UPDATE: I am delighted to advise residents that, following my speech to the planning committee, the application was rejected, although it was disappointing to see that the Conservative members were split, with a number of Tories, including the Chairman, Cllr Mrs Diane Chambers, voting in favour of allowing the development to proceed.
Thank you Madam Chairman, Councillors
Before I start may I advise the committee of the objection to this application by Mark Reckless MP.
The application before you this evening, or should I say applications as there are a number of similar applications this evening from MHS Homes to demolish garages in favour of building rabbit hutches, because that is what they really are, should not be countenanced whatsoever by this authority.
I would like to refer members to the substantive objection which was circulated to members yesterday by Jonet Dell of 7 Kingshill Drive whose property backs onto the garages which are earmarked for demolition.
Concerns have been raised by a number of residents with regards to the proposal before you this evening. Most particularly residents are concerned about the unacceptable loss of amenity, the unacceptable loss of visual amenity, of light, privacy, and the overbearing impact which this development would have on surrounding properties and residents.
The access and egress onto the site is a matter of particular concern given its location and the narrow point of access thereof. Indeed, it is my understanding that a similar application a number of years ago for this site was ruled out on safety grounds and I do not see that the revised proposals adequately address the safety issues which this site presents. St John’s Road is a busy thoroughfare, it is on the local bus route, and the displacement of vehicles currently using the garages onto the public highway is not, in my opinion or in the opinion of residents locally, adequately addressed in the report before you this evening, particularly given that the parking survey of the site was undertaken at 1o’clock in the morning. Not exactly indicative of the impact which increased parking in the area would have on daily traffic flow and the buses and pedestrians which use the route, most particularly children walking to school.
Now, looking at the current occupancy rate of the garages the report states that of the 37 garages on the site only 8 are untenanted. What the report doesn’t tell you is that it appears, according to the information which I have been provided with, that there may have been a concerted effort by MHS Homes to hold back on granting new tenancies for at least a year prior to this application in order to get the numbers down. Now I don’t have any proof that that is the case, but it certainly rings true because, let’s be honest, MHS Homes haven’t brought this application forward as some magnanimous gesture in the best interest of local residents in Hoo or Medway. They aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. We all know how MHS Homes operates. It’s not about people or the community, it’s about profit. That’s the bottom line. That is the primary driver of MHS.
Personally, given the amount of complaints which I have had to deal with on behalf of current MHS tenants who are forced to live in squalid, damp, dirty properties, I do not see how or why MHS should be permitted to expand its empire further without first bringing its current property portfolio up to a decent, habitable level. MHS literally should be forced to put its houses in order first before being permitted to build further properties anywhere in Medway, let alone in Hoo St Werburgh.
This application, and indeed the ones which follow this evening, is in my opinion cynical in the extreme which will add nothing but misery to the local community and the residents of Hoo who for years have seen an onslaught of widespread development without seeing a commensurate increase in local infrastructure. Only this morning I received yet another complaint from a local resident in Hoo who cannot get their child into the local school and who is being forced to travel to Strood twice a day to access the nearest school place which was available. To build further dwellings within the Parish of Hoo St Werburgh, particularly when the application does not attract any sort of developer contribution whatsoever is just plain wrong and it should be rejected.
The idea that this development may somehow benefit local people living in the Parish of Hoo St Werburgh in need of housing is, quite frankly, laughable. As I said before, we all know how MHS Homes operate and they will have no compulsion in turning this development into yet another backland ghetto, placing anyone they see fit to occupy the properties regardless of whether they are local or not, and regardless of the further pressure it will put on school places, local GP waiting lists and other woefully inadequate infrastructure on the Hoo Peninsula. It is most likely that the tenants placed in the properties will have no ties to or respect for the local community, no support network which they may require, and would not be suited to living in a semi-rural area. We unfortunately see that all too often with MHS Homes.
The decision you make this evening will be noted. This isn’t about just this development and the further MHS applications to be considered, it is about the long-term vision of Medway which we want to build. Do we really want to see the creation of more sub-standard boxes with people forced into increasingly cramped conditions, or do we want a better, bolder housing strategy for Medway where the opinions of local communities are respected and people have houses which are fit to be called homes.
I therefore urge members to do the right thing and reject this application.