By: Brian Pain and David Rottenborough our local government correspondent
How a small clique of Parish councillors can manipulate the law to finance their pipe dream with charity and taxpayer's money.
Plan of the footpath routes: the closed path is in red and the alternative route in blue. The dashed black lines are public footpaths
It was only going to cost £4,500. So it was claimed by former Town and Swale Councillor Mike Cosgrove in 2009 in the minutes of the now defunct Faversham Creek Consortium and endorsed by former Faversham Mayor and ex Councillor Andrew Osborne.
Implementation would be a simple process. But 11 years later and 17 years after their pipedream of a footpath along Faversham Creek was originally cooked up, the cost has soared by several THOUSAND percent and will continue to rise.
By 2015 the then Tory controlled Faversham and Swale councils - with Cllr Cosgrove in his post of Swale Cabinet Member for Regeneration had pledged a total of £65,000 of public funds towards the footpath's construction. Jumping on the bandwagon the Bensted and Faversham Municipal Charities chipped in with pledges totalling £46,000. (Osborne and Cosgrove being trustees of one of the charities). Usually accustomed to doling out the odd grand here and a few hundred there, the £46K promise was an uncharacteristically huge pledge. But like their recent War Memorial - an equally highly charity funded (at £32,700) and a widely unpopular project, the footpath being the aspiration of Mr. Osborne, Cllr. Cosgrove and Faversham’s inner circle, cost was of little concern.
Unlike the Creek Bridge - a far worthier local project with wide public support and towards which £125K was raised through public subscription. Item 14 of the Jan 2015 minutes of the now redundant Creek Consortium records Mr. Osborne stating; “Any contribution (from the Charities) would inevitably be small.”
The history of the present dispute between FTC, KCC, the Footpaths group and the residents of the Faversham Reach and Waterside Close housing estates has roots going back some eight decades to the time when the land on which they stand was occupied by Pollocks Shipbuilders.
The launch of a newly built coaster. The narrowness of Faversham Creek was no barrier to the launching of large ships. Vessels were simply launched sideways.
Originally appointed as Admiralty Contractors site security at the yard was paramount, therefore the site was - and still mostly is - surrounded by a high wall whose sole purpose was to keep the public out. But by 1970 Pollocks were closing down - as were most of the other Creekside industries. Being too preoccupied with going broke the Directors of Pollocks failed to see a notice hidden in the pages of the London Gazette that there had been a footpath added to the Definitive Map, nor were they consulted or informed in advance. The notice in the local paper merely stated that footpaths had been reclassified on the Definitive Map but did not say where they were and the DM wasn't published until 1987 and in draft form only - this after a time gap of 17 years.
Pollocks shipyard in 1934 with a number of lighters ready to be launched.
Nobody had noticed - except, apparently Mr. Osborne who claimed there had been a right of way there "from time immemorium" [sic]
Which is interesting. On September 14, 1987 Faversham Town Council under the Chairmanship of Mayor Osborne discussed a planning application by Portland Homes to build the Faversham Reach Estate and gave its approval. Minutes described it as an "inaugural" project and show that no issues of rights of way were raised, the only concerns recorded were flood risks and architectural style.
With the application unanimously approved by the Town, Swale Council Planners followed suit.
The result was that Portland Homes, like everyone else, (presumably apart from former Mayor Andrew Osborne), were completely unaware that they had built five of the fifteen houses right on top of the alleged footpath which had apparently been there "from time imemmoriuml"[sic].
Construction of Faversham Reach was completed in 1990 and celebrated with an inauguration ceremony, complete with a string quartet, attended by Swale Mayor Jean Newman - Chair of Swale Planning, as guest of honour. Presumably she too was unaware of the ticking time bomb or failed to mention it at planning stage. Three separate searches by the author failed to find any mention of rights of way in the Faversham Reach file stored in the Swale Planning Department’s archives.
It took another 14 years for the bomb to detonate. In 2004 the residents were informed that there was a public right of way through their property and that five of the fifteen houses had been built on top of it with the endorsement of Faversham and Swale Councils - thus rendering them unmortgageable and only saleable to a cash buyer willing to take the risk. An increasingly bitter dispute began between the understandably disgruntled residents and FTC, Swale and Kent County Councils - with the problem increasingly being dumped in the lap of KCC whose Rights of Way Dept. were obliged to sort out the increasingly complex (and increasingly expensive) problem.
In 2012, EIGHT YEARS after the footpath revelation of 2004 KCC convened a Regulation Committee Panel Hearing to resolve the matter. The Councillors from nearby boroughs appointed to examine the case having heard arguments from both sides, found in favour of the Faversham Reach Residents application to extinguish the footpath underneath the five houses and leaving the existing footpath around the development which had been used for 80 years officially designated as the right of way.
Unaccustomed to being thwarted, FTC and the handful of footpath supporters appealed against the decision. Having lain forgotten, redundant and buried since 1937 - when the site was occupied by Pollocks shipyard and subsequently, if it ever existed at all, buried under five houses and with a viable route round the shipyard wall available since 1937, the footpath was now suddenly “much needed”, “overwhelmingly” popular and vital to the happiness of the people of Faversham. To prove how “much needed” the phantom footpath really was its promoters organised a petition to prove the alleged popularity. Out of a population of some 20,000 citizens the petition garnered in the region of 30 signatures - hardly a ringing endorsement. In her summing up, Alison Lea, the Inspector of the 2014 Sec of State Inquiry described the footpath as “an aspiration that might not be achievable”. Which begs the question; if it’s a potentially “unachievable aspiration” why waste so much public money on it?
The Faversham Footpaths Group formed in 2015 with founder members Andrew Osborne and Brian Caffarey upped the ante and a series of irate and misleading letters appeared in the local Faversham News along with a photograph of Mr Caffarey angrily pointing at railings erected with full planning permission by the Faversham Reach residents to stop antisocial intrusions - implying they illegally stopped the public from entering the estate. His attack ignored the fact it was the five houses several metres away which formed the alleged obstacle as well as the absence of steps or ramp to scale the 1.5 metre ground level difference.
In an email to Sonia Coventry (KCC) dated 22/12/2012, Mr. Caffarey blames the entire situation on “the incompetence of Swale Council” and the intransigence of the residents of Faversham Reach - presumably having forgotten that two of his new found chums - Former Mayor Andrew Osborne and Cllr. Cosgrove were instrumental in giving the planning approval of Faversham Reach and that Cllr. Cosgrove was Swale Cabinet Member for Regeneration. He subsequently heaped all the blame onto the residents - possibly because the former part of his rant could prove to be an embarrassment to both Councils.
In 2014 the dispute was put in the hands of a Secretary of State Inspector’s Inquiry. This obliged KCC to engage the services of a barrister to prepare and the present KCC’s and the resident’s case and this is where public money began to really roll.
To support the footpath promoters’ case, it was claimed there had been “an understanding” with Portland Homes that public access would be provided. No documentary evidence of this “understanding” was produced and the designs and plans show no indication or planning consent that public access was part of the project. Nor did the final construction. The ground level difference of 1.5 metres at Crab Island and no viable access at the Waterside Close end clearly indicated no consideration of public access was part of the final design of Faversham Reach.
In further support in favour of the footpath Andrew Osborne submitted on behalf of a former worker in Pollocks Shipyard, a deposition presented as proof that public access had always been available on demand.
It went thus;
If a member of the public wanted to “exercise his rights” he could “bang on” or ”rattle a stick” on the locked corrugated-iron gate at Crab Island and a worker inside the yard on hearing it over the racket of riveting and hammering would down tools, go to ascertain the needs of the banger or rattler, then find the foreman to authorise the unlocking of the gate thus allowing the entrant to enjoy the din, squalor and dangers of the busy shipyard. Another of Mr. Osborne’s chums stated that a member of the public could demand entry into the clamorous shipyard at the main gate then pick their way (presumably escorted) and then be let out through the locked gate at Crab Island.
Claims were made that the new short section of the Creekside footpath would enhance the town's prosperity. Hundreds of walkers would descend on the town eager to enjoy the delights of the new right of way bringing with them new money. The reality is that walkers by their very nature, arrive laden with sandwiches, bottled water and thermos flasks to enjoy the sights, already paid for or provided by the locals, before proceeding on their philanthropic way.
The residents produced three depositions from former shipyard workers and one from the last Managing Director Mr. Phil Ellis stating that on no account were the public ever granted entry to the yard on demand. These the Inspector ignored in favour of the gate rattling log assisted clambering arguments, the outcome being that she (Alison Lea) found in favour of FTC and the footpath brigade thereby obliging KCC to find another solution.
This put KCC in a difficult (and expensive) position. Having been obliged to initially support the Faversham Reach residents they now had to devise a means whereby public entry through the development could be achieved. This consumed hundreds of man hours of the KCC Rights of Way Dept in consultations with both sides and required a feasibility survey carried out by KCC’s main civil engineering contractors, Amey, at a cost of £17K.
Amey's "feasibility" plan involved the construction of a large ramp on Crab Island to scale the 1.5 metre ground level difference between Crab Island and the estate. Need to be wheelchair accessible dictated the proposed ramp be of some considerable size but ignored the fact the ramp would have to be built on a Town Green (Crab Island) which under the Inclosures Act of 1879 is protected from intrusive structures. Exit from Faversham Reach was to be a piled walkway between it and Waterside Close which would partially block the only viable slipway on the North side of the Creek.
Understandably, the residents were now fully hostile by the footpath campaign being highly selective in its presentation of evidence and objected to the KCC /Amey proposal (costed at £125K) which then obliged KCC, Faversham Town Council, the footpath disciples and the Faversham Reach residents to undergo a second Secretary of State Inspector's Inquiry.
Bizarrely, KCC engaged the same barrister - the one who had built the case in favour of the resident's and KCC's previous support of them - to act against the Faversham Reach residents and demolish his previous arguments! Having to prepare then present the case at the three-day hearing further racked up the cost to the taxpayer and closer to the estimated £250K costs to date. At this point it should be mentioned that KCC does not include the hundreds of man hours put in by the staff of the Rights of Way Dept. to deal with the years long dispute. Presumably they worked pro bono - unlike the barrister who having backed the same horse both ways went off with his pockets full of taxpayer’s cash.
At the second Inspector’s Inquiry, the depositions of the former shipyard workers and the last managing director were again dismissed in favour of the fanciful stick rattling and log assisted entries into the shipyard and later entries into Faversham Reach - the imaginative constructions seemingly having more gravitas with the Inspector.
The argument that there had been “an understanding” between the council and Portland Homes was raised once more - again with no documented proof. The Inquiry lasted three days and the Inspector went off to deliberate. His verdict was that, in spite of the footpath being obstructed since 1937 and then obstructed with the blessing of Faversham and Swale councils in 1987 and that the phantom footpath's alleged existence was only revealed to the residents in 2004, his decision was in favour of the creators of the problem and that the residents of Faversham Reach be obliged to suffer the consequences of the tripartite historic incompetence and of Faversham Town Council, Swale Council and KCC.
As things stand at present, KCC has as yet (as mentioned earlier) failed to produce plans, specifications, costings or permissions from concerned landowners, compensation, mitigations or any of the other requirements to set things in motion. One can hardly blame them. Having been dragged into the dispute by a small clique of now ex-parish councillors and their cronies who wouldn’t accept KCC’s original decision back in 2012, the prospect of throwing even more money into the footpath pit can hardly be an appealing prospect. In the case of Waterside Close - connected to Faversham Reach at one end of the Creekside path project, there are also unresolved and potentially costly issues regarding access and construction which still await KCC’s solutions.
It seems staggering that, during this period of national economic austerity, nearly a quarter of a million pounds should have been spent and nothing achieved. It is to be hoped that our most recently elected County, Borough and Town Councils display more fiscal responsibility, quietly drop the whole scheme and spend their limited funds more wisely.
The shipyard in the 1920s. Over 1200 vessels were built and launched between 1916 and 1969. The yard ceased production in 1969 and the company was liquidated in 1970.
In August 2019 KCC issued a notice of the temporary closure of the non-existent footpath, technically named ZF5 / ZF43, would be extended until September 2021.
There’s no knowing when KCC will start work on Faversham’s “much needed” and “overwhelmingly popular” footpath. There's no statutory time frame applicable. Like most councils across the country KCC are struggling to make ends meet after over a decade of austerity-driven cuts pre-Brexit expenditure, KCC’s pension fund lightened by £263 million through unwisely investing it with failed City whiz kid Neil Woodford and our nation’s economy crippled by the pandemic. Against this background of disaster does spending any more of taxpayer’s money on a non-essential vanity project which could potentially cost more per metre than that of a motorway and for no economic gain, make any sense?
A recent email from KCC confirms the absence of a start date and hints at other priorities which could (and probably will) take precedence over what is essentially an aspiration demanded by a small, disproportionately and undeservedly influential, Faversham pressure group.
The present FTC and Swale Council though reportedly having withdrawn the previous regime’s pledge of £65K, have failed to confirm this, as reasonably requested, at time of writing. We at the Eye leave our readers to make their own judgements on whether this expensive, protracted and still yet to be achieved project gives value for money.