Hello? Earth to steering group: is anybody listening?

From: Hilary Whelan

I am one of the moderators of this site. When I put up posts as Visions of a Creek I make every effort to be even-handed when reporting events or raising issues for debate. This is not one of those posts. This is a personal view.

For many months now, people have been voicing their concerns about lack of consultation over the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan. The response of the steering group developing the plan has been to plough on regardless, denying that there is a problem. They point to the May 2012 exhibition (and to the November 2012 “stakeholder” workshop) as evidence of how assiduously they are consulting. Group leader Nigel Kay says in a letter to a newspaper in January 2013 “the plan has not been drawn up yet, so there is nothing to consult on”. Time and time again we’ve been told to shut up and wait for the “illustrations exhibition”.

Posters advertising this exhibition are now appearing. And what’s on them? An illustration of the view across the creek from Front Brents, with three big, bulky four-storey blocks of flats crammed in, right up to the waterfront, on the site which currently houses the Wilkinson Sails business.

Poster for Neighbourhood Plan exhibition

These buildings loom oppressively over the creek at a point where the channel is very narrow. They box in Town Quay and are completely out of scale with TS Hazard and the other buildings there. They are equally out of scale with, and overlook, the attractive Victorian terrace on the opposite bank.

They destroy a pleasing oasis, where many visitors get their first view of the creek; where people come to stroll or sit on the grassy banks opposite, enjoying the open aspect across the creek to low buildings set well back from the water, an interesting roofscape, the distinctive spire of St Mary’s church – all of which will be lost if this development is allowed to proceed.

You wouldn’t know this from looking at the poster, though. It shows “before” and “after” images, but the “before” images are of a completely different part of the creekside. It does not show an honest contrast between the view of the proposed development and the view it would replace.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Read the feedback from the May 2012 consultation event. Make a note of the number of people – including those who were prepared to accept the concept of “mixed development” – who said  (1) employment should take precedence and housing should be confined to sites unsuitable for employment use, (2) employment and residential use should be kept separate, not combined on the same site, (3) any development should be small-scale, low-rise, in keeping with its surroundings, and (4) no large blocks of flats.

What do we see here? Large blocks of flats on a site which is not merely suitable for employment use but is actually being used for that purpose right now.

The drawings for this exhibition are said to be “indicative” only, and I have not seen the others – but how can the steering group even consider a development of this kind on this site, given the comments made at the May exhibition? Did the members of the group ever seriously evaluate the feedback and incorporate it into the development of the plan? There is no record of this in the minutes of their meetings. Was the feedback presented and discussed at the “stakeholder” event? There is no record of this in the report.

Inviting people to an exhibition is not consultation. It only becomes consultation if you then take account of what those people say. On the evidence of the poster illustration, the May 2012 exhibition – the only public event that’s been held in almost two years since the Neighbourhood Plan first got the go-ahead – was not a consultation.

Can we trust this steering group? Can we have any confidence that anything we say will make a blind bit of difference?

Go the exhibition anyway. See what you think. Say what you think. And say it loudly, so it can’t be ignored.

10 thoughts on “Hello? Earth to steering group: is anybody listening?

  1. Brian Caffarey

    Jill – you are going to be able to vote in a referendum, for heaven’s sake! Surely, even Dr Goodwin thinks that’s democratic! You don’t often get the chance to vote on a specific Government or local government proposal, so make the most of it.

    As for people all around you being ‘horrified’, I think you must be talking only to a like-minded group of people. I don’t see the 14,000 plus electors of Faversham jumping up and down. Why assume that they are all obsessed by the Creek or that they share your views? The fact that so few new voices have come onto this website should tell you something.

    1. Hilary Whelan

      Brian, being able to vote for two unacceptable alternatives – either a Neighbourhood Plan that you believe to be based on the wrong assumptions, or no plan at all – isn’t much of a choice. And if Jill is talking to like-minded people, that may be because there’s rather a lot of like-minded people about.

      Of course not everyone in Faversham shares the same views. Inevitably, there are people with a particular interest in the creek, who live and work and spend time in the area, who want to make use of the waterway – let’s call them “stakeholders” , even though the Neighbourhood Plan steering group doesn’t seem to think of them in that way – and they will have more to say than those who don’t have any such interests. But so they should. And don’t assume they are few in number.

      Not everyone has the time – or the confidence – to post comments on open websites like this one. But the site statistics show that hundreds of people are following the posts here and on the Visions of a Creek Facebook page, and many are sharing them on their own Facebook pages. And don’t forget that the Faversham Creek Trust has hundreds of paid-up members and its membership is growing. Or that in 2011 almost 1200 people signed a petition asking Swale Borough Council to protect maritime industry at Standard Quay. That’s a lot of people in a town of this size – an awful lot more than the hundred or so who ticked the “mixed development” box at the May 2012 Neighbourhood Plan exhibition, on which the steering group has based its claim that “most people are in favour of mixed development” on the creekside.

      If there are lots of people of like mind to you, Brian, where are they? They have repeatedly been invited to post on this website, but very few have done so.

      1. Brian Caffarey

        Well, you need to convince your democratically-elected representatives that the assumptions behind the NP are wrong – but you don’t seem willing to articulate your own proposals.

        As for posting on this site, unless you’re a fully paid-up member of the Creek ‘lobby’ you have to be a bit of a masochist to put your head above the parapet. Look at the abuse heaped on the Faversham Society and Visit Kent, for example, because they didn’t follow the ‘party line’.

        I’ve never claimed that there are lots of people of like mind to me. I simply don’t know, although I am confident that public access to the Creek would be a high priority for most people if they thought about it. (Not surprisingly, this is rarely mentioned by the Creek ‘lobby’, mainly because of vested interests but also because some seem to see public access as potentially interfering with boat building/repair.) I suspect that quite a lot of people fall into the middle ground: they want to see the Creek regenerated but they wouldn’t see why it has to be the sole preserve of the maritime heritage enthusiasts. And, if they got as far as thinking about the implications of the fact that nearly all of the Creek-side is in private hands and of the planning framework, they might begin to wonder about how realistic some of the ‘visions’ are.

  2. Ian Williams

    Look on the bright side. When you come to challenge the pre-ordained decision on the grounds that the consultation was a sham, this is evidence gold. If those concerned have any sense (not guaranteed) they’ll be reading this, will realise the game’s up and negotiate. If not, it could prove expensive for them in costs and reputation.

  3. Anna

    I am very conscious that I now live in Waterside Close. When we moved here from London, it was to look after my very poorly Mum and Dad and the property both fulfilled their then quite extensive medical needs but it also excited us as we loved all aspects of the creek and the magnificent Thames barges. Leaving London was a big wrench but the creek offered massive compensations. We had no idea that our development had already upset the local people and we were left in no doubt that the Noddy house dwellers were not really welcomed by the people in Faversham.

    I can understand why, Faversham and its creek has something very special, a historically unique place, and I feel saddened that I was unwittingly part of spoiling it. I can’t change what has already happened, but I did rather hope to make amends by ensuring the maritime heritage of the creek would continue. The Neighbourhood Plan is meant to involve us all, I foolishly thought and hoped that there would be a unanimity of opinion.. But it would seem that it is a forlorn hope, we are being quite systematically and determinedly excluded from all processes. I really can’t work out why. Either the people at the helm had no idea what to do and just let things drift along until timetables panicked them into action, or the developers always had a firm idea of what they wanted and a very detailed plan of how to set about getting what they want. Maybe it is just a horrible and unworkable mish mash of the two. Whatever, we are now in a precarious position. The cynic in me says that the developers cultivated supporters in the right areas, and that Faversham town Council, the Faversham Society etc have, naively perhaps,played into the developers hands. It is the developers visions of big profits that are driving events, not a vision of how Faversham can develop its assets to full potential.

    There is time to turn this around, but we do need to work together. Please can we start afresh? We need each other, we don’t need the endless squabbles, nit picking arguments and petty hostilities. Hilary has very succinctly laid the problems before us. Please don’t ignore us, future generations will not thank us if we behave like Philistines and throw away the towns rightful heritage. Together, we can Save Our Sails.

    1. Sue Cooper

      Very well said Anna. It is time to start afresh before it is too late. Lets hope the exhibition on the 8th will contain the opportunity for us to put forward more ideas than those that seem to be represented on the poster. I just hope that there is time in the process for these ideas to be looked at and that the June 8th exhibition will not simply be a tick box exercise. Whatever form the feedback form takes I think it is down to us to somehow use it to put forward constructive ideas and resist ticking boxes that might lead to further unnecessary compromise of the Creek’s future. It would be a real financial disaster if the process keeps chugging along eating money for another year and is then voted against – but if it continues to contain nothing but what the developers want anyway, I personally can’t see the point in voting for it.

    2. Brian Caffarey

      Anna – I suggest you can start making amends by ceasing your attempts to block public access to the Creek at Faversham Reach and Waterside Close. Do you really think that people prefer to trudge all the way round Faversham Reach, the Brent Industrial Estate and Waterside Close instead of following the Creek-side? If there’s one thing, surely, that most residents and visitors want who venture down to the Creek it is to be able to see it and walk round it as far as possible.

      On a separate topic, I find it incredible that so many, presumably sensible, people are willing to believe that a Town Council Steering Group has jumped into bed with the ‘developers’. It’s just insulting and silly. Of course the Group has talked to landowners, including the Creek Trust. It would be mad if they hadn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the Group is in their pocket.

      Why not just go to the exhibition and see what’s there instead of attempting to pre-judge it on the basis of a poster which no one has suggested represents a firm proposal?

  4. jillholderw

    If it was possible, as in my opinion it should be, I would be proposing a vote of ‘no confidence’ in this neighbourhood plans. It is not a neighbourhood plan but a developer’s plan because those are the only people who have been properly consulted. No-one asked me to submit any plans, nor did they listen to anything I have said. I see, all around me, people who are horrified by the result of this initiative which was intended to give local people the right to have their views not only heard but TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT. I am in the process of formulating a letter to government.
    It is exactly this sort of experience, when commitees, and councils and money are are allowed to ride rough shod over not only the people’s wishes, But also all obvious community benefits that engenders the feeling of disfranchisement and helplessness that renders a neighbouhood uncared for.
    Why should I not drop rubbish, not allow my dog to foul pavements, not post flyers, post graffitti, swear in the street, drive madly act drunkenly or disrespect others. It is pride in myself and for the area I live in (make that as big a place as you like) that moderates my behaviour. Take that pride away as these very few speculators seem hell bent on doing, and why should I care any more?
    Why should I vote?
    Why should I not become totally selfish?


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