Update on Bridge meeting

News from the meeting of Helen Whately, MP with local groups, held on Friday 24th February, 2024

Regarding a new impetus for a binding resolution to the Creek bridge impasse

Part of the remit of the Trust is to secure for the benefit of the public the preservation and use of the historic Faversham Creek and basin as a usable maritime waterway and, in particular, the development of the basin as a vibrant marina for visitors, under sail and on foot. 

As you are all well aware, the sticking point has been a reluctance by Peel Ports Ltd, the harbour authority, to agree with Kent County Council exactly which parts of the bridge (including road deck, support structure, opening mechanism and sluice gates) each has responsibility for. Each organisation has a clear view of where it believes its responsibilities lie but these views do not agree.

In November 2023, the Maritime Minister, Baroness Vere, was replaced as Parliamentary Under Secretary for State by Lord Davies of Gower. A law graduate and former police officer with the Metropolitan Police, he has already met with Helen Whately and Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester, who is taking a keen interest in Peel Ports’ activities at Chatham Docks. Following these meetings, Helen Whately convened a meeting with the key local groups to discuss his proposal.

What follows is a summary of that meeting:

“On Friday 23 February 2024 Helen Whately MP convened a meeting with representatives of KCC, Faversham Town Council, the Faversham Society, the Faversham Creek Trust and the Department for Transport to discuss next steps for the Faversham Bridge following Helen’s recent meeting with the Maritime Minister, Lord Gower.

 The Minister has advised Helen that the Department for Transport cannot issue an abatement notice until the ownership of the various elements of the bridge has been established beyond reasonable doubt.

 Both KCC and Peel Ports have submitted their evidence regarding ownership for the DfT to examine. However, the evidence is not sufficiently clear-cut in the DfT’s view for the Department to be able to take action without opening the possibility of legal redress by either party. The DfT is not in a position to rule on disputes of property ownership as it does not have the standing of a court. Therefore, the issue of ownership needs to be established first before deciding whether an abatement notice can or needs to be issued.

 The Department for Transport official told the meeting that they have been investigating how to solve the impasse for Faversham’s swing bridge for three years. He explained that abatement notices are designed for navigational impediments to force the owner to remove any blockages or barriers (not necessarily to replace or improve them), therefore simply issuing an abatement notice could lead to the bridge being demolished which would clearly pose a problem for the road across it. 

 The Minister has suggested an arbitration process between the relevant parties to resolve the question of ownership, which would be led by a KC (King’s Counsel) with maritime expertise. The KC would consider the positions of both parties and make a decision that each party would agree to accept as binding. 

 Kent County Council believe this is a prudent way forward although they recognise it is not without challenges and would want to be sure it has the support of local campaigners and Faversham Town Council as there are risks involved. The understanding is that Peel Ports is also interested to resolve the issue of the Faversham Bridge although it is not a high priority for them.

 The next steps are to seek formal agreement for a way forward between KCC, the Town Council and local campaigners and then secure agreement from Peel Ports to this approach. If successful, both parties would then agree a process for selection and appointment of the KC.”

It is understood that the local bodies involved are largely supportive of binding arbitration as a practical means to resolve the deadlock surrounding the bridge. There is a lot of careful negotiation of the process still to be done but there is a real prospect now of a way forward.

We will keep you informed of any further developments.

Faversham Creek Trust