By Brian Pain
Faversham’s creek bridge will be lifted out by crane before Christmas for inspection by engineers.
“Our plan is to carry out a detailed inspection in the next six to eight weeks which will involve a weekend road closure to enable the existing bridge to be lifted off,” says Kent County Councillor Paul Carter.
The 40-ton bridge will be removed to check the condition of its deck, supporting structures and moving parts.
“When this information is to hand, we will be able to assess whether restoration is the best option or commissioning a new bridge,” says coun Carter.
The existing swing bridge was built to support trucks towing half-built ships to the former Pollock’s shipyard on the Front Brents and is massively over-engineered for ordinary traffic. But restoring the old bridge might be simpler and quicker than obtaining consents required for an all-new structure.
On the other hand, a new, lighter, modern Dutch-style bridge would be more efficient and possibly more reliable and KCC is pursuing both options. “I am pleased to report that we now have soil analysis information available to us and will start the design and supplier engagement phases,” reports coun Carter, who says the project is ‘continuing to build momentum’.
The whole project --including the cost of sluice gates and dredging -- is likely to cost between £2.5 and £3 million according to latest estimates. A total of £1.54 million has been pledged already (see column on the right) and KCC will pursue Peel Ports, the company responsible for keeping the creek navigable, for a substantial contribution.
As for the creek basin, “wharf-side regeneration will be delivered by others, subject to satisfying all the necessary planning requirements”, says coun Carter, who adds: “Negotiations are progressing with adjoining landowners.”
This is hugely positive news for the many Faversham people demanding urgent action on the bridge. Almost a year ago, Carter told Faversham he was “on a mission” to solve the problem of its swing bridge. “By hook or by crook I’m going to do my very, very best to make it happen while I remain leader of Kent County Council,” he told 500 people at a public meeting in St Mary’s church, adding: “Hopefully I won’t go anywhere until we’ve found a solution.”
So the recent news that coun Carter was stepping down as KCC leader on October 17 was met with dismay by many of those fighting to restore the creek as a functioning waterway. And yet it does appear that, at long last, real progress is being made, albeit slightly behind schedule. Carter will remain a county councillor and, as former leader, is likely to retain considerable clout within Conservative-controlled KCC.
Although he is optimistic, some serious problems need tackling.
“It is clear that if we are to achieve our objective of seeing vessels navigating the creek and mooring in the basin, there are many more obstacles to overcome than just providing a bridge that opens and closes,” he says.
Those challenges include:
Accumulated silt in the creek at the bridge has buried the ‘cill’ – the ledge in front of the lock gates – under about five feet of mud. This must be removed before the gates can be repaired or replaced.
Unfortunately, this means dredging the creek for nearly two miles downstream to prevent the mud returning.
If silting problems are not dealt with urgently, the upper reaches of the creek will soon no longer be navigable by vessels of any reasonable size, making a working bridge pointless.
Making the creek welcoming and useable for visiting boats will bring obvious economic benefits.
THE BRIDGE & LOCK GATES
The existing bridge needs to be either repaired and improved to provide a safe pedestrian walkway or replaced completely.
The new or repaired lock gates will an need an effective sluicing mechanism to keep the dredged creek navigable.
Not only does the basin need dredging but substantial moorings and boat repair facilities must be provided for visiting craft. This will generate sustainable income and become a lively public attraction. Space should also be made available for small boat activities.
The cooperation of the two major land owners around the basin, BMM Weston and Shepherd Neame, will be necessary but with the imaginative use of the planning system, it should be possible to optimise both public and private benefit.
With substantial funding now in place, it should not be impossible to raise the £1 million financial shortfall. Peel Ports, which is responsible for keeping the creek navigable and the gates operable, should be pressed to provide funds.
The long term economic and social gains to the town of creating a major visitor attraction, new employment opportunities, training and waterbased youth facilities, will make the short-term cost seem insignificant.
We will also have returned our Creek to its former prominence, retaining Faversham’s historical links and unique character for the foreseeable future.
Local people have demonstrated their strong desire to achieve these aims and we hope all our representatives get behind coun Carter to make sure we succeed.
There almost certainly won’t be a better – or even another – chance in the future.
So far the following money has been pledged:
Swale Borough Council £200,000
Faversham Town Council £170,000
The Faversham Creek Trust through the community £125,000
Philanthropic donation £200,000
Total: £1.54 million