Chatham Dockyard closure 'very positive for the area'

The Historic Dockyard Chatham attracts more than 160,000 visitors a year

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The closure of Chatham Dockyard three decades ago was positive for the area, a report commissioned by BBC Radio Kent to mark the anniversary has concluded.

More than 7,000 workers lost their jobs at the dockyard when it closed on 31 March 1984, along with another 10,000 jobs in associated industries.

Prof Richard Scase, of the University of Kent, said it eliminated "unhealthy, unsafe and inefficient jobs".

However, former workers said it "ripped the heart" out of the Medway towns.

At the time of the closure, about 24% of the workforce in the area was unemployed, but 30 years on this is down to "a remarkable 2.7%", Prof Scase said.

'Bigotry and sexism'

His report found the area had benefited economically, socially and culturally, and the government had been "forced" to invest in, and to encourage regeneration.

"I can't think of another community in the country where the reduction in unemployment has been so rapid over a 30-year period of time," he said.

Of the 7,300 workers employed in the dockyard - 2,300 were compulsory redundancies, 2,000 workers were transferred to other naval dockyards, 1,500 retired and 1,500 took voluntary redundancy.

Prof Scase said although the dockyard had initially offered safe, secure jobs, there had been many reports of "over-manning, pilfering and wastage".

Chatham Dockyard The closure of Chatham Dockyard ended centuries of shipbuilding and repair

It was also "highly unionised" and "bigotry and sexism" were rife.

After the closure, the disused site was split into three distinct areas, with the largest being the 80-acre Historic Dockyard Chatham.

The tourist attraction has benefited from £60m of investment since 1984, and attracts more than 160,000 visitors each year, and houses more than 100 business tenants and part of the University of Kent.

Population growth

It also supports more than 650 jobs and brings in almost £20m a year to the Medway economy.

Prof Scase said the site had helped to rebrand the Medway towns.

The report shows that the redevelopment of the former shipbuilding basin on St Mary's Island has contributed towards a growth in population in the area of 32% since 2001.

The site has a master plan for 1,700 homes with 1,361 built to date.

The third area is owned by the Medway Ports Authority.

The final phase of regeneration will be the £650m redevelopment of Chatham Waters.

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