This view of the Neighbourhood Plan so far, was copied to FCT by the author, Timothy Stevens OBE, and we have decided to publish it as it fits our policy of publishing serious views, especially from people who are independent of the Trust. It was addressed to the Clerk to the Faversham Town Council, and we have removed some initial personal greetings.
My letter falls into two parts. In the first are my reactions to the proposals overall and in the second some views on specific proposals made on a few of the individual boards.
Reactions to the proposals overall
It is worth remembering that planning is a mechanism for providing a community with a good environment in which to live. It is against that yardstick that I have attempted to measure these proposals.
By this measure these plans lack vision and are simply not fit for purpose because they do not meet the needs of Faversham in the 21st century.
From the display, visitors without local knowledge would not know that the creek made Faversham, nor would they have any real idea of the importance of the area to the well-being of the town, either now or in the future, let alone in its past history. It is not stressed that the creek area is relatively tiny and, more importantly, long and thin, so any large-scale development will be visually very intrusive.
There is no more important site in the town yet there is no attempt to put it in its wider context.
There is remarkable insensitivity to the spirit of the place. Indeed the proposals show the fatal current tendency of planners/councillors/committees not to be able to leave well alone. If it works, why meddle? Of the greatest seriousness, the group does not put forward all the possible options for the creek. Housing is often offered as the only solution for sites; the option of doing nothing for instance is not explored.
Needs of Faversham
The panels offer no discussion about the needs of Faversham: housing, industry, open spaces or positive preservation of its character for tourism.
Yet, given the positioning of the area, unless the town’s needs are precisely defined, its use cannot be planned. What are the town’s true priorities and how can they be met on this site? Having agreed on the ‘needs’, the issue of how many of them can be met on the creek site can be considered. It is unlikely that every ‘need’ can be accommodated as some are uncomfortable bedfellows ~ light industry, even ship building and repair do not mix naturally with expensive residential housing.
The site’s historic importance
Although all parties agree on the area’s great historic importance, no detailed archaeological survey of the site has been undertaken, nor has there been a systematic gathering of all documentary resources. Do we really yet know the significance of Ordnance Wharf: was this the quay from which gunpowder left for Trafalgar? Would excavation reveal a network of 16thcentury docks? The uncertainty over the swing bridge epitomises the somewhat amateur nature of this plan. As yet no one seems to know whether it can be restored, or the responsibilities of the respective parties, such as the KCC and Peel Ports. This is not a new problem but is of fundamental importance to all considerations about the area.
The immediate past
There is no résumé of the development in the creek area to date: is the existing new build of architectural distinction; has public access to the creek been improved; have the arrangements for increased traffic been successful? What has it contributed to the meeting the needs of the town. Has it created more jobs? By even the most modest standards, what has happened already is no cause for celebration. Why are the current proposals better as they look very much more of the same.
Impact of the proposals
There is no proper impact appraisal.
Traffic and emergency services
Faversham is not good at thinking about traffic. The council’s decision in the 1930s to encourage industry to locate near Oare, necessitating every heavy vehicle to travel through the town until the Western Link was built (leading to the suffocation of Ospringe) is the best known example of this reluctance to consider the practical consequences of a development. Have the increased car numbers of these proposals been evaluated? Can the present street system cope? Will ambulances and fire engines be able to reach the sites in the case of an emergency? Are the sewers of Faversham able to cope with more housing in this area and who will pay for any updating?
There seems to be an assumption in the plans ~ and certainly this is reinforced by the flyer for the exhibition ~ that fitting in housing is a good thing. Yet, if the number of units is added up, it does not add a significant number to the housing stock and certainly does not provide affordable housing. The benefits are primarily to a small number of people, and certainly not the community as a whole. Faversham’s housing needs are better met by jumping the A2 or developing off Love Lane, as has been proposed.
There is no profit or loss study over more housing. What will this housing do to the viability of the shops in central Faversham? Why is housing to be preferred to industry? There may be no demand for industrial space this year, but if we are to recover economically it will be needed later this decade.
We are told that the creek will be ‘enriched by new business’ but there is no detail given. How many new jobs will be created? Given that the area available for industry is drastically reduced it seems reasonable to suppose there will be a net loss of skilled job opportunities.
Viability of the proposed development
Throughout, there are references to commercial use, craft workshops, galleries and cafes, but there is no analysis of the viability of the additional retail activity. Given the growth of charity shops and the number of empty premises in Faversham it is likely that the demand would be spread more thinly making the present town centre shops less viable. There is a strong argument for vetoing almost all retail activity on the grounds it will make the present shopping centre even less sustainable. What happens in the creek should underpin the existing retail centre. Under these plans the inevitable conflict between industrial and residential use will almost certainly see the departure of industry within a decade. A firm stand must be made if Faversham is to remain a balanced community and not become a dormitory. In the Vision statement we are told: ‘Faversham Creek is leading the regeneration of the town’ but how it is doing it is far from clear. Faversham requires tender loving care, not regeneration.
Leisure and Tourism
One of the few certainties about the future is that people will be living longer and are likely to be healthier and better educated than their grandparents. This audience needs to be wooed. (In very micro terms, the increased growth in walking has led to a several hundred percent increase in the number of visitors [and income] to Luddenham Church.)
I applaud the statement that we want ‘A place where we enjoy spending time’ but the proposals seem unlikely to deliver this aspiration. Nothing significant is said about leisure or tourism.
Faversham has many of the right ingredients to benefit from the growth of tourism, notably a relatively well preserved town centre, but it does not have the critical mass yet to score highly with tourists deciding whether or not to visit Faversham, Sandwich or Deal.
Sensitively handled, the creek provides the extra dimension which would give the vital critical mass to Faversham as a tourist destination. There are for instance a growing number of people who walk into Faversham from Whitstable and then return by train. Potentially this area is an inexhaustible oil well for the town but if the plans as proposed go ahead it will dry up. Visitors want ‘the real experience’, hence the success of Big Pit in South Wales.
The housing invasion planned will do incalculable harm to the creek as a visitor attraction. The tourist is becoming increasingly sophisticated and has an ever-widening range of options so, if the creek does not tick all the boxes, it will not be visited. Appropriate industrial development such as ship building and repair would enhance the appeal.
There are not many towns left where the countryside sweeps virtually into the town centre at one point and is within walking distance of almost every resident. It lifts the human spirit to walk down Abbey Street and out along the creek with its big skies or to approach the creek from Davington past the Western Works and over the swing bridge. Since the 1950s the countryside has been pushed back aggressively on every other side of Faversham. It no longer notably comes in to Stonebridge pond. These proposals would irredeemably destroy one of Faversham’s greatest assets. Why is there no discussion about the inclusion of additional open space on the pattern of that on the Front Brents?
The town has grown dramatically in population since the 60s but the provision of additional open space has not kept up. The plan should allow for more so that the public have easy access.
Nothing is said about the availability of funding for a more publicly orientated development of the creek or for simply leaving it as is. This is a serious omission as again it suggests housing is the only way forward. Ten years ago the Heritage Lottery Fund made a grant of almost a million towards the costs of opening Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park to the public. It has been a huge success. Is there any reason to think that HLF would not fund a scheme for the creek which delivers what the town and its inhabitants need and deserve? This is a much more important project.
Comments on the panels
I have limited my remarks to a handful of points.
Given the tiny area of the creek, many of these objectives are inevitably fighting each other. For instance Objective 11 (Provide a range of housing…) fights 7 (Avoid significant harm to areas designated for their ecological importance…) and with the development of Faversham as a tourist destination. To be successful there need to be far fewer objectives.
Ordnance Wharf Options
The timber walk-way along the frontage of the Shepherd Neame bottling store is an excellent idea.
The view from the creek up to the bushy hill of Davington crowned by the church is one of the great set pieces of Faversham. Due to the presence of the allotments it has survived relatively unscathed. It is also the point where tidal water meets the Stonebridge pond water. As mentioned, the wharf may be that from which Faversham-made gunpowder left to be used in such battles as Trafalgar.
If this was Ironbridge in Shropshire, the wharf would be cherished as the key site in the industrial history of the area. What is proposed is the construction of housing which compromises the view and destroys this unique site. As important as being able to make gunpowder was the facility to move the powder safely to the customer; the creek provided the means.
The gritty character of Faversham that will bring tourists is further squeezed out by these proposals. The area should be limited to industrial/office/ social use such as the sea cadets. Residential, cafe and gallery use should be excluded. What is there should be retained and cherished. The new buildings as elsewhere, particularly at Standard Quay, are out of scale and far too high. They would irreparably damage the historic townscape.
Most visitors reach the creek by walking down Abbey Street, or Belvedere Road past the oil depot and the coach depot and then find a wonderfully higgledy piggledy group of buildings that were put up to meet local needs. It understandably does not have the formal grandeur of Sheerness but is like the fishermen’s huts at Hastings. What is proposed is a massive clear away and tidy up and the introduction of further housing. The whole area should remain for commercial use. What sort of commercial use is more difficult to predict with the country currently being in recession but a long view of at least fifty years has to be taken, and more research done on the nature of future small scale manufacturing. Once given over to housing it will never again be available for industry and employment.
One of the attractive features of the Oil Depot is that it is low and the sky soars above it.
In Caroline Hillier’s The Bulwark Shore of 1982 there is a photograph of this house, then complete with its original dormer windows with the Oyster Bay House beyond. Why has no repairs notice been served on the owner by the local authority? It is also worthwhile remembering when considering these proposals that a key principle of heritage legislation is that owners and developers should not benefit from the neglect of historic buildings. The spirit of the creek will be destroyed if the suggested housing development goes ahead.