An exhibition at the Alexander Centre on Saturday 31 May (9:30am-4pm) will be offering a different vision for the future of Faversham Creek. The exhibition has been organised by the Brents Community Association, the Faversham Creek Trust and BMM Weston (with Clague Architects) under the banner LET’S MAKE THE CREEK WORK FOR FAVERSHAM. Its aim is to give the public a chance to consider alternative ideas that have not been included in the draft Neighbourhood Plan.
Sue Akhurst, who represents the Faversham Creek Trust on the Neighbourhood Plan steering group, says: “The last public consultation in June 2013 showed very little support for the steering group’s proposals. After that, membership was opened up to a wider range of organisations, including the Trust, and we hoped the debate would also be opened up to embrace a wider range of ideas, but it’s been very much business as usual and new input hasn’t been welcomed. The original steering group members have resisted any meaningful change of direction.”
The chair of the Brents Community Association (BCA), Angela Simmons, says: “Local people were complaining that there was nothing in the Neighbourhood Plan for them or for young people growing up in the area. The BCA wants to build a community centre and boatyard on the Creek Basin at Ordnance Wharf, alongside the Purifier Building so we can save costs and offer more activities by sharing facilities with the Faversham Creek Trust. We’ve discussed it with several agencies who are really excited about the project, keen to work with us, and confident that we’ll be able to get funding.”
“The steering group had worked closely with some of the creekside landowners to incorporate their development proposals into the Plan,” she explains, “so we thought they’d welcome the chance to work with a community group, but they refused1 and we were left to develop our ideas on our own. But at least we’ve had co-operation from the Creek Trust and BMM Weston, which is great. Our proposal is still in the draft Neighbourhood Plan, but it’s not the steering group’s preferred option and some members tried to get it removed altogether. The Plan says it wants to help people on the Brents, but the steering group’s proposed site uses don’t offer them anything.”
BMM Weston has also been looking to the future, as its site and buildings as presently configured are becoming increasingly unsuitable for modern manufacturing. The site is included in the Neighbourhood Plan, but the company’s needs have not been considered in depth by the steering group. The company supports the Faversham Creek Trust and BCA proposals for the future of the Creek Basin, and has worked with local architects Clague on development proposals for its site. These will be on display at the exhibition, and the architects will be asking the public for their comments.
GETTING THINGS DONE
“We’ve repeatedly been told by Nigel Kay and others that our plans for the future are unrealistic,” says Chris Wright, chair of the Faversham Creek Trust, “but since the steering group has never given them serious consideration, they’re not in a good position to judge. People have been talking about the Creek for decades, but we’re the ones who are actually raising money and inspiring volunteers, talking to stakeholders and getting things done. It’s rather offensive to suggest that we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Nigel Key’s argument that planning laws stand in the way of any kind of development other than housing is also challenged by Brenda Chester, who represents the BCA on the Neighbourhood Plan steering group: “This is just one interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework and not everyone agrees with it. We’ve studied the legislation and guidance documents, and looked at successful Neighbourhood Plans and the Independent Examiners’ reports on them, to see what lessons could be learned. We’re often better-informed than other members of the steering group. There were thousands of pounds’ worth of free advice on offer from Planning Aid [a government-funded service administered by the Royal Town Planning Institute] but the steering group failed to take full advantage of it because some of the members wouldn’t accept what the advisors were telling us.”
A MATTER OF CHOICE
The exhibition organisers deny that they are being divisive in proposing alternatives to the draft Neighbourhood Plan. They say that more alternatives should have been included in the official consultation so that members of the public could decide for themselves, pointing out that it’s a legal requirement2 of public consultations that options should still be open and the public should be given all the information necessary to make an informed choice.
“As members of the steering group, we tried very hard to collaborate in developing a Neighbourhood Plan that would work for everyone – but collaboration and goodwill work both ways,” says Brenda Chester. “The BCA and Creek Trust representatives put in hours and hours of work on drafting the Plan and the consultation programme. In the end the steering group agreed to a draft which represented different strategies and included at least some alternative options, but this decision was reversed at the last minute. The explanation of an alternative strategy, and all but one of the alternative options, were thrown out. That was the last straw for us, I’m afraid.”
The organisers are at pains to point out that they are not opposed to a Neighbourhood Plan for the Creek; in fact they are very much in favour. But they believe it should be an effective and imaginative plan that the whole community can buy into and be actively involved in. Since they were not invited to explain their ideas at the Town Council’s consultation events, they organised their own – but they are urging people to attend the Council’s events and fill in its questionnaire. They hope that, having seen alternative strategies for the regeneration of the Creek, people will be able to respond to the official consultation with a greater awareness of what the possibilities might be – and perhaps be inspired to come up with ideas of their own.
1“There was some discussion as to whether the Steering Group should work with community groups to explore the viability of the community boatyard option, but this was not approved.” (Minutes of Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group meeting, October 2013)
2 The Gunning/Sedley principles: consultation must be made at a time when proposals are at a formative stage; sufficient reasons for the proposal must be given to allow intelligent consideration and response; adequate time must be given for response; the product of the consultation must be conscientiously taken into account in finalising proposals. EU law (the Aarhus Convention) also says “the public concerned must be informed early in the process while all options are still open.”