The agenda for the next meeting of Swale Borough Council’s Cabinet, on 11 March, includes a report recommending that the Cabinet should approve the allocation of £200,000 capital funding from the Council’s reserves, as a contribution to fund the works required to replace the Faversham Creek swing bridge. This would be subject, quite reasonably, to various practical and technical considerations – but also, inexplicably, to “approval of the Neighbourhood Plan”. The meaning of this (approval by whom?) and the rationale for including it as a condition remain unclear.
While this report suggests that funding is somehow dependent on the Neighbourhood Plan, without explaining why, the management group of the Faversham Creek Consortium (chaired by Councillor Cosgrove, who is the Cabinet Member for Regeneration referred to in the report) said exactly the opposite. According to the minutes of their meeting in November 2014, they said it would be important that the independent examiner should be satisfied that there were credible plans to fund an opening bridge – ie, that the Neighbourhood Plan depended on there being funding in place for the bridge, not the other way around.
The references to the Neighbourhood Plan elsewhere in the report to Cabinet seem somewhat confused. Item 2.6 says that the plan “is currently being finalised and will then be submitted to DCLG by the end of February. It will then be subject to an independent examination and put to a referendum later in 2015.” This is puzzling, since the Neighbourhood Plan was supposed to have been finalised already (the submission draft which went out to consultation in November/December) and should not be altered without further consultation. It is also not clear what is meant by “submitted to the DCLG” (and, since we have heard nothing, we must assume that the end-February deadline has been missed).
The report later says (5.1) that in “early spring” the plan will be “examined by the external assessor to determine viability”. This is also unclear. If “external assessor” means “independent examiner”, then it is not correct to say it will be examined for viability. The examiner would examine only for compliance with the statutory requirements. If it does refer to a viability assessment, it’s a bit late – that should have been done before the last consultation.
It is now 11 weeks since the close of that consultation and the silence has been deafening. There has been no mention of the plan at subsequent meetings of Faversham Town Council, the body responsible for it, and it is not on the agenda for the meeting next Monday (9 March). Isn’t it about time the council told its electorate what is going on?