Saturday, 27 August 2011

A tale of two bus stations. Gillingham 1940 - Chatham 2011

On August 27th 1940, in the middle of the night Gillingham became the target for the Luftwaffe. German bombers using the "Knicke-baum" or the moonlight reflecting on the estuary began their raid. Bombs fell upon the fire station, an incendiary hit the theatre where patrons were asked politely to leave, a butchers shop, A Co-op, a sub-post office, a newsagent and many residential houses were also struck. Twenty people (half of Gillingham's killed in the whole war.) were killed and twenty-two seriously injured.

The worst damage was on the Maidstone and District bus station off Duncan road. The fire took hold and blazed away through the night with an intensity that damaged houses on the street opposite and melted roof tiles. Apples in the neighbouring orchard were roasted on the trees and courageous depot and volunteers braved the fire and the exploding petrol tanks to drive the buses out saving 70 (50 were lost). One sailor, who couldn't drive resorted to using a phone kiosk as a brake and then ran into the blaze to grab another! Other than the heat and explosions another thing slowing rescue was that the steering wheels had been locked so that German Paratroopers couldn't steal them in an invasion scenario, there were unfortunately only two sets of keys!

Seventy one years on Medway looks set to announce the opening of its new bus station in Chatham. This new facility will replace the Pentagon bus station this autumn, a few months late at an extra cost to the Medway tax payer, who as always picks up the shortfall.

I have a few issues with the way the station's construction and planning but that has passed and whether I think there is indeed a need for a new bus station or not- It's being built.

So lets look at the positives...

When completed there may be less congestion for the buses around Chatham town centre and the open plan stretched out nature will allow more freedom of movement with buses no longer getting in each others way.

It will also be an impressive centre piece for the City status campaign and the river front regeneration project. If all goes to plan the new station will help usher in a new era for Chatham High street and could boost prosperity. (Now that people can finally get into the town centre after a year of road works!)

Another good thing is that it will have the live bus tracker so that you will know when your bus is due, which port and if it has become delayed. This will be helpful for many customers and travellers who often arrive at the Pentagon and are unsure whether they have just missed their bus or if there is one due?

This is a step in a direction for Medway, whether as good as promised or a non starter only time will tell, lets hope it fairs better than it Gillingham counter part from that fateful night in 1940.

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