At the last steering group meeting, on 12 September, four new members joined the group:
Chris Wright, representing the Faversham Creek Trust
Brenda Chester, representing the Brents Community Association
Kirsty Northwood, representing the Faversham Traders Group
Janice Hennessey, representing the Faversham Creek Management Company [Belvedere Road/Provender Walk residents].
Other organisations had been invited to join: the Faversham Society, landowners and Shepherd Neame had not yet responded, while FATA (Faversham Area Tourism Association) said it would prefer to attend on an ad hoc basis if tourism-related issues were on the agenda.
The Mayor of Faversham, David Simmons, who had previously attended meetings as an observer, also became a full member of the group.
Chairman Nigel Kay emphasised the importance of the expanded group to enable as many voices as possible to be heard, and to make the community feel involved in the development of the Plan. But this apparently did not go so far as allowing the voices of the public to be heard during steering group meetings.
The group was set up as a statutory committee of the Town Council and thus is bound by the council’s standing orders. This means that the only votes that count are those of the town councillors in the group, and that members of the public can only ask questions before the meeting; for the rest of the time they are supposed to sit and listen in silence. Questions arising from one meeting can be asked later in writing, or in person before the next meeting, but this is a slow and cumbersome process.
There have been repeated requests for more meaningful engagement with the public, with questions and discussion during and after a meeting, and at the 12 September meeting, Brenda Chester proposed that the procedures should be changed. She said that research into other Neighbourhood Plan areas and advice from the Neighbourhood Planning team at the DCLG showed that steering groups do not need to be statutory town council committees; they can – and in the best cases do – have more relaxed and open arrangements. But the group voted 6:4 against her proposal.