plan, but it is about more than housing numbers. The Plan will seek to improve the choice and mix of homes, drive up quality, and meet the needs of different sectors of the community. Housing-led growth can support wider investment in services and businesses and contribute to shaping the character of new and existing communities.

2.8 The Plan can help Medway to capitalise on its strategic advantages for businesses, with transport links, proximity to London, the cluster of universities and colleges, and a diverse portfolio of employment land from the strategic landholdings at Grain and Kingsnorth, to re-purposing vacant retail units on the High Streets. There are opportunities to redress the flow of commuters from Medway to jobs in London and attract more businesses to set up locally. This is central to Medway's economic strategy, but is challenged by current trends, particularly with cost of living pressures where people are being attracted to move to Medway for its choice of housing, but retain jobs in London.

2.9 The Plan will consider how Medway's infrastructure, such as schools, transport networks, health facilities, parks and community facilities, need to be upgraded in line with a growing and changing population.

2.10 This consultation document has been drawn up following the withdrawal of Government funding from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) for strategic transport and environmental schemes. The HIF programme sought to get key infrastructure in place ahead of growth coming forward in Medway. It is widely recognised that the existing transport networks are under pressure across Medway and upgrades are needed to cope with increased journeys that will come as Medway's communities and businesses expand. Infrastructure and environmental concerns are at the forefront of the Council's work on the new Local Plan. The withdrawal of the HIF funding means that the Council will look at alternatives for securing investment in transport and green infrastructure across Medway, as these remain strategic matters central to the new Plan.

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