Standard Quay planning appeal: a letter to the Secretary of State

This is the text of a letter sent to the Secretary of State by Griselda Mussett (unfortunately we couldn’t include the photographs referred to).

To send your own comments, you can
– write in triplicate to: Planning Inspectorate 3/09 Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square
Bristol BS1 6PN with Ref: APP/V2255/A/13/2202894
– email to teamp1@pins.gsi.gov.uk
– use the Planning Portal using Ref: APP/V2255/A/13/2202894
THE CLOSING DATE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS 16TH SEPTEMBER

To the Secretary of State: Dear Sir,

Standard Quay, Faversham
Reference: APP/V2255/A/13/2202894

1. I wish to support Swale Borough Council in their decision to refuse permission for the large black shed on Standard Quay, Faversham to be converted for use as a restaurant and art gallery.

2. My name is Griselda Cann Mussett, BA (Hons). I have lived in Abbey Street, Faversham since 1987, was the founder of the Friends of Faversham Creek in 1988 and first Chairman of the Faversham Creek Trust which was founded 2 years ago. I have been actively campaigning in the interests of the Creek for well over 30 years.

3. When my husband and I first arrived in Faversham with our young family to live, there was still regular active shipping trade on Standard Quay and other quays in the town, mostly importing grain, fertiliser, timber and the like. In addition, there was a thriving boat-building and boat-repair industry in the town, with many skilled craftsmen including shipwrights, riggers, sailmakers, block-makers, engineers, chandlers,  craneage, and other attendant maritime businesses.  We had historic but thriving maritime trades in the community.

4. With the downturns due to oil-price rises and recessions in the 1990s and later, the shipping business began to dwindle, and property developers moved in. Many of the town’s old industrial/milling/agricultural sites were converted to housing, including almost all the riparian sites. Standard Quay was unique in maintaining an active maritime trade within the urban envelope.  Although there were no more powered coastal ships, traditional barges and other wooden and historic vessels continued to make the Quay their base for moorings, repairs and over-wintering.  The black sheds were commonly used for storing sails, ropes, lines and other equipment, and as workshops.

5. The barges and other vessels came to Standard Quay because there was space for them, and a cluster of skilled traditional maritime craftsmen available to service them.  The vessels brought trade to the town. The craftsmen attracted more vessels.  The availability of these sought-after workmen was obviously also mutually sustained by their access to other boatyards in the area – Iron Wharf, Hollowshore, etc.   However, Standard Quay specialised in sailing barges and other wooden boats. These were frequently moored several deep along the quay – ie you would have to cross the decks of other boats to get to the outermost moored vessel. It was busy.

6. One vitally important feature of Standard Quay which brought barges here is the large flat open area between the black sheds and the water’s edge – the quay itself. This can be – and was – constantly used for sail dressing, timber storage, crane access (for swinging engines and other large pieces of equipment onto and off vessels), and more.  No other quay in the area has this space which I photographed in 2008.

Sail Dressing at Standard Quay 3rd April 2008.  This event was also captured on Google Satellite View.

7. This was all extremely attractive and interesting – not only picturesque but vivid and clearly of huge economic benefit to the town. From 1987 onwards till about 2 years ago when the ownership and management of Standard Quay changed, local tourism brochures always featured the Creek, and especially Standard Quay with its barges and black sheds. The Town Council, Faversham Society, Sheps’ brewery, KCC Tourist Department, Swale Economic Development Unit and others all recognized and actively promoted the town and the whole region using images of this small quay with all the barges there.  (Appended images to follow).

8. The black building (subject of this appeal) is of course in the Conservation Area and is one of a row of similar buildings, all put together in a rough and ready way, and – until the present owner took over – including some fascinating architectural quirks which he has removed and altered without consent.  Another building in the row – Baltic House – owned by the same person, has been converted during the last few weeks without planning consent or alcohol licence – into a wine bar.  The black building had various pieces of railway line which were incorporated as props or supports in past decades. These have now gone.  Some vital anti-flood walls at the north end have been cut through.  Inner wooden walls have vanished.  (See pictures below).  I do not think this owner is a careful custodian of this unique building, nor is he concerned with its heritage value. He is a shrewd businessman who wishes to make the maximum profit from his asset, without any conscience about the community’s vision or need, or indeed without respect for listed buildings, conservation areas, or the law.

9. It is a matter of regret that the Borough Council has not felt motivated to act in defence of the buildings and the quay against this owner’s damaging behaviour. We would like to see the buildings put back to how they were, the mooring rings reinstated (part of the curtilage). The owner will say he found the buildings in poor repair but my photo showing the sail-dressing argues against that, and his desire for a neat-and-tidy look is bound to be different from conditions in a working yard with machinery and stores to hand.

The removal of an iron railway track can be seen on the end of the building, and a cut made through the flood-defences at its base.

10. It is also a matter of regret – in fact it is scandalous – that there is no detailed Conservation Area Character Appraisal Report to inform the property owner, residents, councillors or planners in their responses to this application and other decisions around Standard Quay.  There is a simple written description put together twenty or more years ago, but it is seriously incomplete for this part of the town – for instance it makes no mention of a very early king-post house overlooking the Quay, abutting the old Abbey boundary wall.  At the very least, the Borough should have demanded that a full map-based Character Area Appraisal Report be prepared for this area, detailing the buildings, the surfaces, the materials, the continuity etc..  The close proximity and uninterrupted use of this quay along with the now-vanished Royal Abbey, the Abbey Farm, the underlying Roman villa and Celtic village complex, and the immense importance of the Faversham Conservation Area as a whole in its almost completely medieval setting in the meadows is of outstanding importance.  Almost nothing has been made of this, which is startling to say the least. The continuity of appearance, use and economic cannot be overstated. This is a world-class site. It requires the utmost sensitive handling, by the owner and by the Town and Borough – and so far, it has not had it.

11. The owner has applied in the past to convert another building on the Quay (the Granary Warehouse, once part of the lost Abbey of Faversham) for use as a restaurant. That application was refused partly on the grounds that members of the public, having taken drink, would be in danger on a working quayside with a 10-foot tidal drop, and with all the attendant temptations to trespass onto vessels.  The same dangers still apply, as I assume he will want to serve alcohol to his customers. Even though there are no longer a great cluster of boats on the quay, there remain a few hulks and houseboats, which are often unattended and thus even more dangerous should members of the public try to go aboard.

12. It has been stated by various people that Standard Quay was exclusively used for import/export, and not the building or maintenance of vessels.  While it is obviously the case that the quay has been extensively used for trade, this was not – as they claim – the only activity.  As you will no doubt have heard from local distinguished historians – especially Rev Richard Hugh Perks and Dr Arthur Percival (Hon Director of the Faversham Society), there is a long published history of vessels known to have been built ‘at the Standard’.  I here can show you two watercolours owned by Dr Charles Turner of Cambridge University and the Open University, which show boat-building at Standard Quay – these were painted by John Marten of Canterbury sometime before 1808.

and

These two images show the Creek before it was straightened by Telford in the 19thC, and show vessels in various states of construction and repair.  Some of the buildings can be identified – the Granary Warehouse, and Arden’s House in Abbey Street.  Hugh Perks has listed several hundred boats known to have been built at Standard Quay going back to the early 18thC.   I would also like to point out that the very name ‘Standard’ indicates great antiquity, perhaps going back to pre-Cinque Ports days, ie. a point of measurement or taxation. The fact that the water’s edge at Standard Quay (which has been improved and moved forward several times over the centuries) contains both a ‘hard’ and a soft edge alongside to the north, shows that the economic activity here was complex and flexible, but it was always maritime.

13. You will have heard from others about the SB Cambria being brought to Standard Quay for rebuilding – a contract worth £1.4m as reported in the papers. Apprentices were employed on this contract. This continued a tradition of skills-based work.  There are now only about 40 traditional ‘Thames’ sailing barges left; there were over 2,000 at the end of WWII. They have been likened to Grade I listed buildings for their beauty, economy, history, heritage and rarity. Faversham is the only remaining place on the south side of the Thames Estuary where these barges can find a home. The Creek Trust is working to reinstate shipwright training in Faversham so that there will continue to be skilled workers to repair them here and earn a good living.

14. I am told the local Fire Brigade have a plan that would bring them to Standard Quay in the event of a fire or other emergency, via Abbeyfields which lies about a half-mile or so to the east of the town. Access would be via a locked barrier, to which the Fire Brigade holds a key.  We are talking here of historic timber buildings, with plans to run a restaurant inside one of them. I cannot believe this does not pose an increased risk of fire and accident. And I believe this plan – for a diverted emergency  route via a locked gate – is also risky. If the Fire Brigade were to take a direct route from their station on Ashford Road, they would want to come down Abbey Street, which is itself a medieval and historic road filled with timber-framed buildings. At some points, Abbey Street is very narrow indeed – single file – and particularly during rush hours and school drop-off and pick-up times, there is solid congestion on many days.  Moreover, the main route through Faversham is a winding narrow awkward single pass – there are no alternatives which ‘get through’.   I append the figures from 2 simple traffic surveys which local residents conducted in Abbey Street earlier this year, showing how many vehicle movements there were in the street as a whole, and at the north end of the street on one day.  It is dangerous and foolhardy to deliberately open a restaurant in this location, attracting dozens – maybe hundreds – of people on a daily basis.

15. The Faversham Creek Trust (of which I am a Trustee) has been formed to continue the training of young shipwrights and to maintain the economic potential of the Creek, with all its attendant economic benefits for the town, borough and county. We could not do any other than object to the spoiling of a hugely significant building on such an important quay. The black shed with its quayside and curtilage offers a unique, rare, rough, available, flexible space. The planning application as submitted was so weak – with only one window for the restaurant (diners would be eating in a dark box), new windows in the upstairs art gallery (reducing hanging space for pictures), no disabled access for the gallery, internal alterations required which would seriously and permanently damage and diminish the building’s unique character, and originally an application for 96 car parking spaces around it, taking up the whole quay – that we continue to oppose it with all our might.  We hoped the Borough Council would acquire it, in order to maintain an effective maritime activity here, and not see it turned into a burger-bar and car-park.

16. It has also come to our attention that long-standing campaigners elsewhere on the Thames view Faversham – including this Quay and this building in particular – as key examples for the future of the Thames as a whole, because of the huge importance of small boatyards, history and heritage, blue-greening, and flood management. Lady Dido Berkeley of Thamesbank.org met the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, on 5th September 2013, to discuss the urgent need for the protection of the few remaining sites like this along the great river, among other topics.  The Minister heard how there is a need for a  Thames Marine Heritage Waterway Plan (World Heritage Sites).  The Minister’s agreed statement before the meeting said ‘The management of the Thames is a complex issue, involving many bodies. He said he would be happy to discuss Thamesbank’s recommendations with the Mayor’s office and explore the potential for wider coordination….’  etc.   I think the decision for Standard Quay should be aligned with the emerging thinking, which is to protect the maritime heritage, including the care and protection of such buildings and quays as are necessary in each situation.  Thus, buildings which were in maritime use should not be allowed to change use until all maritime uses have been explored – they are in effect blue-field sites, and not brownfield sites.

17.  Water management and better flood control were also on the agenda for the meeting with the Minister – and this site is subject to tidal flood, making it another reason for dismissing the application. It is completely suitable to be a boatyard and quay. It is not suitable to be a restaurant.

18. We have here a history going back into Roman times and through the Dark Ages, and including the defence of the realm (Cinque Ports, gunpowder export from Elizabethan times through the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars to WWI, naval shipbuilding on the opposite bank at Pollocks Shipyard), and all the trading  and fishing history of the country, all in one tiny Creek. This Quay encompasses the whole history. It is unique. It is very small, very special, very important.  It is the last one remaining in the country. The whole of the townspeople – witnessed by many many public meetings – is against the idea of this planning proposal for a restaurant. We want to see the Quay taken back into maritime use. The present owner is not apparently interested in doing that  – his mooring fees are prohibitive and he bans the use of the quayside for any kind of storage or workspace.  But why should one solitary person’s financial intent ruin something of national – and arguably international – interest?

19. It is for these reasons that I object to the restaurant and I urge you, Sir, to do the same.

Yours sincerely,

Griselda Mussett

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