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CREEK FOOTPATH - UPDATED UPDATE

By John Wellard


In the last issue of the Faversham Eye, we reported on the continuing attempt to divert the existing footpath going around the houses at Faversham Reach and Waterside Close to one along the Creekside in front of the estate.

To briefly recap, the development called Faversham Reach was built in 1987 on part of was once Pollock’s Shipyard. Waterside was constructed in the early 2000s.


Ex Faversham mayor Andrew Osbourne has been the leading protagonist in association with The Faversham Footpaths Group in attempts to reroute the currently used ZF42 and ZF1, (see map) to that of ZF43. A route along the Creekside which he claims was in pre-existence before the construction of the houses. The claims are somewhat dubious since the Shipyard had occupied the site since the early 1900s.

The Faversham Eye understands the reasons why both attempts to provide a creekside public path and concern of the householders of Faversham Reach, who had no knowledge of

any possible right of way through their properties when they purchased them, are difficult to resolve.


Our concern is the huge cost to the public purse. Currently running at over £100,000, this scandalous waste of money shows how past and present local government officials can

continue to pursue their own agendas irrespective of the hit to desperately limited financial resources.


Below we print a timeline of how this conflict has evolved plus letters from the Faversham Labour Party objecting to our previous coverage and a response from the author of that

article.


TIMELINE

LABOUR LETTER INTRODUCTION


After the article titled Creek Footpath Update which appeared in our last edition, we received the letter reproduced on page 48, criticising the perceived bias in our reporting. It started:


I am writing on behalf of the Faversham and Swale East Labour Party following the Creek Footpath Update article you published in your Winter 2022 edition. The article criticised local Labour Party members for supporting the routing of the new ZF43 footpath by the side of the Creek, in front of Faversham Reach and Waterside Close estates, and suggesting that the Labour Party is prepared to ‘play fast and loose with public money’.”


It concluded by requesting a right of reply, which we are only to happy to print below.


WELLARD RESPONSE


I would like to confirm that you accurately pointed out in your letter that the problem was initiated by the incompetence of the former Tory council’s regime.


What you fail to point out is the inconvenient truth that two of the Tory individuals that the Labour party have aligned themselves to are the very people who created the situation in the first place – namely ex-councillor Cosgrove and former Mayor Osbourne who are now members of the Footpaths Group.


I will also emphasise that all the points I raised in my article were based on hundreds of hours of trawling through documents provided under the FOI Act by the KCC, SBC and FTC are not figments of my imagination and that Mr Osbornes claim that there had been ‘an understanding’ between FTC and the developers to provide a footpath along the waterside, are not supported by any documentary evidence.


Claims made by them that Faversham residents had blocked the alleged footpath by erecting railings were also untrue as the railings were erected with full planning permission and were not on the line of the footpath.


I challenge your assertion that the Neighbourhood Plan gave overwhelming endorsement to the footpath, as a subsequent survey did not consider footpaths to be of vital importance and remind you that voters were warned that if they didn’t support the plan there would be no

SBC funding for the Creek Bridge which was their over-riding concern. I will also reiterate that the vast sum of money that the KCC has been obliged to cough up so far and will almost certainly need to double to see any completed path through the estates, seem an irresponsible use of public money whilst councils are having to cut expenditure on vital

social services.


CONCERNS OVER THE ACTIVITIES OF THE LOCAL BENSTED CHARITY


What has come to light in researching this subject has been the seemingly cavalier manner in

which the local Bensted Charity and previously the Faversham Municipal Charities pledged £22,000 and £24,000 respectively to the creation of the footpath without the expected due diligence and without any professional costings of the project.


When attempting to investigate how such large funds for relatively small local charities were awarded, we were met with no response other than that no records existed.


In an earlier issue of the Faversham Eye we reported on a similar sum being awarded to the War Memorial in Stone Street and again there seems to be insufficient accountability as to how such a sum was allocated.


The situation is worrying, as in both cases the same individuals were Trustees of the charities making the awards and members of the recipient organisations or the councils involved in the projects.


Over the same time period, the total amount awarded to all other causes was dwarfed by the charity’s beneficence in respect of these two projects.


It is to be hoped that the new Liberal Democrat councillors appointed as trustees will not only

ensure future probity but also not attempt to bury any possible previous irregular activity.

 

A CREEKSIDE PATH FOR EVERYONE


Thank you for giving a Labour Party member the opportunity to reply to the Creek Footpath Update article in Issue 14 written by John Wellard. The article criticised local Labour Party members including myself for supporting the routing of the new ZF43 footpath by the side of the Creek, in front of the Faversham Reach and Waterside Close estates. It also suggested that the Labour Party is prepared to ‘play fast and loose with public money’. There is not space in this reply to rebut the inaccuracies and omissions in the Update, so I will focus on why I think Labour Party members are right in supporting the implementation of ZF43.


As Mr Wellard has admitted, the problems in routing what was formerly the ZF5 footpath are the result of mistakes made by previous Tory administrations running Kent County Council (KCC) and Swale Borough Council (SBC). In particular allowing the Faversham Reach estate to be built over the route of an existing footpath and failing to implement a Section 106 planning agreement requiring the developer to create public access along the front of the Waterside Close estate.


Thankfully inspectors at the two public inquiries held in 2014 and 2018 confirmed the footpath

must be retained and that the best route for it is along the front of the two estates giving the

public access to the water side and some fine views across the Creek. This decision allows the S106 agreement to be implemented and resolves the problem of the footpath being blocked by houses. It is appropriate that KCC and SBC are picking up most of the costs of implementing the new route as some of these could have been avoided if KCC had not proposed to extinguish the footpath in the first place and if SBC had succeeded in making the developer open the path along the front of Faversham Reach.


Having lost the argument for visitors and residents to be able to walk along the creek, Mr Wellard has resorted to two tactics to hinder the construction of the path. One is to claim that it is massively expensive and a waste of public money. The other is to claim that because the path has been supported by a number of former Tory local councillors it is necessarily bad. In order to sustain this argument he has now had to suggest that more progressive voices who support the footpath are somehow in collusion with these former councillors.


The construction costs of the work required to create the creekside footpath route were clearly stated in the 2018 public inquiry report along with the funding made available to support the work. The other costs have almost all been incurred now and largely relate to giving the public the chance to participate in the decision making process through the public inquiries.


While support for the creekside route exists across the political spectrum, opening up public

access to the creekside for all residents and visitors to Faversham and preventing any further private development without public creek side access seem to me an obvious part of a progressive agenda promoting the idea that the town’s natural assets should be available to us all, regardless of property ownership.


Opponents at the public inquiries were almost exclusively residents of the two impacted estates concerned about their privacy. Ironically implementing this route will relieve residents whose houses are on the original route of ZF5 of ‘planning blight’ and if Natural England can be persuaded to divert the line of the England Coast Path onto ZF43 this would protect the privacy of all residents of both estates by limiting the public right to roam to the actual line of the footpath.


Labour candidates in the 2019 local elections stood on a platform of maximising public access to the Creek. Similarly the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan, which was supported by 88% of local residents had ‘opening up pedestrian connections to adjacent marshland landscapes by creating a creek-edge route’ as one of its main objectives and the last public exhibition for the emerging Faversham Neighbourhood Plan identified public access and pedestrian permeability as key requirements for future development by the Creek.

Supporting the implementation of a creekside route for ZF43 is very much in line with these

objectives and I would encourage Faversham residents to keep the pressure on KCC to complete the footpath works as soon as possible, so that the public can start to benefit from the new route.


Councillor Julian Saunders

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