By Brian Pain
It was only a matter of time before property developer Michael White applied again for planning permission on Ordnance Wharf.
A 2000 report by Cluttons on behalf of the KCC and Swale to identify potential housing sites in the area had suggested Ordnance Wharf’s possible suitability. This was of course long before the Town faced the present flood of new housing developments.
Previous applications in 2003 (rejected), 2006 (withdrawn) and 2012 (withdrawn) were all unsuccessful but all were essentially similar to this June 2020 application.
The proposal is for a four storey development with ground level garages and three floors living accommodation above.
As is the case with the houses currently being built at Standard Quay, the architects of the scheme are stretching credulity by claiming they are a floor lower than they actually are. In the submitted planning application on drawing no 2620/ PL/2014 it has been pointed out by Eldon Hinchliffe in his letter of objection to this scheme, that they have drawn the adjoining Purifier building approximately 20% taller than it actually is in an attempt to reduce the impact of the height of the proposed new building.
The site has been left derelict for many years and the condition of the Wharf has markedly deteriorated recently.
The problem for anyone attempting to build a large scale structure on Ordnance Wharf is that the site is polluted, of historical importance because of the part it played in Faversham’s gunpowder industry and needs extensive and very costly repair of its brick abutments. It will also prove to be a very expensive site to build on due to piling costs etc.
The applicants say this themselves in their design and access statement:
“the site is heavily reliant on a viable project which takes into account the huge costs to bring the stability of ground foundations and works to the brick and stone wharf walls, to a stable position before works can progress on the ground.”
Thus, as a consequence of this any housing development would need to be intensive and tall to make economic sense. Further it means the properties would be marketed at very high prices which will certainly do nothing to alleviate local housing needs, as the proposal contains no social housing.
Despite an attempt to make the scheme acceptable to Swale with a small “potential club house” it is essentially nothing more than five four storey town houses, each with a double garage, two three storey maisonettes and a three floor office building (or potential house). The mass of the structure overwhelms the site and has appears to have little architectural merit.
Another serious consideration is that the developer hopes to cash in by charging high prices for the houses because of their riverside location, which, with a functioning bridge, a dredged basin and working lock gates would be far more likely.
However, assuming it ever happens, these works are to be undertaken at public expense, presumably for Faversham’s benefit and not a private developer who has hitherto shown no inclination to offer any contribution.
Over many years local people have campaigned to make the basin and Ordnance Wharf into a community asset, possibly connected to The Faversham Creek Trust based in the adjacent Purifier Building, providing an extension to the training already occurring there and a water -activities centre for the people, especially the young people of Faversham. It is important to remember that the local population raised £135,000 in a few months to help fund a working swing bridge.
A modest development scheme would allow a much more economical use of the site and give the refurbishment of the basin at public cost a coherent logic.
Would it not therefore make sense that Swale reject this over-intensive proposed development and the developer cut their losses and sell the site at a price which reflects its current commercial value or what they initially paid it?
This would allow the site to be purchased and used for a viable community-based project. The funds for such a scheme can be raised and twenty years of blight ended.
In the event that Swale gives this application planning permission, there is a fear that it would lead to the remaining undeveloped land around the basin being used for similar private housing and the potential benefit to local people of a publicly funded regeneration of basin and bridge significantly reduced (KCC have suggested that upwards of £2,500,000 would be needed to replace the swing bridge, the lock gates and dredge the creek up to the basin).
At the very least it would seem only fair that a robust section 106 agreement, or similar condition, attached to the planning approval be put in place ensuring that a significant payment is paid by the developers towards these costs.
The case for an enlightened comprehensive plan for the basin is overwhelming and sadly absent from the recently adopted Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan.
In the interests of openness, any opinions expressed in this article are informed by the fact that the writer has paid an active role previous in efforts to regenerate the creek for maritime use and resist the gradual loss of the few remaining previously commercial Creekside sites to housing.
In the next issue we will publish views by other groups and individuals and would welcome and print a statement by the architects of the proposal.
The application can be viewed on the Swale Borough Council website through their Planning Portal Ordnance Wharf, Flood Lane 20/502408/FULL