Despite encouraging signs from the well-attended Faversham Town Council meeting on 28 October, the steering group’s latest site use proposals have not been stopped in their tracks. They are still being accepted as the basis for future development, even though they are little more than a written description of the illustrations at the June exhibition, which met with such an overwhelmingly negative response from the public.
The consultant Tony Fullwood, in resigning from the steering group, recognised that there was an unbridgeable gap between his 2010 report – upon which the Neighbourhood Plan was explicitly based – and the consultation feedback. But no-one else seems to have acknowledged this. There have been no fundamental changes of direction, just a few minor tweaks.
Even if more of the community’s wishes are eventually bolted on, can a workable plan – one that will win public support at referendum – ever be built on the existing foundations? Growing numbers of people are saying no – this plan needs to start again from scratch, on a radically different basis.
This is not out of the question. Although the steering group has been meeting for two years, the statutory part of the neighbourhood planning process has not yet begun.
Stand back for a moment and ask: what is it for?
The usual answer: to protect the creek from uncontrolled development. That is open to question (a good plan is better than no plan, but a bad plan may be worse) but, more importantly, it is negative. A powerful, effective, popular plan must be positive. To win community buy-in, it must offer the community something it can buy into, a clear and explicit objective with demonstrable benefits. It must not be apologetic: it must be confident and bold.
So here, to start the ball rolling, is an overview of one possible alternative approach, taking the consultation feedback as a starting point rather than an optional extra – and adopting a can-do attitude, seeing where planning legislation supports what the public is asking for, rather than using it as an excuse to say no. What do you think? Comments, ideas, please.
A NEW NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN FOR FAVERSHAM CREEK
The objective of this plan is the regeneration of Faversham Creek and the Port of Faversham through sustainable development of the maritime heritage industry, the creative sector, and tourism.
It carries forward, updates and strengthens the saved Local Plan AAP2, which has widespread and durable popular support that is consistently reflected in feedback from consultations. It recognises that, if AAP2 has so far largely failed to deliver regeneration, this is because uncertainties encouraged owners of key waterfront sites to hold out hope for a change in policy that would allow more lucrative housing development. This plan therefore makes clear that these waterfront sites will not be designated for residential use within the foreseeable future, but will be designated for uses of greater public benefit which they are uniquely able to support.
The plan builds on the proven successes of barge repair and maintenance businesses of the kind which operated at Standard Quay for two decades and for which there is continuing demand; on the Faversham Creek Trust’s work on the development of a shipwright apprenticeship scheme and related activities; on Faversham’s established heritage-based tourist industry and its Cinque Port status; on its growing creative sector, centred on the Creek Creative initiative – and on developments to deliver an opening bridge and improve navigation, which are outside the remit of neighbourhood planning but are being progressed in parallel.
In addition to enabling the regeneration of maritime heritage industry, the plan provides for the proven visitor appeal of Thames barges and other traditional vessels, and the well-attested regenerative power of the creative sector, to be linked in synergy with town centre, countryside and food and drink attractions, creating a unique and compelling tourism offer with which other towns cannot compete.
Given that its footprint is both a high flood risk zone and an important conservation area with many listed buildings and other significant heritage assets, the plan is compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework which requires new development to be directed away from the areas of highest flood risk, and requires the protection and enhancement of heritage assets and their significance and setting.
The plan makes good use of the existing built environment, including listed buildings and heritage assets, with some sympathetic modifications and a few low-rise, appropriate, water-compatible additions. It does not involve large-scale construction work with a high risk of structural damage to existing buildings, or tall buildings of inappropriate scale which will crowd the waterfront, severely damage the setting of heritage assets, and may require unacceptable flood-risk mitigation measures.
A Neighbourhood Plan cannot specify less housing than the existing Local Plan, but since AAP2 determines that there should be no housing at all, there is no statutory requirement for housing in this plan. It is nevertheless more generous than AAP2, and allows for at least 50 residential units in areas behind the waterfront, where they will not compromise maritime activity and will be at less risk of flooding. This may be fewer than the 106 units suggested in Swale’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, but the small deficit is trivial and could readily be accommodated on sites elsewhere which have less risk of flooding, will not damage heritage assets, are less likely to be used for second homes with no net contribution to housing supply, and offer better opportunities for affordable housing, which is by far the biggest element of housing need in Swale.
The plan is in compliance with the emphasis on employment growth in Swale Borough Council’s emerging Local Plan.
In addition to commercial activities, the plan will regenerate the creek as an amenity for residents. A community boatyard will create a focal point, give access to the creek for water-based activities, and provide activity and learning opportunities for young people and adults, particularly those in a nearby residential area with low income and high unemployment.
Protection of valued green spaces will maintain an attractive natural environment and provide wildlife areas and educational resources for children. Public spaces will be available for indoor and outdoor events, including water-based activities and festivals.
Barges and other creekside attractions will benefit residents as well as visitors. The emphasis will be on pedestrian access to maintain links with the town centre and minimise increases in vehicle traffic. Access to the waterfront is an important part of the plan, with a creekside walkway wherever possible, but insistence on a continuous walkway all around the creek, although popular in principle, is considered impractical. This and other “streetscape” improvements are not the public’s top priority, and do not justify large-scale housing development in order to fund them from (unquantified) developer contributions.
Viability and deliverability
This plan will make a realistic contribution to the housing supply, relative to the size and character of the area. The combination of existing and new housing, together with industrial and commercial regeneration, will create a well-balanced and workable development mix. The active commercial use of waterfront sites – without the need to incur the high costs of large-scale development on land which is poorly suited to it – will deliver a fair return to landowners, and thus satisfy objective viability criteria in accordance with the NPPF. The expansion of the tourism industry, a mainstay of Faversham’s economy, will potentially at least double visitor revenues for businesses throughout the town. A community-led approach to sustainable development will draw in public support and “ownership” of the plan, attracting voluntary activities and funding which will further help to ensure deliverabilty.
This plan is in accordance with feedback from public consultations, and opens up exciting and innovative opportunities for a sustainable, creek-based regeneration with demonstrable economic, social and environmental benefits for local residents and the entire town.