Published: Friday, 24th March 2023
Medway Council and the Hoo Consortium have reaffirmed their commitment to creating sustainable communities on the Hoo Peninsula underpinned by money from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF).
The two organisations have declared they will work collaboratively on the delivery of development and commit to a bespoke and sustainable infrastructure and housing programme, coordinating investments from HIF with developer contributions.
The move comes as Medway Council is in discussion with its partner Homes England to amend parts of the £170million Future Hoo infrastructure improvement project.
In the light of consultation, high inflation, significantly increased construction costs and pressures on public spending, the council is proposing to pause its plans to create a new railway station and train service on the Hoo Peninsula. Instead, it is currently exploring the potential for alternative transport options to improve access for residents travelling on and off the peninsula.
The preferred option being considered is to improve local bus services to provide better and regular connections into areas across Medway. The planned road investment, doubling the number of road routes on and off the peninsula, and environmental improvements have widespread public support and remain part of the council’s vision to support sustainable communities on the Hoo Peninsula.
We are reviewing our investment programmes
Cllr Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council, said: “Like many other important HIF funded projects across the country, we are reviewing our investment programmes with Homes England in order to remain financially prudent. This is consistent with the government which very recently decided to delay the delivery of the second phase of the HS2 project and Lower Thames Crossing due to inflation and the current economic climate.
“For every major project, we keep our costs under constant review, and it is evident that currently we would not be able to deliver a sustainable rail solution with the funding available.”
Ensuring communities on the peninsula benefit from the improvements
Huw Edwards, Planning Director, Barton Willmore Stantec, representing the Hoo Consortium, said: “As local landowners and developers we are also only too aware of how rising inflation has pushed up costs.
“Medway Council’s proposal to pause rail and find alternative sustainable transport solutions is pragmatic and understood as we progress this important infrastructure-led project ensuring that the communities on the peninsula benefit from the environmental and transport improvements funded by Homes England.”
Scoping out an enhanced bus service
Cllr Jarrett added: “Our Future Hoo team is currently scoping out how an enhanced bus service would operate. They are in discussions with Homes England about how this would be integrated into the proposed road improvements, alongside new cycle paths and footpaths to improve active travel connections in and around the peninsula, which supports our climate change aspirations.”
The approach is consistent with feedback from the local community and stakeholder engagement carried out by Medway Council which indicates that an integrated bus service would currently be preferable to a new rail route.
We are continuing to develop our plans
Cllr Alan Jarrett said: “Medway Council’s and the Hoo Consortium’s commitment to delivering sustainable communities, supported by excellent infrastructure, is unwavering and we continue to develop our plans. We have made significant progress recently, including securing permission for the Hoo Wetlands Community Parkland, and ongoing engagement with the communities on the peninsula, including schoolchildren.”
The HIF funding earmarked for major investments in the peninsula’s road network, rail connectivity and environmental infrastructure was agreed in 2019, and designed to upgrade capacity that could support the delivery of 10,600 new homes. Inflation rises, especially in construction materials, has meant the original budget had fallen significantly in real terms since the original funding was agreed and is a reflection of the national picture.
The council is proposing to safeguard the land earmarked for the planned railway station near Sharnal Street. This will protect the council’s ambition to deliver a rail connection in the future as the population grows and new businesses invest on the peninsula.