Reeves’ bid for growth faces litmus test in Chatham

ArcelorMittal Kent Wire’s facility at Chatham Docks

In her maiden speech as chancellor of the exchequer yesterday, Rachel Reeves made it clear that local opposition will not be allowed to stand in the way of Labour’s push for economic growth.

However, Peel Waters’ plans to close Chatham Docks and put up new offices presents an illustrative test case for the new government, beyond the rhetoric, the actual decision-making is thorny.

This is because Peel Water’s plans depends on moving out ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, which imports and processes reinforcing steel for the construction industry on this site. It accounts for roughly a third of UK rebar supply and directly employs more than 800 people in traditional industrial roles. The replacement office development is purely speculative.

Peel Water’s plans were approved by Labour-run Medway council in May, prompting the then Conservative MP for Rochester & Strood, Kelly Tolhurst, to get the decision called in for review.

With the subsequent change of government, the final decision now falls to deputy prime minister Angela Raynsford, the new secretary of state for ‘levelling up’. Raynsford, so Reeves told us yesterday, is more minded to intervene to revive rejected plans than to block approved ones.

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Kelly Tolhurst has also gone, having lost her seat to Lauren Edwards, who is also portfolio holder for economic and social regeneration on Medway Council – and thus has already nailed her colours to the mast.

Peel Waters wants to replace the rebar processing plant with an office scheme560x372.96875 1717135272 illustrative views of what basin3 could look like
Peel Waters wants to replace the rebar processing plant with an office scheme

Worried by the direction of the wind, ArcelorMittal is stepping up its rearguard campaign. Matt Brooks, managing director of ArcelorMittal Kent Wire, said: “Whilst we welcome the chancellor’s commitment to building more homes and the delivery of new critical infrastructure, none of this can be delivered without the critical reinforced concreate steel product we manufacture at Chatham Docks. We supply over 30% of the UK construction sector’s needs and will play a pivotal role in the delivery of new hospitals, schools, power stations, transport projects and homes. Yet all of this could be under threat due to the proposal to close the last non-tidal working docks in southern England and replace it with a few flats and vague promises of new jobs.

“Our plea to the new government is simple. In the national interest reject the plans to develop the docks and allow us to continue to provide the critical material needed for the new homes we need and the infrastructure required to drive economic growth. We support housing growth but secure our manufacturing site to help you deliver it.”

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