Thoughts on the Creek and our place on the Thames

We are really pleased and relieved and grateful that Swale Planning Committee councillors listened and turned down the proposal for a restaurant in the black shed at Standard Quay.  It may be that they thought the idea of a restaurant with only one window was not really viable; it may be that they recognised it as the thin end of the wedge; but whatever the case, we can be sure the developer will come back with drawings showing lots more windows.  He is certainly going to appeal.  So the fight goes on, but we hope that Swale really is stiffening its resolve to keep that funny little Quay with its old black sheds as a maritime facility, as it has been for centuries.

We could ask them again to consider a compulsory purchase of the site, as long as we can come up with a viable and deliverable plan for an active business there. It’s an option which must be looked at.

However, we can pursue them more strongly in asking why they have not ensured proper protection of the building and its curtilage – getting the owner to replace the secure mooring rings, and asking why he made big changes inside this Listed Grade II building without consent?

These details matter.  This is how so much of Faversham has been conserved. Hundreds of local residents living in Listed Buildings have to obey the law and get permission even to put a small shed in their gardens where no-one can see it – but here is a big important building in a very visible location where the owner has made significant changes without the local authority apparently taking any notice.  That is not good enough.

Turning to more positive thoughts, all the residents of Faversham are invited to take part in a consultation on the emerging Neighbourhood Plan on 8th June. This will be in the form of an exhibition in the Alexander Centre. It is vital that we all go and say what we think. Drag everyone you know along. We cannot complain about not being consulted or not knowing what is going on if we do not take these few opportunities as they arise.

One new and exciting opportunity has emerged from the recent scramble to preserve what we want kept. Faversham Creek, with its boatyards, slipways, buildings and skilled workforce is beginning to be recognised as very important indeed for the Thames as a whole. Along with other valiant surviving sites, we are being seen as diamonds in the necklace… small ports along the south bank of the great river, with historic and significant contributions to make to the national culture.  For instance, Northfleet Harbour Restoration in Gravesend is facing very similar physical problems with dredging and use of quayside land. Convoys Wharf in Deptford – where Henry VIII had his naval shipyard and where the Royal Society was actually founded – is challenged by big property development.  By linking up with these other projects, we can all be seen and recognised more clearly.

Standard Quay’s black building could be dismissed as a tiny insignificant little shed in the middle of nowhere. We know it’s more important than that, but now it’s up to us to tell the rest of the world about it.  The gunpowder made near the town centre and shipped out down our creek was used to fight the Spanish Armada, and in the great national battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Ordnance Wharf is not so-called by accident – it was the gunpowder wharf. It was the Ordnance which paid for the installation of the bridge, and the gates with their sluices. Our little town with its tidal creek and its ancient quays played a huge part in the national history. Standard Quay was home to the economical red-sailed barges which plied the coastal waters of the east coast and the Thames. They came here for repair and maintenance.  They should still come here.  It’s up to us to stay steady on our course, and make sure that Swale Council does the same.

Griselda Mussett

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