Who will hold the line?

Dear Faversham Town Council

I am writing this email to all members of Faversham Town Council to express my deep dismay and fear for the future of Faversham Creek, as proposed by the Faversham Creek Steering Group at their meeting last week. Unfortunately I cannot attend this evening’s Town Council Meeting, when the Faversham Creek Steering Group’s proposals will be discussed, as I must be elsewhere. However, I hope that you will take the views expressed in this email into account.

For three decades Swale Borough Council has held the line for Faversham against excessive housing development along the Creek. They have not always been successful, and their efforts have been overturned on appeal with seriously detrimental results, but at least they have tried. In the most recent adopted Local Plan of 2008, Swale still maintained that there should be no more housing development along the Creek, not least due to flood risk.

When Faversham Town Council was given responsibility for producing a Creek Neighbourhood Plan, under the Localism Bill, many Faversham residents had high hopes that FTC would be able to follow the clear line taken for so long by SBC, evidently approved of by many electors, by continuing to resist the pressure for unsuitable development and by promoting sustainable uses for many of the properties along the Creek. This seemed like our chance at last to achieve a future for Faversham which reflected our maritime heritage and our aspirations for sustainable development.

Unfortunately it appears to many of us that the Faversham Creek Steering Group capitulated to the wishes of the developers from the very beginning. The membership of the Group was drawn largely from the Faversham Creek Consortium, first established by Swale Borough Council in late 2005. Representatives on the Consortium and the Group included people who, we thought, had the best interests of the town at heart, for example the Faversham Society and Faversham Municipal Charities.

However, over eight years the Consortium gradually lost the trust of many Faversham people – as anyone who attended the AGMs could see and hear. From early on the Consortium seemed to favour housing development over all other possible uses of the land, and this preference was carried over into the Steering Group. It is no wonder that there are suspicions, clearly voiced at last Tuesday’s meeting, that not all members of the Creek Steering Group are entirely unbiased.

The various options presented by the Steering Group at the June exhibition claimed to represent a selection of alternatives, yet the proposals for each site were not different from each other at all, but were all remarkably similar. All showed ‘mixed use’ of housing and ‘employment’, so that ‘employment’ use could be positioned on the ground floor where the flood risk exists, and the housing then had to be built to a high elevation to pay for the significant amount of piling required and the cost of providing ‘employment’ use on the ground floor. The views of the community that had been expressed at the previous consultation were ignored, and the views expressed following this ‘consultation’ were overruled.

My understanding of the proposals presented at the June 2013 consultation, from discussions with Steering Group representatives in attendance, was that the drawings were developed by the Steering Group itself. Yet when requests were made at last Tuesday’s meeting for the Steering Group to explain exactly what was meant by ‘viable’ use of land, and for an alternative proposal of a Community Boatyard on Ordnance Wharf, the request was thrown back at the Faversham Creek Trust to present a proposal. This was in spite of the fact that they have only recently been invited to join the Steering Group, they probably have little of the information available to the Steering Group, and they were excluded from the discussion of Ordnance Wharf as having ‘an interest’. Surely the Steering Group itself should have – and still should – researched and proposed alternative uses for each site, not just bowed down to the developers’ desire for profit through housing.

The views of local residents have been strongly expressed against housing on both Ordnance Wharf and Swan Quay. Ordnance Wharf represents a real opportunity to bring the Basin back into active use, as a destination for local people and tourists, for waterside activities and employment such as a community boatyard. Swan Quay, too, is a very historic and highly important site for the town, yet the only proposals presented by and to the Steering Group are for completely inappropriate blocks of flats.

This month there have been normal spring tides which have risen within a foot of the edge of Swan Quay and which have flooded Town Quay. How much piling would be necessary to make Swan Quay able to support the proposed blocks of flats? Look at the piling that took place along Provender Walk, Waterside Close and Faversham Reach. Is that what the Council wants to happen at Swan Quay? It was stated at last Tuesday’s meeting that the Environment Agency has declared that a flood barrier would be required before development of this site. What would that mean to the historic quay? The area proposed for development is quite small. How much do you want to see the existing historic buildings like the Old Chandlery, the Boxing Club and TS Hasard dwarfed by three large blocks? What view do you want from the Front Brents? Where would the residents of these flats park their cars? Swan Quay has the only slipway along the length of the Creek. Surely it would be more appropriate to continue the existing, viable business of sail making and maritime trades in this place and put housing elsewhere.

The case for continued maritime use of Standard Quay has been eloquently expressed by others on many occasions. I concur fully with the opinion that Building No. 1 and others along the Creek side should revert to their previous use for repairing and restoring historic and other vessels.

Portsmouth has just been granted £4m by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the old dockyard for businesses and apprenticeships for the repair and restoration of historic vessels, with media attention focusing on the imminent loss of these skills if action is not immediately taken. While Faversham could not expect such largesse, surely it is not beyond the imagination of the Steering Group and FTC to consider applying for funding to help with developing our historic waterfront in order to benefit and enrich future generations, not just a few property speculators?

Finally, if the battle to retain at least parts of the Creek is lost to the developers, how on earth can Faversham Town Council expect Swale Borough Council to continue to hold the line on other limits to the development of the town, such as ‘South of the A2’? If we cannot protect our own interests, why should we expect our Borough Council to protect them?

I hope that Faversham Town Council will draw back from these potentially devastating proposals before it is too late. Perhaps it is time to review the long-standing membership of the Steering Group, not just add a few ‘lone voices in the wilderness’ to the entrenched views of the members. Please look at the Creek again, please start the review all over again if necessary. Whatever the cost, it will be small beer compared with the total loss to future generations that is at risk if the current proposals are carried through.

Sue Akhurst

2 responses to “Who will hold the line?

  1. A truly excellent post and we are both in full accord with it.
    We have just returned from a 2 month stay in France. We were absolutely astounded to discover that the steering group appears to have taken no notice whatever of the wishes of Faversham people. We are still finding it hard to believe. The disrespect shown to us is almost feudal in nature, the arrogance of a few who are determined to do what a couple of landowners want is both breathtaking and shameful.
    By contrast, our long spells in France have been filled with events both large and small in which communities come together to celebrate their heritage and history. The pride they show in such events is immense and they welcome all the many tourists who come to join. Coming back home to Faversham feels as though we have landed on a different planet.
    We have a wonderful community, so much to be proud of, a rich maritime heritage that should be an asset that will draw tourists in from all over the world. Why oh why are we throwing these opportunities away? Please, please I beg of you, please start again and don’t let thePhilistines have their way.

  2. I agree – an excellent extremely articulate letter. I have faith in the people of Faversham and know they will continue to fight this particular battle. We must all keep up the pressure and continue to make reasoned arguments for the obvious alternative viable uses for the Creek – why the steering group has for 2 years been ignoring the public wishes and supporting the landowners plans for concreting the remainder of the creek over with high end housing escapes me – can anyone tell me why? Why wouldn’t they want the medieval port of Faversham restored as a flourishing waterway for traditional and other craft, which would provide employment, increased tourism revenue for the town and conserve the maritime heritage for generations to enjoy?

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