Thank you again for letting me have print-outs of the panels which were on display at the recent Neighbourhood Plan exhibition at the Alexander Centre. I could not possibly have commented on these in a properly informed fashion without having them all to hand. In this respect I may not be alone. There is no substitute for the coherence of what in fact are pages from a book.
Perhaps you will be kind enough to refer the following response to the Group and invite its members to give them due consideration? I will also let you have them in the form of a letter. An acknowledgement would be valued.
I don’t propose to comment on the panels in detail. This I am afraid is because I feel the thinking behind them is fundamentally flawed.
It grieves me to say this, because clearly the Steering Group has given a lot of thought to its brief, and invested a significant amount of public money in developing its vision of the future of the Creek’s riparian areas, or at least those that it considers are ripe for ‘regeneration’ (though this is not a term I myself would use for some of the developments envisaged).
The fundamental flaw which has clearly informed the Group’s thinking is that it has chosen to regard the Creek as a street, like one in suburban London, perhaps, alongside which there are plots with potential for housing development.
However the Creek is not a street. It is a highway to the sea, and to the world beyond our island. It has served as such for centuries, since Roman and probably also pre-Roman times.
In this Kingdom there are hundreds of thousands of urban streets, many no doubt with frontages with potential for redevelopment. There are far fewer navigable waterways, like the Creek, with access to the sea and the world beyond.
These represent a precious, irreplaceable asset which deserve to be treated with all the care we can lavish on them. You can’t berth vessels, or build or maintain them, alongside urban streets.
If there are any vacant Creekside sites, or ones that might be suitable for development, the Steering Group would be better advised to look for development which would serve maritime rather than residential purposes.
Also, given that the Faversham area has lost many employment opportunities in recent years, it would be better advised look for developments which would replace some of the many which it has lost.
Though it may not have been intentional, the exhibition could have given the very misleading impression that the only potential use for the sites identified (rightly or wrongly) as needing ‘regeneration’ was for the building of new dwellings.
These would not generate much-needed new local employment opportunities, only make Faversham more of a dormitory town than it is already.
This would be inherently undesirable because of all the extra travel involved, of increased strain on local public transport facilities, and of excessive and unnecessary use of fossil fuels.
The Steering Group may of course have been misled by Swale Borough Council’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), which identified some of the Creek’s riparian areas as having potential for the provision of 100 new dwellings. So indeed it did, but such identification did not carry with it any commitment to grant of planning permission.
Equally the Group may have taken into account that if any appropriate planning permissions were given developers would be liable to Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
It’s unclear what this would yield. To take a cockshy based on the old section 106 contributions which developers had to pay, the maximum yield might in the region of £7,000 per new dwelling. Of this, subject to the approval of a Neighbourhood Plan, the town of Faversham might get £1,750 per unit, the rest going to Swale Borough Council.
If all 100 dwellings were built alongside the Creek, the yield would be £175,000 at most. In relation to the loss of sites which could be used for maritime uses this is a paltry sum.
There is every indication that if the Creek were regarded as a highway to the sea and not as a suburban street with potential for residential development the potential of its riparian areas for maritime uses is substantial.
Interest in, and use of, traditional vessels in increasing whilst at the same time the number of moorings and ‘service areas’ in and around the Thames Estuary is declining. This presents an outstanding opportunity for the Creek to offer berths, and services, no longer available elsewhere.
Such provision would increase opportunities for skilled employment, and much-needed apprenticeships in appropriate skills. Indeed Faversham Creek could become a Mecca both for owners of traditional vessels, and for the crafts required for their maintenance.
Given that the general public are fascinated by these vessels, and that many of them are of charm, or beauty, or both, their presence, and that of supporting craft skills, would substantially reinforce the town’s already significant visitor offer, benefitting its economy, and particularly its shops, pubs and eating-places.
To my surprise, the exhibition failed to put the Creek in its geographical and historical context. Consideration and evaluation of this should surely be the very starting-point for the Neighhourhood Plan.
You can’t possibly plan properly for the future without full understanding of the physical character and the past (including the recent past) of the area concerned. What thought the Steering Group has given to this I’m afraid isn’t at all clear. Little, I am tempted to think.
The Creek of course is inseparable from the town. Indeed Faversham would not exist but for the Creek. For centuries it was its lifeblood. It bred hardy seamen, fit for service in the Cinque Ports fleet, fit to save the nation from invasions which would have altered its destiny for ever and for the worse.
It generated much of its wealth, and this is reflected today by the number of 16th and 17th century merchant houses which remain in the town centre and are a vital feature of its charm and distinctive character.
So even physically the town cannot be divorced from the Creek. Some of the merchants left bequests to the town, most notably Henry Hatch, who left it his whole fortune with astute directions as to how it was to be spent – a significant proportion on the Creek itself and its road accesses. ‘Here I’ve made my money,’ he told a friend, ‘and here I intend to leave it.’
Unfortunately this kind of public-spirited personal generosity seems to be in small supply these days. However the pulling-power of the town’s community remains strong, and if through the Steering Group it put its mind to the Renaissance of the Creek for maritime purposes, and not for sterile housing development, it could only improve the town’s economy and standing.