After the article about The Missing Rainham Bypass - Rainham Southern Relief Road Maggie Francis has kindly passed on this copy of Action Forum showing the plans for the road and the rest of the area from 1965 which originally were for a full ring road around Rainham in addition to the bypass. The full story is below
THE RAINHAM PLAN — 30 YEARS ON
I recently noticed a report which indicated that Gillingham Borough Council had agreed to compulsorily acquire land on the northem side of Longley Road which they considered an eyesore and I wondered if the members were told that it was the Council which caused the original blight.
This goes back thirty years when a plan was produced (reprinted herewith) by consultants, after an exhaustive survey, for the regeneration of the village. I started the process by putting down a motion of ‘no conﬁdence’ in the Planning Committee who had been turning down applications for the enlargement and the development of shops in Rainham High Street. This was brought to a head when Woolworths applied to enlarge premises, now Lukehurst’s main shop, which had previously been a cycle shop with the old cinema adjacent. The Council refused this application with others and I considered that the natural development of High Street shopping was being stiﬂed to the detriment of Rainham residents. I knew that the Borough Engineer strongly favoured a new Shopping Centre and I felt that the refusals were part of a plan to bring that about. My censure motion created a degree of personal acrimony but the Council resolved to appoint consultants to advise on the future shopping needs and its location and changes which might improve the central area of Rainham. I considered this a waste of public funds as if a new shopping centre was to be created then there were only two possible locations in close proximity to the top of Station Road which has always been recognised as the central point of the village.
One of these sites was where the shops were ultimately built and the other was between Station Road and Ivy Street, just behind the Co-operative store which was then open land having once been the grazing area for Jacobs dairy. The plan proposed by the consultants went far beyond what was anticipated but it included various pet ideas which had been ‘ﬂoated’ by senior officers and some members from time to time. A major bypass was included, running parallel south of the A2 from Holding Street to just east of Miers Court Road which itself would be widened and rebuilt leading into a new loop road running eventually along the line of Hothﬁeld Road and Tufton Road and then sweeping south around the outside edge of a new shopping centre served by large car parks and a bus station. Readers will note that the bottom of Orchard Street was diverted to connect up with the new loop road under a major ﬂy over. Rainham High Street and the top of Station Road would be for pedestrians only with no through trafﬁc between Holding Street and Miers Court Road.
It is interesting to see the number of shop units recommended, less than half of which have been built and some of those are empty. The Council adopted the recommendations in total. I was strongly opposed as I considered that the centre of Rainham would be divided into four distinct areas: (I) south of the bypass; (2) between the bypass and the High Street, with hardly any provision for access; (3) between the High Street and the loop road; and (4) north of the loop road. Both routes of the proposed bypass and the new loop road with other properties covered by the plan caused an immediate blight. The whole of the area on the south side of Tufton Road to the north side of Longley Road was a “reserved space’ all of which caused consternation and a great deal of worry to numerous residents who realised that their properties were devalued and probably could not be sold. Both Gillingham Borough Council and the KCC had to buy properties along the routes of the proposed roads and of course the route of the proposed bypass (as amended) is still in the structure plan so much of that area is still blighted.
Some residents in Station Road moved and I know that Wilkin’s the hardware shop on the comer of Tufton Road had to be acquired. Whilst many residents were worried and some probably lost money inevitably there were other landowners who prospered by the proposals. Much of the shopping centre and car park was a cherry orchard and the Co-operative shop was built mainly on the old school site. I left the Council in I967 and have no record of when the proposed new loop road was deleted from the plan but it was in for some years and blighted the area of land in Longley Road which is now the subject of concern and possible acquisition. To the best of my knowledge this land was owned by Holden’s, a ﬁrm of builders, who applied for various developments which were refused.
It just shows how Authorities produce plans which have a profound effect upon residents for good or ill for many years. The main point made by the consultants was that every effort should be made to ‘recapture an intimate village atmosphere otherwise Rainham would be swallowed up by the ever-expanding Medway Towns and would completely lose any identity or character of its own’. I leave readers to decide if the slightest vestige of ‘village atmosphere’ remains. It was considered that the eastern part of the Borough had a potential population of 40 to 50,000 which would justify a new shopping centre but it was emphasised that this should not be large enough to pose a threat to the main centres of Chatham and Gillingham (how different from the attitude adopted over the Savacentre).
The consultants claimed that their plan would preserve and improve the character of the village but in my view one of the main errors was the demolition of the old Church School at the top of Station Road, this took away one of the four buildings in that area which were necessary to preserve the soul of the village and its retention would have enabled community activities to have been centralised in a building to which many of us already had a close attachment. So what have we got from the grandiose plans of thirty years ago — we have a shopping centre comprising about half of the shops then proposed with a car park but no bus station. Many of the retail shops in the High Street have become banks, estate agents or ofﬁces, the bypass has never been built but remains in the plan causing blight along its proposed route and the new loop road which caused so much concern to residents was presumably subsequently removed from the plan.
Whatever the intentions, Rainham was destroyed as a village a long while ago — it’s just part of the sprawling conurbation of Medway which looks like spreading ever further in future years.