By Richard Fleury
Delays replacing the creek swing bridge could have cost Faversham half a million pounds in grants.
The Government’s Coastal Communities Fund provides funding of over £50,000 to projects regenerating coastal areas across England and Wales.
Since the fund was announced in 2012 towns all around Kent have applied, including Whitstable, Herne Bay, Margate, Ramsgate, Deal, Dover and Folkestone.
Margate, for instance, was awarded just under £500,000 to set up a state of-the-art Fabrication Laboratory in the High Street, providing technical skills training, business planning and support for local creative businesses and professionals. Deal received £100,000 to spend on cycle routes and facilities for cyclists, while Herne Bay got £50,000 to improve its pier.
Over on the Isle of Sheppey, £500,000 went to Queenborough Harbour to install a 200-metre pontoon and 60 new moorings, a project expected to quadruple the number of visiting boats, with another £25,000 of funding from Swale Borough Council.
The CCF money pot was available to estuary ports including Faversham. So why haven’t we got anything? Half a million would go a long way towards solving some of the creek’s long-running problems.
In fact, in 2014 Faversham campaigners Philippa Dickenson and the late Brenda Chester did put together a CCF bid for the development of the basin, including the wharfs, bridge and sluice gates. It wasn’t supported by the Faversham Creek Consortium – a now-defunct organisation set up to ‘assist conservation, regeneration and development’ of the creek, chaired by then coun Mike Cosgrove – and was turned down.
“You have to be ready start with all permissions in place and complete the project in six months,” says Philippa. “It was a great thing to have done because it pulled a lot of information together but it was done on a wing and a prayer really and we were never going to meet their conditions.”
Kent County Council also considered applying but was told replacing the bridge would not meet the grant criteria. A spokesman said: “KCC did seriously look at the CCF for funding and would have pursued an application if there had been a chance of success. Among the obstacles was the fact that the bridge works would not be regeneration as outlined by the CCF, as it would merely be the replacement of an existing structure.”
By 2015 the Coastal Community Fund had allocated nearly £119 million to 222 projects nationally, helping to create almost 13,700 jobs and provide more than 10,280 training places and apprenticeships.
The bridge may not have been a suitable project but had the long promised functioning crossing been in place, half a million could have transformed the creek basin, providing moorings or buildings, attracting visitors and promoting maritime skills.
“It would be just great for apprentices, traditional boatbuilding skills, the sea cadets,” says Philippa Dickenson.
Instead, endless delays have left the bridge unrepaired and the basin stagnating unused. The Government extended the CCF in 2015, offering £90 million of new funding until 2020. But the money’s all gone now. Unless the another round of grants is announced, the pot is empty. Meanwhile our swing bridge is still stuck, the basin is blocked off and the creek is silting up. Sadly, Faversham has missed this particular boat.