On Thursday 11th February a small dredger entered the basin under its own power; she passed under the closed Bridge, and through the Gates. This was the first time a ‘commercial’ craft had entered the Basin since the 1989, when the last coaster delivered its cargo of fertiliser to Agrano. That may also have been the last time the Bridge opened.
Working in cooperation with Peel Ports, one Gate had been opened fully and one half way. That was enough to allow the small dredger into the Basin, where its first task is to remove the remaining mud behind them and reveal whatever is jamming one half open.
As the Bridge is condemned and can no longer open, the wheel house had to be removed so that the hull could be floated under the bridge; on a falling tide, to ensure that it would not be jammed under the bridge, but also not wishing to be stuck on the bottom, a tricky operation; and then the wheel house lifted on and controls reinstalled at Morrisons Wharf.
This small water injection dredger is privately owned and the brainchild of Eric Green and Bob Berk [now part owned by Trevor Ryan]. It was a private initiative response to the withholding of financial investment in the creek by Peel Ports, the Harbour Authority, due to lack of commercial traffic and economic return; this removed any imperative to dredge the creek.
The long term effect of this was the progressive silting up of the Creek generally, [Peel Ports did dredge in 2012], and particularly the Basin; as the sluicing shutters have not been maintained, and the gates leak, so do not retain a head of water, then the sluicing process does not occur and that added to the silting at the upper end of the creek,
Stringent procedures were introduced in 2012, deferred to 2014, for licensing all dredging, so the Faversham Creek Navigation Company, was formed in 2014, as a Community Interest Company, to manage this; even so, whilst it must recover its expenses, the benefit is that these will be considerably less than a commercial dredging contractor, that would cost tens of thousands of pounds more.
The Navigation Co has licenses for the Creek and the Basin. The former was issued by Peel Ports after lengthy discussions when it was recognised that unless the licence was issued to a single organisation, then every individual owner of creekside property who has the responsibility for their section of the creek, would have to go through the same application process. This licence is known as a Maintenance Dredging licence, and is limited to 1500 cubic metres a year.
The licence for the Basin, known as a Capital Dredging Licence is a much more detailed application involving the Marine Management Organisation [MMO] and the Environment Agency [EA] and specialised reports from an Environmental Consultant, and an Ecologist, drawings from a Civil Engineer, and the laboratory testing of mud samples; it took 16 months to obtain, and cost almost £20,000. We are grateful to Swale Borough Council who agreed to fund this, on top of their contribution towards the Swing Bridge.
The work will be carried out over the next two years, and should be completed by the time the Swing Bridge is opened in 2018. Due to the conditions of the licence, the current work will cease at the end of March and restart in September. More details of the work will be published in due course.
It is a major achievement to access the Basin and make a start on its restoration; we hope that Faversham will continue to support us over the next two years and enjoy watching the progress.