A Brief History
By Brian Pain
The recent history of Faversham Creek makes sorry reading despite the efforts of many hard-working and well-meaning people including the sadly missed Brenda Chester. Brenda was a shining example of someone who never gave up on the creek, campaigning tirelessly to preserve its maritime heritage for future generations.
In 2014 we saw the start of a new Neighbourhood Plan for the Creek. The Neighbourhood Plan was meant to provide a clear vision of what the people of Faversham wanted, after proper consultation, to see developed around the waterway.
Unfortunately, the proposals favoured by the town – for protecting maritime industries and creekside spaces – were largely ignored by the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee in charge of producing the plan.
Instead, the democratic process was hijacked by local Conservative councillors, who formed a majority on the committee. Led by chairman Nigel Kay and vice-chair Michael Cosgrove, they decided that only they would have the right to vote on the final options for each of the creekside sites.
And what they voted for was largely housing. exactly what landowners and developers wanted; a decision that provoked bitter disappointment, anger and suspicion in the town. There was widespread speculation about councillors' motives. Questions were asked about ‘brown envelopes’ in council meetings.
In the circumstances, the chances of the town voting through the plan at referendum looked shaky.
So councillor Michael Cosgrove threatened to withdraw the Faversham Town Council and Swale Borough Council funding for the replacement creek bridge if their plan wasn't accepted.
The tactic was condemned as 'blackmail' and the plan 'a developers charter' but with no other choice if they wanted a new opening creek bridge, the town voted to adopt it. We are still waiting for our Bridge but there is now cause for cautious optimism.
The Creek Today
Many of the people in Faversham who take an interest in our Creek are unsure or confused about, amongst other things, what is happening to replace the swing bridge, return the basin to maritime use or repair the Town jetty to a usable condition.
This is partly caused by the proliferation of groups and organisations involved in Creek matters, amongst others:
The Creek Bridge Steering Group
The Faversham and Oare Heritage Harbour Group
The Faversham Creek Trust
The Town, Swale Borough Council and Kent County Councils
Faversham Creek Navigation CIC
However, for the reader who hasn’t lost interest, here is an attempt to explain who does what:
The Creek Bridge Replacement
This is largely being coordinated by the Creek Bridge Steering Group which consists of councillors and representatives of some of the other interested parties.
From its inception in 2014 the group has been criticised for excessive and probably unjustified secrecy.
However, following a successful campaign by the “Where’s our Bridge?” group and the subsequent intervention by Paul Carter the Leader of Kent County Council, a replacement is probably closer now than ever.
This is in no small part due to the very impressive Swing the Bridge campaign coordinated by the Faversham Creek Trust, in which the people of Faversham raised over £125,000 to plug the funding deficit in the cost of replacing the existing non-operational swing bridge a staggering effort achieved in a few months. That achievement alone showed how much the town wants an opening crossing.
Kent, Swale and Faversham councils have all committed funds to the replacement costs. Additionally negotiations are taking place with Peel Ports who have responsibility for both the bridge and the lock gates and should also contribute financially.
The Faversham and Oare Creek Heritage Harbour Group
Very recently, the creeks of Faversham and Oare were given the designation of Heritage Harbour Status which is recognised both nationally and internationally.
This group are responsible for delivering of a working waterway with facilities for home and visiting boats as well as community benefits and training.
In particular, they hope to help regenerate the basin as a major asset for the town, which will help stimulate the local economy and generate jobs.
To achieve this they will work with other groups, including the Faversham Creek Navigation Company, a not-for-profit community interest company which has a licence to dredge both the creek and the basin.
As a refreshing change from the attitude adopted by most of those wanting to develop land alongside the creek solely for expensive housing, landowner John Cleaver of BMM Weston has indicated an interest in helping achieve this with new wharfage in the basin
The Heritage designation will help gain access to external funding for other worthwhile projects
The next few months will be critical to the success of these initiatives and hopefully, all interested parties will work together in the common understanding that the Creek should be for the benefit of all the Town and not just developers. The Faversham Eye will report on the emerging proposals.
Faversham: Heritage Harbour
Faversham is one of the first towns to gain Heritage Harbour status.
Heritage Harbour designation is awarded to historic UK ports and harbours where commercial shipping has declined.
It encourages sensitive development of historic buildings, moorings and, most importantly, maintenance facilities for both local and visiting historic vessels.
Based similar schemes in the Netherlands and Belgium, it is a joint initiative by the Maritime Heritage Trust (MHT) and National Historic Ships (NHS) Shipshape Network; with strong support from the European Maritime Heritage (EMH).