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.
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.