The Trust’s View for the Creek Plan

Summary

This paper sets out the views of the Faversham Creek Trust on the future of the Creek Neighbourhood.  One over-riding principle should govern planning in this area: the waterfront is (a) a scarce economic resource and (b) an irreplaceable public amenity.  Rather than being sacrificed to short-term gains, e.g., housing that contributes little to sustainable employment or the local economy, it should be designated as open space and land for commercial or light industrial activity, the latter associated preferably with maritime activities that reflect the special character of Faversham as a Cinque Port Limb.  We envisage the creek neighbourhood, and particularly the upper creek basin, as a centre for growth in light marine industries, providing critical mass together with long-term employment including jobs for young people whose opportunities locally are in decline.  Marine activities also act a multiplier for tourism, which in turn will generate economic spin-off that will benefit service industries throughout the town.

Introduction 

As a result of growing concern among residents about the future of the creek, the Faversham Creek Trust was formed in 2011 and became a registered charity in 2012 with currently about 400 subscribing members.  Its main aim is to support regeneration of the creek – and particularly the upper creek basin – in a way that recognises the special character of the area and contributes to the long-term prosperity of the town.  As a practical demonstration of what can be achieved, the Trust has leased the Purifier building at the head of the creek and launched a funding campaign that so far has collected £60 000 towards refurbishing the building, which is now being converted as a training centre for shipwrights and related skills.  It will also house workshops for associated marine industries and a community involvement project.

The vision

Traditional wooden sailing craft symbolise the cultural and economic heritage of the Thames estuary, and they are becoming more popular as a source of recreation and a focus for tourism.  We envisage Faversham Creek, and particularly the upper creek basin, as a centre for growth in traditional ship repair and associated light marine industries that are presently being dispersed owing to shortage of affordable waterfront space.  It is important to retain critical mass.  Local craftsmen have acquired a national reputation in boatbuilding and repair, and the industry can provide long-term jobs, including jobs for young people whose opportunities elsewhere are in decline.  Marine activities also act as a multiplier for tourism, which in turn will generate economic spin-off that will benefit service industries throughout the town.

In the south east of England, there are currently 37 Thames barges and 60 sailing smacks under sail1, all of which need facilities for maintenance.  Together with other marine craft they form an attractive backdrop to any coastal scene, and there are several towns around the south and east coast of Britain that have capitalised on marine activity as a catalyst for tourism.  For example, Maldon in Essex has a harbour run by the Town Council that moors ten barges.  It attracts over 30 000 visitors per year largely as a result of its maritime heritage.  By contrast, Faversham, with a similar population but a lower public profile, attracts little more than a half of that number2.

We believe that with energetic management over a sustained period, our town can and should achieve a similar level.  Every harbour ‘…incorporates a marine cluster which creates opportunities for bars, restaurants, riggers, yacht brokers, charter companies, training schools, chandleries, boatyards, sail makers, diesel  engine repairs, electronics suppliers, specialist clothing, fishing gear, divers, upholsterers, marine plumbers and boat repairers.’3  For every job created in a marina, 12 jobs are created across the associated supply chain and across a wider range of service industries that thrive on waterside development.  Faversham has the additional advantage of a cultural heritage as a Cinque Port Limb.  Given that local employment for young people is in decline, now is the time to engage on a concerted programme to capitalise on the town’s position at the head of the creek and its long history of shipbuilding.  The key is what happens along the waterfront whose potential, linked to the increasing popularity of traditional sailing craft in particular and marine-based recreation generally, can be exploited in a sustainable and imaginative way.

The Brents Swing Bridge

Central to this vision is refurbishment of the Brents Swing Bridge and the restoration of full operation to allow vessels access to the upper basin.   The upper basin is critical to the regeneration of the creek neighbourhood, and a fixed bridge would compromise both its special character and its potential as a focal point for development.  Without it, the waterfront, which is a precious resource, will be sacrificed to short-term gains, e.g., housing that contributes little to sustainable employment or the local economy.

Specific Sites

The over-riding principle that should govern planning development in the creek neighbourhood is that waterfront is (a) a scarce resource and (b) an irreplaceable public amenity.  It should be designated either as open space or as land for commercial or light industrial activity, the latter associated preferably with maritime activities that reflect the special character of the area, as shown on the attached map.  Moorings should be owned and operated by the local authority, as opposed to private developers.  In what follows we comment only on those sites bordering the upper creek basin together with Swan Quay and the Upper Brents Industrial Estate, with the understanding that the same principle applies to all the remaining sites identified and numbered on the Borough Council’s map.

1. THE PURIFIER BUILDING

The Purifier building is about to enter a new lease of life as a training centre for shipwrights together with workshops for associated marine industries.  As such it will create new jobs and help to cement business links among maritime entrepreneurs throughout the area.  The Purifier will also be the base for a maritime heritage project enabling local people to participate in a range of activities centred on regeneration of the creek, and promoting knowledge of  Faversham’s maritime history in schools and among the local community.   An attractive feature of the upper creek with its mature brickwork and characteristic detailing, the building should not be obscured or dominated by inappropriate development in Ordnance Wharf opposite.

2. ORDNANCE WHARF

This is an acutely sensitive site.  As the economic and visual focus of the upper creek basin, it must remain a wharf for vessels undertaking repairs, with additionally space for workshops, storage, and public open space.   The design of individual buildings should be sympathetic to the local landscape, no more than two stories high so that they do not break the skyline as viewed from surrounding residential streets and from Stonebridge Pond, nor dominate the special character of the Purifier building.

3. BMM WESTON

In recent years the lower creek waterfront has been sterilised with private housing development that contributes little or nothing to public amenity or to the local economy.  The BMM Weston car park and Cleavers’ Wharf provide an unequalled opportunity to reverse the trend by opening the upper creek basin to economic regeneration and public open space.  We envisage the wharf as a winter mooring for smacks and barges, with the strip bordering the waterfront as green open space in which existing trees and shrubs would be largely retained.  Reinstatement of the wharf can be achieved from the water at an estimated cost of £100 000 using railway sleepers slotted into steel universal beams.  At 25 metres per barge, 125 metres of wharf will provide 10 berths moored in two rows of five, and generate an annual income of £20 000 in the short term, with considerably more in the form of spin-off activities in future years.

Further back, commercial development will reflect the maritime associations of the creek, for example, a replica of the Graveney boat, a headquarters for sailing trips, offices and marine stores together with public car parking.  Residential housing should be sited on the upper hill as shown in the attached drawing.

4.  SWAN QUAY

This important cluster of marine buildings, adjacent to the Town Quay, houses a large sailmaking business, slipway and offices. Given reasonable tenure and freedom from the current uncertainty of its lease, the business would take on two more apprentices increasing total employment to five people.  The Swan Quay Wharf frontage is an important holding point for vessels entering or leaving the Basin.

11.  UPPER BRENTS INDUSTRIAL ESTATE

The industrial estate provides affordable accommodation for light industry that is otherwise in short supply.  Effectively a nursery for local enterprise, it provides services to local residents at competitive prices, supports a significant number of jobs with potential for future growth, and can contribute to critical mass in the evolution of marine industries at other locations in the creek basin.  It should therefore be retained in its present form.

Conclusion

We believe that as far as Faversham is concerned, the case for a coherent strategy of regeneration speaks for itself.  Until recently, too little attention has been paid to the particular features of the townscape and how they can be exploited to serve its economic needs.  The alternative is continued downgrading and neutralisation in the pursuit of housing development.  The consequences of failure can split communities.  A good example can be found in the Coastal regeneration handbook edited by John K Walton and Patrick Browne, which refers to

‘…the outrage that erupted in Whitstable in the summer of 2007 when  proposals for ‘regenerating’ a profitable working harbour  by destroying the existing ambience of the South Quay to make way for a hotel, supermarket and theme pub were published under the  auspices of Canterbury City Council.  The plans, submitted in competition by external developers, were rejected after a fierce and popular local campaign, and Whitstable Harbour Watch was established to keep an eye on future developments, recognising the need to preserve the distinctive and unusual character of the working harbour while sustaining its economic viability.  This was one of many examples of a local authority failing to recognise the individuality of its component communities and seeking to impose a standard scheme on an enjoyably untidy area of attractive character.’

Faversham can avoid following the same trajectory through imaginative planning that takes a longer view.

By Simon Foster, Eldon Hinchliffe and Chris Wright

08 November 2012

References

1.  Thames sailing barges: illustrated  guide to 2011, 4th edition.

2.  Maldon and Faversham Tourist offices, October 2012.

3. Towards integration on the Kent Coast  

HYPERLINK “http://www.coastalkent.net/data/action_plan/document_18_Regeneration%20and%20Coastal%20Towns,%20Kent%20Coast.pdf” http://www.coastalkent.net/data/action_plan/document_18_Regeneration%20and%20Coastal%20Towns,%20Kent%20Coast.pdf

4. Coastal regeneration handbook: Coastal Regeneration in English Resorts 2010 edited by John K Walton and Patrick Browne  HYPERLINK “http://www.coastalcommunities.co.uk/library/pdfs/coastal-regeneration-handbook.pdf” http://www.coastalcommunities.co.uk/library/pdfs/coastal-regeneration-handbook.pdf

 

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