Government awards community group £50,000 to create plans for Market Hall site in The Brook, Chatham
A group of local residents, businesses and organisations has been awarded £50,000 to shape the future of a key site in Chatham town centre.
Arches Chatham Neighbourhood Forum (ACNF) received the money from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to pursue a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO), making it one of the first in the country to use such a process.
The NDO will cover the disused GO Outdoors building, HomePlus Furniture store - previously Market Hall - and the multi-storey car park, all of which are freehold owned by Medway Council.
The government funding will help the group to create a proposal for the site based on significant community involvement, with activities and design workshops for local people starting as early as this summer.
An NDO is a rarely-used tool that automatically grants planning permission for specific development in a particular area.
This could include things like specified changes of use, certain kinds of alteration or the reinstatement of historical features.
In the case of the ACNF community group, an NDO could be used to grant outline planning permission for specified uses on allocated sites, such as housing, commercial uses or recreational uses.
Only three NDOs have come into force across the country to date, with the latest order agreed in Northamptonshire seeing a BT telephone exchange potentially become up to seven homes.
Although the NDO does not mean the group itself will make changes to the town centre site, it can attract interest and promote greater certainty to developers to deliver a scheme.
ACNF secretary Jackson Fraser-Hague said: "This NDO presents an incredible, exciting opportunity for the community of Medway to come together and explore the future use of a site in Chatham which itself is a key component of Medway Council’s vision for a sustainable, beautiful and child-friendly city in which to live and thrive.
"This is also a great opportunity to support Medway’s heritage by maintaining the backdrop and improving access to the Great Lines Chatham Defence Lines and Chatham Naval Memorial."
"Chatham can be cleaner, greener and more prosperous. And this can and should be part of our NDO."
Jackson noted that the group's NDO will strongly support Medway’s City of Culture 2025 bid and further progress confidence in Medway becoming a city in its own right.
"We are excited about the potential of delivering an NDO scheme of the highest standard both in terms of design and community involvement. Chatham can be cleaner, greener and more prosperous. And this can and should be part of our NDO," Jackson added.
Nationally acclaimed social enterprise Create Streets has been appointed to advise the group and finalise the NDO, which should be completed by next summer.
The news comes just a month after ACNF finished a 10-week consultation period for Medway's first urban neighbourhood plan, covering a large part of central Chatham and Luton.
The neighbourhood plan looks at the next 15 years of the area and contains a swathe of policies for issues such as housing, transport, economy and the built and natural environment, all of which are based on feedback from local people.