NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN QUESTIONS answered by the NP Steering Group – see favershamcreekneighbourhoodplan.org.uk
Q. Why will the public be excluded from any discussion of specific sites or landholders’ comments? Surely, discussion of specific sites is part of the consultation process which must involve the public. And in neighbourhood planning processes elsewhere, landholders are considered as just one among many stakeholder groups – why, in Faversham, are they accorded special privileges? Their comments should be visible and open for public discussion just like everyone else’s.
A. The Town Council meeting minutes stated the public would also be asked to withdraw during any discussion relating to specific sites, comments of landholders, and matters involving information of a confidential nature. In general, discussion of proposals should be as open as possible but occasionally there will be a need for a degree of privacy. This might include discussion of personal circumstances (such as a medical condition), commercially sensitive information (such as future plans for the expansion or contraction of a business) or information which if disclosed could lead to significant harm (such as revealing the whereabouts of the nesting site of a protected species). In all cases the landowner will be required to explain why any discussion should be without the public being present.
Q. How are the neighbourhood plan consultation responses being validated? Supplementary questions are:
What is the constituency for consultation on the Neighbourhood Plan exhibition? The referendum will be limited to registered electors within the Faversham Town Council wards, but does the same apply to the consultation, or is that open to just anybody? If the latter, will the views of local people be given more weight than those of outsiders? And since the feedback forms can be completed anonymously, how are they to be validated?
The questionnaire says that a name is optional but a postcode is required. But when you get to the end of the online version, it says that even the postcode is optional. The site-specific forms have no provision for name or postcode at all, and will not necessarily be linked to a questionnaire. Even if everyone provides a postcode, will any checks be made to ensure that the postcodes are valid (eg, that the number of responses for a particular postcode is compatible with the number of residents – or even that it is a genuine postcode)? What measures have been taken to detect and exclude the possibility of fraud through multiple responses?
This may seem alarmist, but even in a frivolous newspaper poll recently, on the subject of the restaurant application at Standard Quay, there were some very suspicious voting patterns. The feedback from this exhibition will carry rather more weight, and given that the plan is, let us say, controversial, and that for some individuals the stakes are very high, the possibility of fraud cannot be discounted.
A. The questionnaires are being analyses by AMT. Around 150 were submitted on line and another 130 as paper copies. AMT will be analysing the responses statistically and for their content, and preparing a report which will be reported to the next Steering Group on 15th August. We expect most to have included a postcode. AMT has systems in place to check these for duplication. It is relatively easy to detect patterns of representations, as has been pointed out, and the Town Council and the Steering Group will bear this in mind when considering representations. If anyone has evidence of any rigging of representations the Council would be pleased to hear about them.
On the site response forms, most of these were handwritten, or, if not, were typed in responses to the questions so it was fairly easy to check if there were any multiple responses from any person or, in a few cases, organisations. There was no restriction on who could visit the exhibition, and it was publicised all over ME13 by the leaflets.
Faversham is the urban centre of a large rural hinterland and it is, therefore, appropriate to consider the views of those living in the wider area when important proposals are being made for the development of the Town. The views and suggestion made by this wider group may be constructive and useful to the Town Council in formulating their proposals.
When the final plan is drafted it will be for the elected members of the Town Council, advised by the Steering Group they have appointed, to decide on the content of the plan and for the registered electors of Faversham to either approve or reject the plan.
Q. How many dwellings were represented in the illustrations at the neighbourhood plan exhibition, what assumptions have been made about income from developer contributions, and what it would pay for?
A. The drawings did not represent any specific proposals for the sites around the creek. They were illustrative of what the creek could look like in the future and were simply buildings that could be used for industry, offices, shops, training centres, restaurant, museum or housing.
The purpose of the illustrations was to try and get some reaction to the suggested architectural development of the creek in terms of form, scale, mass, materials, and location.
At Standard House, the new building to the north of the house could have been residential or a workshop. At the coach depot, the ground floor appeared to represent commercial uses, with smaller windows like those in flats on three floors above, but again this was only a hypothetical building, not a real proposal. At Ordnance Wharf, all 4 designs were hypothetical, not real proposals and as the buildings were only shown in elevation, not in plan, it would not be possible to assign any number of residential units within them. The questions asked gave the opportunity to say whether or not there should be any residential use here and elsewhere. At Swan Quay, three buildings were shown, again hypothetical with commercial ground floor uses. The landowner does want residential above, but this drawing did not represent their firm proposal. On the other sites where residential was mentioned, no drawings were shown at all.
Swale Council has not yet agreed its charges for the Community Infrastructure Levy to be raised per new dwelling, nor has there been any discussion on any other way of raising money for creekside improvements via developer contributions or by any other methods.
Q. How does the Council propose to open up the neighbourhood planning process?
A. Vanguard Neighbourhood Plans were initiated by local authorities, not by local communities, and, as a result, appears top-down. We made an assumption that consultation prior to the NP plan process indicated community engagement was already part of that process. It is now increasingly clear that this does not feel the case from the community’s perspective. This issue was discussed at the Town Council meeting on 29th July. A number of organisations such as FATA, the Faversham Society and the Faversham Creek Trust, business groups etc. will be asked to send representatives with the aim of expanding the Steering Group. This would bring in issues such as tourism, the possible impact on trade/business in the town and an alternative view on what should be developed around the Creek (as expressed in the comments to date). It is expected that they will be in place by the September meeting of the Steering Group. We hope that, with an enlarged and more representative steering group, we can find better ways of engaging the public as we enter the plan-making phase.
Q. Given that Arthur Percival has demonstrated the importance of the creek to Faversham’s history and its value as a USP for the town, which is a Cinque Port, why does the Neighbourhood Plan not protect the community’s interest in the creek?
A. It is true that the community is vitally interested in the future of the Creek but we have to recognise that the Creek is privately owned and it is managed by Medway Ports. The Neighbourhood Plan cannot dictate how the Creek is managed but there needs to be public and open debate about the nature of the community interest in the Creek and then a careful discussion with Medway ports as to how that community interest can be protected. The Creek’s importance to the history of the town is set out in the Undesignated Heritage paper which would form part of the Neighbourhood Plan, and a statement about the role of the Creek would probably form part of any Introduction to the Plan. Designated and undesignated heritage assets and views around the creek area, as well as the character of the relevant parts of the conservation area, are included in this document, and the impact on these need to be taken into account when any new development is proposed. With regard to ownership, the Creek is a publicly navigable waterway and sites around it are owned by a number of private landowners including local businesses, Swale and the Town Council. The whole is managed by the Harbour Authority. The community can use the Creek for moorings by paying the owners of the private wharves, for navigation and to view from footpaths. Better access to the Creek will be part of the Neighbourhood Plan, and the content of the Creek Streetscape Strategy will be taken into account in what should be achieved. The Plan has not been written yet, so it is incorrect to say what it does or does not include.
Q. Should the plan not be drawn up by a completely independent consultant with no affiliation to Swale and accountable only to FTC? We need someone who acts in the interest of the Town under the supervision of the Town Council.
A. Swale BC is the Local Planning Authority and any adopted Neighbourhood Plan would become part of the Swale Local Plan. The Neighbourhood Plan, together with the Local Plan and the NPPF, has to be taken into account when assessing any planning applications submitted for sites around the creek. Therefore, it is helpful that the Plan is drafted by someone who has a good connection with the planning officers at Swale and a good knowledge of planning generally. In this case, the consultant knows the area quite well now having been involved here since 2010 and also has experience of working on other neighbourhood plans elsewhere. He is working for a committee which reports to Faversham Town Council which is responsible for preparing the Plan.
Q. How does the council propose to respond to the recent government guidelines, and Eric Pickles’ comments on transparency in his speech to the Local Government Association?
A. The minutes of the Steering Group and the Town Council are published on the website and are available at the library. The Steering Group and the Town Council meetings are held in public, and registered electors are able to question Members of the Town Council and members of the Steering Group on agenda items. Relevant papers are also placed on the website. Anyone can view the minutes at the Town Council offices (by appointment).
The recent Government Regulations (Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) Regulations 2012) only cover Districts, Counties and Unitaries in England. They do not extend to parish and town councils. There are considerable cost implications to filming meetings and the Town Council would need to consider this issue very carefully within the overall context of the budget, which has already been allocated for this financial year.
Q. In Malmesbury, the accounts of the Neighbourhood Plan are published in full on an open website. Why aren’t ours?
A. Budget updates are provided, where possible, at Steering Group meetings. It is our intention that this information goes into the public domain with relevant papers. All receipts and payments made by Faversham Town Council are published on a monthly basis as part of the papers for Town Council meetings.
Q. Why cannot minutes be published quickly after meetings so that everything knows what is going on.
A. These are published as soon as possible. It is important to recognise that the Town Council officers are part time, and all members of the Steering Group (with the exception of the independent planning consultant) are volunteers. There is also a senior planner from Swale Borough Council in attendance. It takes some time to write the minutes and have them cleared by the Steering Group.