The River Medway is “at the very heart” of the local area’s regeneration, council leader Cllr Rodney Chambers has said.

Cllr Chambers made his comments at the first Medway and Swale Boating Association Spring Conference, an event last Saturday exploring how the river can play a part in securing a buoyant future for Medway. He said Medway Council, and the local businesses that use the river, need to continue to work together to ensure the waterway is used to its full potential. Cllr Chambers added: “Where the river once physically divided us, it now brings our communities together and remains at the very heart of the new Medway that is emerging and of which we can all be proud.

“For centuries the River Medway has acted as the lifeblood to the local area providing a base for industry and the prosperity that came with it. “It has also acted as a physical barrier between specific locations in Medway, but we need to utilise it more as it is not only one of the main things that unites our communities, but is also an important resource that can be used to drive through inward investment and regeneration for our area. “It provides a perfect setting for leisure activities and is steeped in history. We need to utilise the river Medway better to attract more day-trippers and businesses.

“It is already undergoing huge regeneration on Rochester riverside, in Gillingham and soon at Chatham Waters with a number of other projects in the pipeline. “And it is ringed by great places such as Rochester, Chatham Dockyard, Upnor Castle, the Peninsula and award winning greenspaces, such as the Riverside Country Park. “It also offers a huge expanse of water that can be used for transport and tourism and I am pleased to say that we shall be spending £180,000 redeveloping Sun Pier as well as placing 25 interpretation boards along its shores bringing the area’s history to life. Cllr Chambers said he believes that if the council and local businesses continue to work in partnership to improve the river this will help bring about the best that Medway has to offer.

“The river has played a key part in the area’s history and should once again be at the very heart of efforts to unlock Medway’s full potential,” he added. Delegates were told of the numerous projects, some already taking shape, that are cementing the part the river is playing in Medway’s continued revival as a place to live, work, and do business.

These riverside regeneration projects include the following:

• A reinstated pontoon at Sun Pier that will provide landing access for tourist boats, private yachts and the potential – if a private operator can be persuaded – for a river taxi.

• Chatham Waters, a development of 950 homes and 40,000 square metres of commercial space, school, conference centre, hotel and supermarket at Chatham Docks in Gillingham.

• Victory Pier, in Gillingham will have 775 homes, shops, restaurant, marina style mooring and a 120 bedroom hotel once completed.

• Chatham Waterfront in Chatham will include 151 private and affordable apartments and 7,488 square metres of commercial space.

• Flagship development site at Rochester Riverside with space for 2,000 new homes, commercial retail and leisure use. Phase 1 by Hyde Housing of 73 affordable homes already completed. The riverside walk also opens up access to the public for the first time.

• Proposed relocation of Rochester train station to part of Corporation Street car park as part of a £26m Network Rail scheme which would improve links to both the river and the High Street. If planning consent is granted the new station could open by Summer 2015.

Delegates heard that nearly 30 years on from the closure of the Dockyard, which had such a devastating impact on the area’s economy there is a real sense that Medway is back – and the river, as then, is at the centre of that revival. “The River Medway that first attracted the Romans to the area and later flourished with the opening of the Dockyard is continuing to bring people here, to live, work and set up business,” Cllr Chambers said. “What we need to do is to build on that and with the help of business, whether that be developers providing high quality riverside housing a firm providing commuters and visitors with a river taxi service; there is so much more that be done to fulfil the river’s potential.”

The history of that long association will be brought to life by 25 new interpretation boards set to be placed along the river from Cuxton to Gillingham and Hoo that will take people on a journey from prehistoric times up to the present day. The modern day river will be celebrated again this summer with the return of the River Festival at Chatham Waterfront from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, 6 July. The event, which proved a huge hit last year, will showcase the many riverside pursuits and pastimes on offer in Medway as well as street theatre, a high street parade and food and cookery demonstrations. Kelly Tolhurst, councillor for Rochester West ward and vice chair of the Medway and Swale Boating Association, added: “Medway’s river is its greatest asset and events like this play an important part in highlighting what is being done and, more importantly, what needs to be done, to maximise its potential.”