CREEK FOOTPATH UPDATE

By John Wellard


A Government Inspector’s advice in 2014 that a Creekside footpath at Waterside Close was an ‘aspiration that might not be achievable’, has continued to be ignored at ever increasing cost. The statement was made after an Inquiry into the plans which had by then cost the town well over £40,000. However, a small band of people that were behind this initial waste of money have continued to lobby for ever more feasibility studies.

Another Inquiry in 2018 cost taxpayers nearly £55,000, but this was still not enough to convince the group to stop throwing good money after bad, and yet another design review has been commissioned this year. This brings the total cost of Faversham not having a short length of footpath through Waterside Close to well over £100,000 and there seems no sign that this profligacy is going to end.

The proposed footpath in front of Waterside Close marked in red, the current paths in black

In September 2020 The Faversham Eye published an account of the history of the proposed Creekside footpath through the Faversham Reach and Waterside Close housing estates. Those who are unfamiliar with the issue can go online and read "A FOOTPATH PAVED WITH (YOUR) GOLD”, for the full detailed story.

In 2009, the then Faversham Town Councillor and Swale Borough Council cabinet member for Regeneration Mike Cosgrove, claimed that a short length (approx 150 metres) of a new Creekside footpath would only cost £4,500. In 2016, KCC’s elected Members had insisted on all project costs being known and funded (and approved) before giving the go ahead.

Therefore, KCC officers should not have commenced the Orders procedures until all the unresolved issues and unknown costs had been quantified and sufficient funding in place. But KCC officers ignored due process and proceeded regardless.

Now, in 2021, former Cllr Cosgrove’s 2009 £4,500 claimed estimate is plainly ludicrous.

Here are the figures Provided by FTC, KCC and SBC under Freedom of Information requests. 2014 Secretary of State Inspector’s Inquiry;

SBC £900.00 Paid to East Kent Engineering KCC £645,00 Direct costs KCC £10,380.00 Legal representation KCC £9,414.00 Legal services KCC £47.25 Members mileage KCC £40.00 Members catering KCC £17,000.00 Amey plc. Feasibility survey FTC £3,144.00 FTC representation FTC £1,144.00 Legal representation FTC £611.00 Town Clerk TOTAL £43,325.25 (£2,000.00 of which Bensted and Municipal Charities subscribed)

2018 Secretary of State Inspectors Inquiry;

SBC £7,000.00 Contribution to KCC’s Order making work KCC £620.00 Hire of Alexander Centre KCC £13,115.00 Legal fees for 3 day Inquiry KCC £14,373.00 Amey plc. Design costs KCC £19,419.00 Amey plc. Design and ground tests TOTAL £54,527.00 2021 £4,795.00 Paid to WSP plc for design review. TOTAL COSTS TO DATE £102,647.25

Estimated construction costs (Amey plc.)@ 2016 prices; £92,984.00

Current estimated cost of ZF 43 footpath construction; £195,631.00

Even these staggering figures may not be the true picture since, significantly, KCC do not consider the hundreds of hours devoted for over a decade by staff of the Public Rights of Way Department, to be relevant or included in the ZF 43 costings. So presumably, they just get absorbed and vanish into the mix of the overall Rights of Way budget. The reality is that, however KCC wants to play it, those hours were worked on this specific project and should therefore be itemised in the costs.

There are small signs that common sense is beginning to prevail: The present Faversham Town Council, elected in 2019, has withdrawn an earlier pledge of £5,000. And one has to have some sympathy with KCC: It was apparent from 2014 onwards that, due to the emerging logistical, legal and financial issues arising from the pro-footpath campaign, and which the campaigners themselves had either failed to acknowledge or dismissed, KCC were reluctant to embark on the project.

At the moment, the footpath Order still stands but has needed to be suspended twice - the latest being imposed from September this year to run until September 2023.

It is undoubtedly relevant that a progress update in January 2021 by KCC Rights of Way officer Graham Rusling refers, albeit briefly, to problems with implementing a number of current footpath Orders. Cost, budget cuts, staff shortages and a massive backlog of associated issues are quoted to explain delays.

Like other councils throughout the UK, KCC is severely and historically strapped for cash. Years of austerity, chronic underfunding of vital services and infrastructure, the cost to KCC due to Brexit and the pandemic, are contributing to a financial crisis for KCC of epic proportions. But still the Faversham Footpaths Group under the leadership of Andrew Osborne, Labour Cllr. Julian Saunders, former Labour Cllr. Trevor Payne plus a small minority of supporters insist the increasingly costly project forges ahead. Pledges of £46,500 by the Charities of which Andrew Osborne, Cllr Julian Saunders and former Cllr. Cosgrove are Trustees still stand. Labour Cllr. Julian Saunders is adamant the footpath is “in the public interest” in spite of the cost – therefore suggesting that our local Labour Party is just as willing to play as fast and loose with public money as the previous Tory controlled Council. If the footpath is “in the public interest” as Cllr. Saunders claims, then likewise the cost of it - especially in times like these - is very much in the public interest as well.

The ridiculous situation KCC now finds itself in is clearly described by Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council, in a letter he recently sent to a resident of Faversham Reach.

It has to be said though that this Creekside path is of questionable value without a working bridge and a revitalised Creek. It is merely an expensive white elephant - a vanity project reckoned to be already more costly per metre than a motorway.

What exactly is the point of a footpath through Faversham Reach? Faversham Footpaths Group claimed "spectacular views" could be enjoyed from the estate. In reality the predominant view was a long derelict oil depot, a car wash and a large industrial shed.

Recently, the oil depot is being replaced by housing over-development and the car wash and shed look likely to go the same way.

Whether one is in favour, against or just doesn’t care about the proposed Creekside Path, the question remains as to why, in the case of Faversham Reach and then Waterside Close, it didn’t materialise during the initial construction - some 30+ years ago? Instead, the taxpayer is now expected to pay the penalty of historic acts of Incompetence by FTC, SBC and KCC Public Rights of Way Department.

CHRONOLOGY

In 1987 Faversham Town Council (FTC), under the chairmanship of Mayor Andrew Osborne, along with Cllr. Mike Cosgrove, fellow Tory councillors, and Swale Council (SBC), approved a planning application by Portland Homes to build the Faversham Reach Estate on the site of the derelict Pollocks Shipyard. Then, in 2004, Mr. Andrew Osborne, claimed that an ancient and long forgotten footpath (forgotten, except by him) which in 1937 had been blocked by the extension of Pollocks Shipyard, and now blocked by 5 of the houses built with FTC and SBC’s approval, was “much needed” therefore, he insisted, a new footpath must be created through the estate.

In 2011, FTC, Mr. Andrew Osborne, Cllr Mike Cosgrove and its small band of supporters who later formed Faversham Footpaths Group - an unofficial elitist group established specifically to promote the footpath, manipulated KCC into convening a Panel Regulation Inquiry to settle the issue. KCC found in favour of the Faversham Reach residents but this was then disputed by a chagrined FTC, much unaccustomed to not getting its own way. Thus, battle lines were drawn between the Faversham Reach and Waterside Close residents and the now combined forces of FTC and SBC which triggered two Secretary of State Inspector’s Inquiries - the first in 2014 and the second in 2018 resulting in the costs shown above.

At the 2018 Inspector’s Inquiry Andrew Osborne claimed that an “understanding” (of which no documentary evidence has been found), to provide public access onto the Faversham Reach promenade, had been agreed between the developers and SBC Planning. If true, SBC and FTC committed a lamentable lack of diligence by failing to ensure the “understanding” was honoured. So now the taxpayers are footing the bill for what the developers should have provided within their own costs of construction.

During 2015/16 KCC commissioned civil engineers Amey plc. to carry out a Feasibility Survey to suggest the best way to construct the footpath. Now, five years later, KCC have belatedly concluded that Amey's proposals are "over engineered" (translation: too expensive). So now KCC has engaged WSP plc. - a global big hitter - to produce an alternative design - further adding to the already sky-high cost. By now, the original 2016 construction estimates are out of date. With WSP plc. at the helm and with £102+K already spent, the on-going costs are still to be calculated because the final designs and estimates are yet to be completed with a number of problematic outstanding, potentially expensive issues still unresolved. Amey’s original estimates are more likely to balloon rather than, as KCC hopes, shrink. Another potentially expensive problem - which appears to have been ignored or overlooked, is the condition of the Creekside walkway at Waterside Close. The inadequate original piling has resulted in sections of it subsiding into the Creek and therefore needing very expensive essential repairs to make the proposed footpath safe for the public. All these issues should have been dealt with and costed BEFORE KCC proceeded towards making the Orders. Civil engineering projects are notorious for budget creep - especially when local and county councils are concerned. Contractors have an historic notoriety for overpricing and/or inflating tenders and price fixing and there is every reason to fear that the Creekside Path project will the same consequences and is probably a reason why FTC wisely withdrew its £5,000 pledge.


The proposed footpath in front of Waterside Close marked in red, the current paths in black.