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THE SAGA OF FAVERSHAM CREEK

By Brian Pain


On a day-to-day basis the rise in the silt level in the creek is not perceptible but it is surely steadily rising and the upper reaches through the Town and into the basin have become unnavigable for all but the most shallow drafted boats and dinghies.


The ‘temporary’ creek bridge installed in December 2019 at an initial cost of over £250,000 and an ongoing annual rental of about £50,000 is beginning to look rather permanent. 


The lock gates below are not only in urgent need of repair but, in any case unusable due to over 5 feet of mud that has built up over the cill.  With the gates stuck half open, the sluices on the gates that were used after high tides to flush a head of water down the creek, so keeping much of the silt build up at bay, cannot operate.


The basin above the bridge is equally full of mud to say nothing of the occasional bike and shopping trolley. Its surrounds are in a dreadful state of repair and suffering from planning blight.  If a boat could actually enter the basin, there is nowhere to moor.


It is an utter disgrace and although many individuals and voluntary organisations have really tried over the years to restore the waterway to something the town could be proud of no real improvement has been possible. Ineffective local, district, county and national government inertia and short-sightedness coupled with extreme reluctance on the part of Peel Ports, the private company that has the legal obligation to maintain the Creek means that restoration of creek, bridge and basin that could have been undertaken in 2000 for the amount we have spent on our unlovely temporary bridge in the past five years, is now estimated to need a budget in excess of £3,000,000.


Since the occasional involvement of our chocolate teapot MP Helen Whately, with her unnecessarily secretive Faversham Bridge Committee, very little progress has been made towards any kind of resolution, but…. she has had some good photo opportunities.

As we have pointed out in many past issues of the Eye, it is a tragic waste of an opportunity for Faversham to have an asset of which would not only be a source of pride but also something that would generate significant income for the Town. In particular, see Faversham Eye 16 which as with all past issues is available online.


It is to be admired that the Faversham Creek Trust under the chair Sue Akhurst and more recently Philippa Dickenson are still plugging away to try to get something positive done.

A statement from the Creek Trust follows, after which we recount a longer history of the Creek and Bridge.



 

The Creek and it's Bridge


By Philippa Dickenson, Chair, Faversham Creek Trust 


New impetus for binding resolution to Creek bridge impasse


For people who are new to Faversham since the last edition of the Eye in 2022, you may have taken part in the Skiffie Fest on the Creek or walked along its banks and wondered why the bridge over to the Brents that should open, does not and why the Creek basin beyond it is in such a derelict state. 


The Faversham Creek Trust was set up in 2011 to promote the regeneration of Faversham’s maritime heritage and it has campaigned ever since for an opening bridge to allow the Creek basin to be developed as a vibrant marina for visitors, under sail and on foot. The sticking point has been a reluctance by Peel Ports Ltd, the harbour authority, to agree with Kent County Council exactly which parts of the bridge (including road deck, support structure, opening mechanism and sluice gates) each has responsibility for. Each organisation has a clear view of where it believes its responsibilities lie but these views do not agree. 


The bridge last opened thirty years ago in 1994, according to Arthur Percival’s History of the Bridge. For twenty years, various local bodies including the Faversham Creek Consortium, Faversham Creek Trust, Faversham Society, Faversham Town Council and ‘Where’s Our Bridge?’ campaign group, have sought a solution to this problem. 


Back in November 2020, Helen Whately MP, who convenes the Creek Bridge Steering Group which comprises members of Faversham Town Council, Kent County Council, the Faversham Society and Faversham Creek Trust, suggested intervention at the level of the Secretary of State in order to resolve the deadlock. Sir Paul Carter, former Leader of Kent County Council who continues to serve as a County Councillor, recommended getting legal opinion regarding the ownership and liabilities of Peel Ports Ltd and Kent County Council for the respective elements of the bridge. 


Legal opinion obtained by Peel Ports was not in sufficient agreement with that obtained by the local authorities – Faversham Town Council, Swale Borough Council and Kent County Council (KCC) – to determine a clear path forward. Questions raised in the House of Lords in the Autumn of 2022 by Lord Palmer, the Faversham-based Liberal Democrat peer, did not secure an active response from the Maritime Minister at that time, Baroness Vere. Follow-up correspondence with her brought frustrating responses citing the complexity of the matter as the reason for lack of progress. 


In September 2022, a new Director of Highways & Transportation for KCC, Haroona Chugtai, took up her post, moving from the Department for Transport (DfT). For over three years until June 2020, she had been the Deputy Director of Maritime Trade at the DfT and earlier in her career led the implementation of the new marine licensing system. Her knowledge of the workings of the maritime sector and the DfT has proven invaluable in seeking a fresh approach to engaging both the DfT and Peel Ports in finding a resolution to the matter of the Creek Bridge. 


November 2023 brought further change at the DfT when Baroness Vere was replaced as Parliamentary Under Secretary for State by Lord Davies of Gower. A law graduate and former police officer with the Metropolitan Police, he has already met with Helen Whately and Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester, who is taking a keen interest in Peel Ports’ activities at Chatham Docks. Following their meetings, Helen Whately convened a meeting with the key local groups to discuss his proposal. What follows is a summary of that meeting. 


“On Friday 23 February 2024 Helen Whately MP convened a meeting with representatives of KCC, Faversham Town Council, the Faversham Society, the Faversham Creek Trust and the Department for Transport to discuss next steps for the Faversham Bridge following Helen's recent meeting with the Maritime Minister, Lord Gower.


The Minister has advised Helen that the Department for Transport cannot issue an abatement notice until the ownership of the various elements of the bridge has been established beyond reasonable doubt.

 

Both KCC and Peel Ports have submitted their evidence regarding ownership for the DfT to examine. However, the evidence is not sufficiently clear-cut in the DfT’s view for the Department to be able to take action without opening the possibility of legal redress by either party. The DfT is not in a position to rule on disputes of property ownership as it does not have the standing of a court. Therefore, the issue of ownership needs to be established first before deciding whether an abatement notice can or needs to be issued.

 

The Department for Transport official told the meeting that they have been investigating how to solve the impasse for Faversham’s swing bridge for three years. He explained that abatement notices are designed for navigational impediments to force the owner to remove any blockages or barriers (not necessarily to replace or improve them), therefore simply issuing an abatement notice could lead to the bridge being demolished which would clearly pose a problem for the road across it. 

 

The Minister has suggested an arbitration process between the relevant parties to resolve the question of ownership, which would be led by a KC (King’s Counsel) with maritime expertise. The KC would consider the positions of both parties and make a decision that each party would agree to accept as binding. 

 

Kent County Council believe this is a prudent way forward although they recognise it is not without challenges and would want to be sure it has the support of local campaigners and Faversham Town Council as there are risks involved. The understanding is that Peel Ports is also interested to resolve the issue of the Faversham Bridge although it is not a high priority for them.


The next steps are to seek formal agreement for a way forward between KCC, the Town Council and local campaigners and then secure agreement from Peel Ports to this approach. If successful, both parties would then agree a process for selection and appointment of the KC.”

 

Although it is over three years since it was proposed to escalate the matter of the Creek Bridge to the level of Secretary of State, a change of key personnel at both KCC and the DfT has brought a fresh outlook and energy to bear on the situation. It is understood that local bodies are largely supportive of binding arbitration as a practical means to resolve the deadlock surrounding the bridge. There is a lot of careful negotiation of the process still to be done but there is now the prospect of tangible progress.




 

 See below for additional letter from Brian 'Sixer' Boorman regarding ways to rebuild the jetties in the basin:


FCT Creek bridge Sixer letter 2024-05-17
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.15MB

 

The Faversham Bridge Scandal


By Peter Spring


Perhaps not surprisingly restoring the Faversham Creek swing bridge has been kicked into touch until after the coming election, if not indefinitely, and the Department of Transport (DfT) has tried to wash its hands of the issue.


The bridge allowing access to Faversham basin was built in 1880. By 1994 the bridge had ceased to be able to swing and the condition of the creek basin, which should be a huge asset to the town, has continued to deteriorate.) Recently the DfT recommended that Kent County Council and Faversham Town agree to find lawyers to arbitrate the ownership of the Faversham Creek swing bridge, and secure agreement from Peel Ports for this approach. If agreed, a King’s Counsel with maritime expertise would consider both positions and make a decision, which would be binding.


This is over five years after on 21 August 2018 Helen Whately wrote to Peel Ports as responsible for the bridge: “I understand that Paul Carter, Chief Executive of Kent County Council, has written to you to ask for your support in getting the [Brent Swing Bridge] project off the ground. Whilst the funding raised to date goes a significant way to meeting costs, it is Peel Ports who hold responsibility for the functioning aspects of the bridge for instance.” Also, Faversham Town Council (December 2021) established the Secretary of State has the power to issue an Abatement Notice under section 43 of the Medway Ports Act 1973 [port now owned by Peel Ports] to compel the party with obligations to maintain this bridge, sluice gates and associated works so as to permit navigation again.


Peel Ports


The fact is our key infrastructure has largely been sold off to foreign owned entities and Conservative Party politicians are in practice almost completely incapable of exerting any control and protecting local people. The name Peel Ports, who are held responsible for the bridge, sounds familiar and British. Actually it is about as British as Micky Mouse. Peel Ports is owned overwhelmingly by foreign entities.


30% - Lemon 2021 Ltd - jointly owned by:

  • APG (All Pension Group) (Dutch: Algemene Pensioen Groep) is the largest pension provider in the Netherlands. It is a direct subsidiary of Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, the largest pension fund in the Netherlands.

  • GIP (Global Infrastructure Partners) is an infrastructure investment fund making equity and selected debt investments. GIP's main headquarters are located in New York City and its equity investments are based on infrastructure assets in the energy, transport and water & waste sectors.

32.4% - AustralianSuper – jointly owned by:

  • ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) co-ordinates union campaigns, represents workers at a range of government and non-government forums in Australia and overseas, in order to provide industrial, policy and other support to affiliates, and encourage workers to join their union.

  • Ai Group (Australian Industry Group) is an employers' organisation, whose members employ over 750,000 people throughout Australia. The organisation covers a wide range of industries.

37.6% - Peel Group is an infrastructure and property investment business, based in Manchester. Its main owners are:

  • Whittaker family (68%) - John Whittaker began assembling the business in the 1960s.

  • Olayan Group (25%) is a privately-owned global enterprise which invests across listed equities, private equity, debt, and real estate founded in 1947 by Saudi businessman Suliman Saleh Olayan. 


Peel Ports Group is immensely profitable. The Report and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 March 2023 shows: 

  • turnover up 12.7% to £696.3m

  • group operating profit up 19.8% to £228.1m

  • profit before taxation up times 6 to 397.3m

  • taxation £0.2m received in 2023 versus £7.5m paid in 2022

  • gross profit margin 41.7%

  • dividends £138.9m (up from £88.9m)


The profit margins and level of dividend payout are remarkable and restoring the bridge would be small change. (Of course, ports are only part of the story. Basically most British infrastructure has been sold off to foreign entities with almost no effective government oversight and regulation. South East Water which supplies Faversham is owned by Utilities Trust of Australia (50%), Des Jardin Entities (25%), NatWest Pension Trustee Limited (25%).)


Timeline


The history of the swing bridge shows how little progress has been made actually to get results on restoring the bridge.


Abbreviations:

  • Department of Transport (DfT)

  • Faversham Creek Trust (FCT)

  • Faversham Society (FS)

  • Faversham Town Council (FTC)

  • Helen Whately MP (HW)

  • Kent County Council (KCC)

  • Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC)

  • Swale Borough Council (SBC)


1917 

“In 1917 … it was not entirely clear who was legally responsible for maintaining or, if need be, reinstating the bridge, the Navigation Commission, Borough Council and Faversham Rural District Council … clubbed together to seek Counsel’s Opinion on the matter … . On 15 October 1917 Counsel, Gerald F Hohler KC MP, who had been fully briefed about the bridge’s complicated history, gave his Opinion that the Navigation Commission was responsible for maintaining the bridge, for reinstating it in the event of damage or destruction by enemy action, and for keeping the highway over it in good repair.” 

[https://favershamcreektrust.wordpress.com/2011/10/] (The Faversham Navigation Commission was later absorbed by the Medway Ports Authority.)


1992

Medway Ports Authority was privatised and was originally sold off to a management and employee buy-out team called Medports Mebo Ltd. 


(Another scandal - In the early 1990s, as one of a new wave of harbour privatisations Medway Port was bought up by a group of venture capitalists, who promptly fired its union dock workers and replaced them with non-union and contract workers. The Medway management also forced the fired workers to sell back their shares—at only £2.50 per share. In 1993, Medway Ports agreed to be acquired by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, for the price of £37.25 per share. The dock workers sued Mersey for unfair dismissal. Mersey agreed to pay £10,000 to each of the 270 workers (this settlement did not address the share price issue).) 


1993

Medports Mebpo was bought out by the MDHC. 


2005

Peel Ports acquired MDHC.


2015

£125,000 was raised by the FCT through donations collected from the Faversham community to help fund a Swing Bridge for Faversham Basin. 


2016

In 2016 KCC made a promise to fund fixing the bridge and sluice gates supplementing the FCT offer. As well as the £125,000 from residents, FTC pledged funds £170,000, as did SBC £200,000. 


2018 – August 

HW wrote to Peel Ports: “I understand that Paul Carter, Chief Executive of Kent County Council, has written to you to ask for your support in getting the [Brent Swing Bridge] project off the ground. Whilst the funding raised to date goes a significant way to meeting costs, it is Peel Ports who hold responsibility for the functioning aspects of the bridge for instance.” 


2020 – September

HW, KCC, FTC, FS, FCT met to discuss progress restoring the swing bridge. HW made clear that she believes that Peel Ports had an obligation to keep the bridge and creek in good working order.  She has discussed the situation with the Maritime Minister, and he has written to Peel Ports Chief Executive about Faversham’s bridge and creek. HW confirmed to the group that she supports the bridge and creek being locally managed and operated in future, once they have been restored to good working order. 


2021


March 

Robert Courts, Maritime Minister, met with Peel Ports and agreed to convene a conversation between KCC and Peel Ports to agree a way forward.  HW, KCC, FTC, FS, FCT met. KCC reported that they have completed most of the highways design work. 


June 

Peel Ports reported (later) that: “In June 2021, Robert Courts MP (then Minister for Aviation, Maritime & Security), asked KCC to work with the relevant parties on their proposals for the Creek and the Bridge.”


November 

Peel Ports reported (later) it had met with FTC representatives in November 2021. In this meeting, it provided proposal documents sent to KCC in May 2019.


December 

HW, KCC, FTC, FS, FCT discussed progress since their last meeting in June. FTC said the Secretary of State has the power to issue an Abatement Notice under section 43 of the Medway Ports Act 1973 to compel the party with obligations to maintain this bridge, sluice gates and associated works so as to permit navigation again. FTC has written to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him to issue this notice. HW will press the Secretary of State to take this course of action. Money currently pledged by KCC, SBC, and FTC and raised from the community by the FCT, is not enough to cover the cost of restoring the bridge. Peel Ports has to play its part to get the bridge back into working order, this would go a long way towards plugging the funding gap for making the creek basin usable again. 


2022


January 

The Faversham Eye observed: “Despite having our “can do” MP Helen Whately at the helm of the Creek Swing Bridge Steering Group which comprises of members of the FTC, KCC, the Faversham Society and the Faversham Creek Trust, very little progress appears to being made towards a resolution with Peel Ports of how or when the replacement bridge will be in place and the sluice gates working in a nicely dredged basin usable basin. Unfortunately, the group meets in secrecy and produces no minutes, just an occasional press release saying blandly that ‘progress is being made’. Never any useful detail.”


June 

Minutes of the meeting of the FS recorded that Board of Trustees recorded that HW is pursuing the Minister to pursue an Abatement Notice against Peel Ports in order to procure the money for the bridge


2023


May 

kentonline reported “campaigners are demanding action over a long-broken bridge at Faversham Creek, which they say will bring life back to the town once it is restored”. “Residents claim Peel Ports is dodging its responsibility to maintain Faversham’s waterways, likening their efforts to “beating your head against a brick wall.” FTC councillors, met with Peel Port’s lawyer who “was really trying to fob us off … he probably thought Faversham Town Council would be some bunch of yokels who didn’t know what we were talking about”. FTC has also written to the Department for Transport (DfT) asking them to pressure Peel into securing a new bridge. 


September 

HW, KCC, FTC, FS, FCT met to discuss progress restoring the swing bridge. HW made clear that she believes that Peel Ports had an obligation to keep the bridge and creek in good working order. She has discussed the situation with the Maritime Minister, and he has written to Peel Ports Chief Executive about Faversham’s bridge and creek. She confirmed to the group that she supports the bridge and creek being locally managed and operated in future, once they have been restored to good working order. 


November 

kentonline reported that a petition, signed by more than 1,500 people, was delivered to the DfT by Faversham Creek campaigners ramp up fight to force Peel Ports to fix town’s swing bridge. Mayor of Faversham Cllr Trevor Martin said: “They're saying they want a business case for doing the work - our advice is that it’s their responsibility to do the work, but obviously they’re a commercial enterprise and they’re looking at how they might be able to make some money out of it. But the right of navigation is much like a highway or public right of way - you have a responsibility to maintain and therefore just as KCC has to maintain highways and footpaths so too does Peel Ports to maintain the right of navigation for the waterway. HW told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “The next step is proving once and for all that Peel Ports are responsible for the working bridge.” DfT said: “We’re aware of the importance of the Faversham Creek Bridge to the local community and are supporting efforts to resolve the issue.”


December 

HW, KCC, FTC, FS, FCT discussed Government funding opportunities that may be available to help fund some of the necessary works and they plan to meet again in the New Year. KCC updated on their ongoing discussions with the Department for Transport to find a way to restore the bridge to full working order. HW was going to schedule a meeting with the new Maritime Minister, Lord Davies of Gower, to continue making the case that Peel Ports must play its part in this. Also, HW says she and local campaigners are determined that Peel Ports should pay for the repairs, and are asking for the DfT’s help to make that happen.


2024


February 

Meeting at the DfT with HW and representatives of FTC, FS, FCT, and KCC.


April 

Both Peel Ports and KCC have submitted their evidence about ownership of the bridge to the DfT, which says it could not settle the question of ownership. The DfT recommended that KCC and FTC agree to find lawyers to arbitrate the ownership, and secure agreement from Peel Ports for this approach. If agreed, a King’s Counsel with maritime expertise would consider both positions and make a decision, which would be binding.


It will be recalled that:

  • In 1917: “Counsel, Gerald F Hohler KC MP gave his Opinion that the [Faversham] Navigation Commission was responsible for maintaining the bridge … and for keeping the highway over it in good repair.” (The Faversham Navigation Commission was absorbed by the Medway Ports Authority which was sold to Medports Mebo Ltd. This was bought out by the MDHC which was acquired by Peel Ports.)

  • In 2018 HW wrote to Peel Ports stating: “It is Peel Ports who hold responsibility for the functioning aspects of the bridge.” 

  • In 2021 FTC said the Secretary of State has the power to issue an Abatement Notice under section 43 of the Medway Ports Act 1973 to compel the party with obligations to maintain this bridge, sluice gates and associated works so as to permit navigation again.


THE EYE’S CONCLUSION


The DfT’s position is hard to understand. 

  • Firstly, this is not question of ownership, it is one of responsibility to maintain in working order. 

  • Secondly, if ownership is disputed then are KCC and Peel Ports both saying that they don’t own the bridge.

  • Thirdly, why should KCC and FTC appoint and (presumably) pay for KC’s arbitration, particularly as the DfT says it is their responsibility to secure Peel Ports’ agreement to this approach.

An explanation might be that the Conservative government simply does not want to stand up to largely foreign owned infrastructure companies. And that it wants to kick the problem down the road until after the election.


 

By Daniel Esson, Local Democracy Reporting Service


3 April 2024


An intervention by central government may help to resolve a row over the transformation of a dilapidated town bridge in Kent.


The swing bridge over Faversham Creek has been out of action for several years.

Kent County Council (KCC) and the local port authority, Peel Ports, have been locked in a dispute over who owns the bridge and who should foot the bill to fix the structure.

Now, following an intervention from the Department for Transport (DfT), the two could be set for arbitration over the issue.


Campaigners had presented a petition to DfT in November, signed by 1,500 people, calling for the return of the swing bridge.


After a meeting in February the DfT recommended that KCC and the town council agree to find lawyers to arbitrate the ownership, and secure agreement from Peel Ports for this approach.


If agreed, a King’s Counsel with maritime expertise would consider both positions and make a decision, which would be binding, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

In 2019, £1.54m was raised between residents, the Faversham Creek Trusts and local councils to erect a new swing bridge.


However, the total cost of the project was estimated by KCC at between £2.5m – £3m, so the replacement was never secured.


A Peel Ports spokesperson said: “KCC owns (and has responsibility for) the public highway, and our team in Sheerness has been liaising with them on their ambitions for Faversham Bridge since 2018."


KCC said it was unable to comment when approached.


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