19 Feb Lodge Hill – Medway Council just don’t get it!
by Clive Gregory on 19/02/2016
Last week I visited the RSPB at Northward Hill to learn more about the environmental importance of Lodge Hill and the Hoo peninsula. The most striking impression was that what we’re dealing with here is an area made up, not just the Hoo peninsula but the Thames coast line of Essex, the north Kent marshes and more.
Simply look at the Thames estuary from Woolwich to the north sea, include a few miles of shore on both banks and all the rivers entering the Thames estuary, especially the Medway and imagine yourself 1000 feet up and you’ll be looking at a area of not just ‘special scientific importance’ but an area of VITAL IMPORTANCE not just to the 9 MILLION birds that rely on this area for navigation and food – if you like a ‘pit-stop’ for 9 million birds but for humans and other animals that share this area.
A look at DEFRAs map of the Thames estuary area displays vividly the importance of the entire region with SSSI sites at regular intervals, beginning with the Inner Thames Marshes SSSI (Rainham Essex) and (from the air) linking next to the Mucking Flats and Marshes SSSI , again in Essex. At this point the river turns north and the land opposite the Mucking Flats and Marshes is The Hoo Peninsula. The peninsula is, especially if you fly, is a continuation of this area and in direct line from Rainham (Essex). Almost all of the north shores of the Hoo Peninsula are part of The North Thames Estuary and Marshes SSSI (includes Shorne, Higham and Cliffe marshes). This SSSI links all the way round past Grain and more or less joins up with Medway Estuary and Marshes SSSI, which includes vital tidal shores including my own local Stoke Saltings. Within the land mass of the Hoo peninsula you have, of course, Northward Hill – the RSPBs flagship bird sanctuary and to the south and providing a vital LINK in the chain of SSSIs is Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill. Even before we take into account the specifics of why Lodge Hill was designated an SSSI a study of the map shows that from the air, and to link these SSSIs together LODGE HILL IS ESSENTIAL – take it away and build on it and the entire eco system is disrupted and quite probably destroyed. Of course Lodge Hill is most famous for it’s breeding Nightingales. There has been much written on the importance of protecting this species so I won’t elaborate. What’s less well known is that its SSSI designation was also for; ancient woodland, Rubus fruticosus woodland or W10 status, MIXED AND YEW WOODLAND – Lowland, and, what’s called MG5; Centaurea nigra grassland. The SSSIs continue covering much of Sheppey and on into Whitstable and from there much of the Thanet Coast SSSI. To the north the Essex shoreline is protected by the Benfleet and Southend marshes SSSI, which continues round the Essex coast covering the Maplin sands.
This environment is vital, not just for the animals and plants and especially the WORLD’s birds – 9 million of them that migrate along this route – but for us too. Why can’t our local councillors understand how SPECIAL this site is – it is not for them or any of us to have any right to destroy it – we must manage and nurture it. Let’s say it loud and clear SSSI or triple ‘S’ ‘I” you know a SITE of SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC IMPORTANCE.
It is a disaster for the area of Medway that Conservative, Labour and LibDem councillors have adopted the human selfish gene and just cannot understand why all of this is important to us as a local community and a species. I’m sorry but this is a bigger issue than housing needs, there are plenty of sites that will have minimal impact on the environment that can and should be used instead. I’ve just heard Clr Chamber’s statement that this site has been part of the councils plans for 15 years, speaking in a tone that that somehow gives legitimacy to the project. All that means is that they’ve NOT understood the issue for a very long time despite the RSPB and others giving them plenty of advice over many years.
The need for housing.
Yes, Medway needs housing. However, I doubt this grandiose scheme will do much to address our real housing needs. The councils attitude to being wooed by a huge property developer with a super grand scheme with sugar coating all over it is somehow a solution to Medway’s housing issues is naive in the extreme. Most of the properties will be in excess of £250k, most will be significantly more. Sure they’ve promised some, so called affordable housing but even these do not address the most urgent housing needs. The most important housing needs amongst the claimed 20,000 waiting list are those people who are in temporary accommodation or sub-standard housing. These people are in need of low rent property and there’s very little of that planned for Lodge Hill. Labour go on about the need for jobs yet we can see by visiting any large building site that most of the contractors and their skilled labourers are not from Medway but almost always, Wales, Yorkshire, and the Midlands. I’ve nothing against people from these areas working here – they’re very welcome but it illustrates the point that Labour haven’t a clue when it comes to understanding how large developments appoint their contractors. I’m not aware of any special arrangements on this proposal that ensures that local business are to be given first call on the development. Local jobs – very few I suspect.
So who would buy these houses. Geoff Juby, the LibDem candidate in the recent by-election and a councillor seems to think that this development will help his children buy their first home. But will it. I very much doubt it. The problem for Medway currently is that thousands of people are being gradually (actually not that gradually – but that’s another scandal) priced out of London. They look for somewhere they can live more cheaply but still have good access to London. Well, guess what, here we are in Medway in just such a position. Typically, many of these people will have more money to spend than those currently working and living in Medway. As a result they’re more likely to be able to afford these high price units and can always pay a little more and so outbid the locals.
I predict this, should this evil be perpetrated on the Hoo peninsula, less than 50% of properties will go to those currently registered as living in Medway. Almost 0% will go to people in Medway that have genuine need for housing, the homeless or those in temporary accommodation or seeking what was once called a council house. Virtually no one regarded as being on this mythical 20,000 waiting list will benefit. Instead, we’ll expand the population of Medway with people piling out of London to exploit cheaper housing. This may even exacerbate our housing problems in the long run. Even the idea of all the shops and doctors and schools will go to those moving into the area. I also doubt whether many of these facilities will actually make it into reality. It won’t be the first grand scheme proposed by developers where they promise all these fantastic facilities and when the dust settles there are just high profit houses and lo and behold, no shops, doctors or schools. The Medway Green Party therefor call on the Council and Government to recognise that they have no right to threaten the Hoo peninsula environment. They have ignored local people and continue to ignore local people despite a by-election in which 81% of the people who live here rejected the scheme and almost all those that voted in local elections in peninsula ward on the same day also rejected the proposed development.