Kent transport

Gillingham: The ‘dilapidated’ town of Medway is set for a full revival

One of Medway’s central towns could see millions of pounds used in an effort to start reviving the area. In recent years, Gillingham’s reputation has undeniably slipped, with many in the town itself believing that the area has suffered a noticeable decline.

The High Street in particular is a place that has seen significant change over the years, with more and more empty shop windows and a noticeable lack of recognizable brands to attract potential customers. Locals said what “used to be a good mall” is no longer the destination it once was.

The Medway Council is currently aiming to breathe new life into Gillingham, with its Open Lines project. The council joined Peel L&P to create a bid for the government’s leveling fund, which has already been used to secure support for major improvements in nearby Chatham.

Read more: ‘Canterbury is full of empty shops and fails to exploit its full potential’

Plans for the new project would see the creation of new walking and cycling routes, improvements to the main street and the creation of new family spaces. At the same time, there would also be improvements in air quality as well as better access to the waterfront, all with the aim of improving footfall in the city center.

In total, four key areas are covered by the plans. They are:

1.4km pedestrian and cycle link between Gillingham Waterfront and Gillingham town center

Known as ‘The Greenway Route’, which aims to transform the disused old railway line into a health and wellness corridor. It will serve as an active travel route, connecting residents and workers of Chatham Waters, University Technical College and several university campuses to Gillingham Station.

This would ultimately translate to 20,000 students within 45 minutes of London.

railway street

Improvements would be made along the street that connects Gillingham High Street to the start of the greenway.

Gillingham High Street Improvements

The High Street is an area which has been earmarked for improvement

The main street would see better access for cyclists, alongside the incorporation of new planting, furniture, provisions for bicycles and outdoor spaces for cafes and shops.

Green Competence Center

Plans have been drawn up for a new vocational skills space for people to develop skills in engineering, construction and manufacturing.

What the board said

Head of the Medway Council Cllr Alan Jarrett.
Head of the Medway Council, Councilor Alan Jarrett

Medway Council Leader Councilor Alan Jarrett said: “The Government’s Leveling Fund aims to restore the pride people feel in the places they call home and to protect culture and heritage. We know that improvements could be made and, with public support, the council plans to work with Peel L&P to bid for Gillingham funding.

“Initial plans hope to improve the commute to Gillingham town centre, as well as promote green travel and improve everyday life. This supply and proposed project will also support our ambitious and ongoing regeneration plans for Gillingham town centre. Gillingham in order to increase footfall and stimulate the local economy.”

How local businesses are feeling

With the High Street being singled out as one of the main areas for improvement, we visited the area to speak to local businesses about the proposed plans and how they feel in Gillingham needs improvement.

“It’s so run down”

David thinks a lot could be improved at Gillingham
David thinks a lot could be improved at Gillingham

David Guscott, 55, is Commercial Director of Flooring & Fabrics Make a Home Ltd. The business opened in October 2020, amid the Covid pandemic.

Speaking about business life in the region, he said: “It’s okay. It’s tough at times, there are ups and downs and there are challenges. We’ll have a very busy day and then a very busy day. quiet, but there are a lot of local people who want to buy locally, so that helps.”

Discussing the recently unveiled plans, David voiced his support for the idea. He said: “He needs it, yes. It’s so run down; all the empty shops just bring, unfortunately, the dregs of society. It just lowers the tone. People want to come in and buy things , but they don’t because they’re too scared.

“Just the general look of the High Street; it’s little things, like the masonry around the trees. I know they’ve spent quite a bit of money in Chatham, they’re trying.”

“I would just like to improve our neighborhood”

Millie supports the project
Millie supports the project

The sentiment of support for the plans was echoed by Millie Okonta, 47, who was the manager of Eunistar Healthcare & Afro Caribbean Store on the High Street for five years. She said, “That will be good, yes, because it will bring sanity.

“Sometimes we have the police present, people will feel safer on the main street, we will have fewer thefts. It would be nice to bring security and make people happier.”

Millie continued to discuss what she would like to see improved at Gillingham. She added, “I just want to make our neighborhood better, be friendlier to each other. Let’s be more respectful of the neighborhood, that’s what I want.”

“Cycle paths and an appropriate cycle network would be of great advantage”

Cearan thinks improving cycle lanes in Gillingham would be very beneficial
Cearan thinks improving cycle lanes in Gillingham would be very beneficial

Cearan Burton, 51, is the manager of The Bike Warehouse which has operated in Gillingham for 30 years. The Open Lines project seemed like something Cearan was very supportive of.

He said: “I think cycle lanes and a proper cycle network would be of great benefit. You will find that you will have 200 meters of cycle lane and then it will go back completely into the road.

“People who get into cycling want to feel safe, they won’t feel safe if the bike lanes themselves are very small.”

The conversation then turned to what he would like to see improved in the area. He said: “For Gillingham High Street, a main brand supermarket or an appropriate brand to attract people to the High Street would be fine.

“Also to try and find parking that’s as realistic with the High Street, especially that end of the High Street. There’s no parking, so people start driving into the pedestrianized High Street and trying to park on it. “

How the locals feel

We traveled to the area once again to ask local residents and visitors what they thought of the proposed plans and how they would like to see their area improve.

“The money would be better off going elsewhere”

Pauline does not think the project is strictly necessary
Pauline does not think the project is strictly necessary

Pauline Synnott, 73, lives in nearby Rainham and visits Gillingham on a semi-regular basis. The proposed plans didn’t seem to resonate with Pauline.

When asked if she felt the area needed these upgrades, she replied, “No, I mean you have it now, you already have it, right? You have bins, you have seats to sit down, what else do you want?

“It would be better if the money went elsewhere. They have to bring in people who want to come […] there are too many thugs.

“There is not a very good selection [of shops] but where are you going to be? I mean, you’re going to Chatham, what’s there? Or Rainham, or Sittingbourne, what is it? It’s all the same.”

‘It’s fantastic’

George really enjoys life at Gillingham but still thinks there is room for improvement
George really enjoys life at Gillingham, but still thinks there is room for improvement

George Tewogbade, 65, has now lived in Gillingham for two years and holds the area in high esteem. He said: “It’s fantastic, it’s quiet, the people are friendly. The main street is not far from my house, the bus station is not far from my house, the train station is not far from home.”

When asked if he thought Gillingham needed the Open Lines project, George replied: “Yes we do, it improves the area. More people will come to this area.”

He also had ideas for specific improvements he would like to see in the city. George added: “I would say we need Barclays bank, all the banks are here but not Barclays.

“If we could have Asda, we have Aldi, we have Iceland. If we could have Asda, that would be fantastic, or Sainsbury’s.”

“I wouldn’t come often”

Paul doesn't visit the area often as he thinks a lot of things could be improved
Paul doesn’t visit the area often as he thinks a lot of things could be improved

Paul White, 78, said it was his first return to Gillingham for around five years and explained why he was currently being pushed back from visiting the area. He said: “Half the shops are closed, it’s either gambling, pawnshops and thrift shops.

“You just have people walking around in the High Street, they don’t spend money. It was a good shopping centre, you could find anything here.

“If you could get some of the larger stores back, maybe lower the commercial rates a bit, you might get some. I wouldn’t go often, other than there’s a few people walking around, and I think that’s what people are out. There are other people walking around and it’s a beautiful sunny day.

What is Gillingham’s current appeal?

Gillingham, Kent.
Gillingham’s easy connections make it an ideal location for many

While the area is currently hoping to see a lot of improvements, the town has already attracted quite a bit of attention. With a population of 108,785, according to ONS 2020 data, key connections to London and the coast, and plenty of attractions to see, it’s no wonder the area is growing in popularity.

Abbe Hall, of Savills South East Residential Development Sales Team, says: “From a new home perspective, places like Gillingham – which has similarities in many ways to Rochester and Chatham – offer good transport links, which continue to prove popular among young people. professionals, first-time buyers, purchase assistance buyers and certain Buy To Let investors as well.

“Direct trains to London in less than an hour from towns like Gillingham are a great incentive for buyers, but there are also attractive capital values ​​for first-time buyers in the new home market, on a wider level. County.”

A spokesperson for Wards in Gillingham added: “Gillingham is a booming area with excellent access to the local road network. It is the most affordable area offering fast commuter trains to central London. Located on the River Medway, it offers pleasant riverside walkways, a leisure centre, universities and a convenient town center with many shops.”

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