A Report on the Recent LEF

As now reported in both local papers, several members of the Trust went to the recent Local Engagement Forum meeting this month, and heard (among other things) a presentation by Mike Cosgrove giving his view of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan for the Creekside.  This was a useful talk as it laid out some of the background and the way the government expects the process to go forward.

He made it very clear that when this process reaches its Referendum stage next year, unless there is at least 50% endorsement of the Plan, it will fall away and we will have no plan – ie. any developer will be able to put in any proposal without guidelines in place, and our precious waterside sites will be unprotected. To us, this looks like a win-win for any developers: if their proposals are incorporated into the Neighbourhood Plan which is rejected as a result, they get a clear scope to proceed without a Plan in place.  Can this be right?

We were disappointed by the limited scope of the ‘vision’ for the Creek as he presented it – their ideal seemed to be creekside path and moorings, a maritime flavour to the development of the 100 housing units near the Creek, and marine twiddles on the buildings.  This looks very out-of-date and tame in comparison to our idea for the economic regeneration of the Creekside especially in the Basin, and with ongoing commercial benefits for the whole town.  We will have to make our case more clearly.

We were also disappointed by his replies to questions asking when the public responses to the May consultation exercise would be published (as promised). It is very odd that they have not, and apparently do not wish to publish the result of this survey.  Mike Cosgrove said 900, then 800, people had taken part – so why can we not see what everyone said?  We gave our opinions on the basis that they would publish the results.

There were some frustrated and angry questions put to the meeting, none of which reached any resolution.  Personally I deplore this raised-voice method of communication, but there is no doubt, there is a difference of opinion between some of the people facilitating the Plan process and a great body of local people.  This has to be resolved, and in detail. So much is at stake.

Griselda Mussett
Chairman, FCT

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10 responses to “A Report on the Recent LEF

  1. I think it’s what is known as a “stich up”

  2. Having attended the LEF, I think Griselda is being unfair in describing Mike Cosgrove’s (and, by implication, the Faversham Creek Consortium’s and the Town Council’s Vanguard Committee’s) vision for the Creek as ‘limited’. On the contrary, it seems to me that those leading the Neighbourhood Plan process are trying to take a holistic view of the Creek, whereas the danger is that those speaking for the Trust, because they are so focused on the Purifier Building (and Ordnance Wharf), are encouraging its members to take too narrow a view of the issues.

    It’s unhelpful, I think, to encourage people to believe that marine-related employment is the complete answer to the regeneration of the Creek. Even allowing for the ‘multiplier’ effect, the impact would still be relatively small. It is much more realistic, in my view, to see the future lying in a mix of marine-related activities, housing, leisure activities and facilities, increased public footfall through e.g. a Creek-side walk, and more tourism.

    Nor is it helpful, I think, to appear to encourage the view that there should be no new housing in the Creek. Indeed, I find it odd that those who demand that the priority should be job creation and that there should be no new housing don’t seem to recognise that the people filling those new jobs will also need places to live! Would they prefer, as Nick Boles, the new Planning Minister has suggested, that 2%-3% more of the countryside should be built on rather than, for example, on the former coach depot near Standard Quay? Faversham will have to provide some new housing and we should not exclude sensitive development on suitable Creek sites, which would also produce money to finance improvements for the general public.

    I support what the Trust is trying to achieve at the Purifier Building but it seems to me that its leaders need to be very careful that, in appearing to encourage its members and supporters to adopt a negative attitude to the Neighbourhood Plan and to those leading the process, they don’t unwittingly bring about the unrestrained development which most people who care about the Creek are anxious to avoid.

    Brian Caffarey
    Secretary to the Faversham Creek Consortium and a member of the Faversham Creek Trust

  3. The argument that the only way is compromise and mixed development has led to the mix that is there now. We keep saying no more. We keep being asked to compromise. We keep getting houses. How much more housing can go in the mix? Time to say No to developers. If you say yes yet again there will be no more Creek. The mix is already beyond what is easily sustainable. The land at issue is owned by developers who bought it after the 1990s Abbey Park debacle left the Creekside wide open to speculative housing development. We have been trying to shut the stable door ever since. This Neighbourhood Plan proposal of a hundred further units on top of what has already been lost is too much. And where are they going exactly anyway? Please don’t forget the 1200 signature petition saying absolutley No to such development on Standard Quay.

  4. You ask, Sue, where would be suitable for housing on the Creek. Well, I put forward one suggestion: the presently derelict area between the end of Provender Walk and Standard Quay. Of course, if someone with a marine-related business wanted to buy or rent this site and was able to do so, that would be brilliant. But there is no evidence of that and my personal view is that well-designed, low-level housing on this site, with a public footpath linking up with Provender Walk and Standard Quay – all part of the Creek-side walk for which the Consortium (unfortunately, without Trust support) has been campaigning – would be a significant improvement on what is there now. Do you really disagree?

    It’s simply burying one’s head in the sand to think that no new housing will ever be built on any Creek site. Whatever view you may have of it, landowners have rights too and can appeal against unreasonable refusal of planning applications. The Neighbourhood Plan provides a once-only opportunity to create a legal, local planning framework for the Creek. Failure to engage with the process in a realistic way would be a huge mistake.

    Brian Caffarey

  5. Just to make it clear. I was not asking where housing could go on the Creek. I was saying there is no room for more housing on the Creek if you wish to encourage maritime industry to return.

    It would return, and quickly, if long leases at reasonable rents were available.

    The problem is, where landowners believe they will make money from the land rather than from the activities they themselves want to undertake on the land because of its intrinsic value (ie the Creek has massive intrinsic value because of its location, tidal range and (yes) its muddy bottom) you will get high rents and unrealistically short tenure.

    No maritime industry can return and invest under these conditions.

    Where there is the potential for housing at any time in the future be that immediate or years away, the landowners will hold on to the land, use it for short term occupancy and wait until they can develop. We need to send a firm and clear message: NO MORE.

  6. I’m not sure that I’m persuaded by your underlying thesis that more housing on the Creek is completely incompatible with the return of marine-related business.

    But, in any event, your description of the difficulties of establishing marine-related activities does rather underline my earlier point that it is unrealistic to think that these alone would be sufficient to regenerate the Creek.

    It seems that you want people to say ‘no’ to any new housing even though you know that this is not a position which could be sustained under planning law and it would be more likely to bring about what you least want: planning applications for any Creek site decided not under a Creek Neighbourhood Plan but under the new national planning guidelines (“a presumption in favour of sustainable development”). That’s just a counsel of despair!

    A Neighbourhood Plan, for all its faults, would at least try to specify which Creek sites are suitable for housing development and which aren’t: presumably, on your analysis of the problem, the latter sites would then be less valuable and it is more likely therefore that they could be bought or rented for marine-related activities.

    Where housing or development is permitted, there would be planning gain which could go towards things which would be of public benefit such as footpaths and recreation areas, more moorings and other facilities for boat owners – which, along with new housing, have helped, for example, to revive Conyer Creek – and perhaps contributions towards a new swing bridge. All of these, along with increased tourism, would help to regenerate the Creek, including encouraging more leisure craft, which in turn ought to encourage more marine-related business.

    Your alternative – let’s say ‘no’ – still looks to me like burying one’s head in the sand and wishing the world wasn’t as it is. That kind of response may give some satisfaction at an emotional level but it is much more likely to set back the cause of regenerating the Creek than to advance it.

  7. My underlying thesis is rather more that the current ownership of land by companies set up to develop land is incompatible with maritime activity.

    Quayside Properties for example which owns Standard Quay, is registered at Companies House as for the development of building projects, not for any productive activity related to the Creek. My argument is that while such companies own the land they are unlikely to release it for large scale maritime industry. The only way to persuade the shareholders of such companies either to change their aims for their land or to release it at commercially viable cost is to make it clear that the land has value only for maritime activity which uses highly skilled labour, high cost materials and low value land to produce high quality products and massive benefits to the town in general.

    It cannot operate on high cost land.

    If Faversham wants a viable, working creek, it has to accept that it is land with huge social benefits but with low monetary value and that we have to continually fight off those who want to tidy it up and increase its monetary value.

    I am unclear as to what exactly is meant by the commonly used expression “regeneration of the Creek”. My understanding of it is the return of viable water based industry with all its concomitant benefits.

    In what way is the Neighbourhood Plan identifying and safeguarding a sufficient supply of land for such industry?

  8. Thanks for this further explanation of your view.

    I still don’t understand, though, what in practice you think can be done – and by whom – to change the current ownership of land around the Creek. I can see that you’d like to see the Creek designated for use solely for maritime activity but that’s not a realistic proposition under planning legislation – and any Neighbourhood Plan that proposed that wouldn’t pass scrutiny by the independent planning inspector.

    For what it is worth, my view of ‘regeneration’ encompasses much more than just ‘the return of viable water-based industry’. I see it as also including increased provision for public access and enjoyment of the Creek through more public footpaths and open areas, encouraging greater footfall; a limited amount of new housing; more moorings for leisure craft; leisure facilities such as a cafe, pub or restaurant; making better links between the town centre and the Creek; opportunities to show the Creek’s history; ensuring that the Creek is properly dredged and that the reed beds are cut back; making sure that a new lifting bridge is installed; holding more events such as the Festival of Sail etc.

  9. I’ve been mulling all this over for many years and probably do misremember some of the history – a lot of things have happened along the Creek and this is why this kind of forum is invaluable. It gives us all a chance to get our facts straight.

    I think what bugs me the very most is that I was part of Friends of Faversham Creek, a protest group. We got accused of NIMBYism and being only complaining and not constructive. And yet, we also spent 20 years building up evidence of what the Creek can do. In the final years of Standard Quay we supplied the Council with a mass of evidence that the Creek is economically viable as a functional flood plain, that it can employ skilled labour, that it can be a basis for essential and real skills training, that it is a sustainable tourist resource. We gave the council a petition giving evidence of publice support. This is sustainable development with localism at its heart. INstead of wasting money on consultants’ reports that tell us firstly what we already know (that the creek is important) and secondly what we don’t want to hear (because it is not true), that it needs developers cash, Why can’t the council help us fight for what we want? Spend this money instead on fighting appeals against landowners and we will help fight with all this evidence we have gathered. And I say we because I have evidence that people do support my opinion, so I don’t think I am being arrogant here.

    Instead, what have the Council done? they have changed the flood designation to allow houses, and now they seek to remove the protection of the 2008 AAP. This is what I fail to understand. Where in the new planning framework does it say that such things need to be done to allow development on a historic site as this with such massive resonance for the local community? The only thing I can think is that the Council misunderstood the term regeneration, have taken it to mean development, thought we can’t have development on a flood plain, and so changed the flood designation. And now SBC are stuffed because they have sown the seeds of their own defeat at any planning appeal.

    Look at this image. The original of this print is on sale for thousands of pounds. And he has done more. http://images.worldgallery.co.uk/highres_images/worldgallery/9/3/93416.jpg

    this is art of world class quailty and it advertises the town. Is he or other artists like him going to come and look at a housing estate? And if he did, would it look any different to anywhere else? .

    Loads of local, national and international artists came to look at Standard Quay when it was run as such a unique facility. But is this recognised or even mentioned in the Fullwood Report on which the Neighbourhood Plan is based? Perhaps you could argue that it is in passing. But why is it up as a site in need of regeneration when we had worked so hard for nearly 20 years to prove it could be regenerated uniquely, sensitively, sustainably and without any public money or developers cash?

    Why should we support a plan which changes what we had to something which 1200 people publicly signed specifically to object to?

    Simply sticking to policies which the Council was supposed to build on together with the practical evidence that had been built up on Standard Quay (which IS recognised in old Swale documents but not Fullwood) would have given SBC the ammunition they needed to fight successfully and would have discouraged the developers and given us time to build on the work further on other parts of the Creek.

  10. by the way, that image is from 2005, not from ancient history…

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