At their meeting on 11 March, the Swale Borough Council cabinet members considered a proposal to allocate £200,000 capital funding from reserves as a contribution to the cost of replacing the opening bridge on Faversham Creek – subject to a number of conditions, one of which is the success of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Cllr Cosgrove, who put forward the proposal, said that the bridge was specifically mentioned in the Neighbourhood Plan, and that SBC, as the planning authority, needed assurance that other aspects of the plan (footpaths, better mooring places to work on vessels) are in place as well. [It is unclear why an opening bridge needs footpaths.]
Cllr Tollhurst (who, as leader of the Labour group at SBC is entitled to speak at Cabinet meetings, but is not a member of the cabinet and does not have a vote) noted that Cllr Cosgrove had been given a rough ride on this issue by the public at the Faversham Local Engagement Forum the previous week, and it was clear that residents were concerned about it. He asked about procedural matters, and also about the cabinet’s response to the English Heritage letter about the Neighbourhood Plan.
Cllr Cosgrove said
– Cllr Tollhurst was new in his post and had not had time to see how the Neighbourhood Plan fit with Swale’s local plan.
– Trevor Payne, a fellow Labour councillor, was a supporter of the Neighbourhood Plan.
– Swale’s planning department is in consultation with English Heritage. [It is unclear why this should be so, since Swale has no authority to alter the content of the Neighbourhood Plan.]
– The English Heritage letter was written by a new and very junior member of staff who had not really read the Neighbourhood Plan. [This is disputed.]
– English Heritage had made comments about footpaths, but had no statutory authority over footpaths. [Nor does Swale Borough Council or Faversham Town Council.]
He was unable to answer Cllr Tollhurst’s question on procedural matters.
Cllr Henderson (leader of the Independent group) noted that the bridge project has widespread support in Faversham, and that we are not asking for a new facility but for reinstatement of an existing facility (ie, we already have an opening bridge but it is not working). He agreed that funding should be subject to certain practical conditions, but not the condition involving the Neighbourhood Plan. He said the plan depends on the bridge, not vice-versa. [Curiously, this was also Cllr Cosgrove’s view as recently as last November, as can be seen in paragraph 6 of the minutes of the Faversham Creek Consortium, which Cllr Cosgrove chairs.]
Cllr Lewin (Cabinet member for Planning) said the Local Plan was set by the local authority [Swale]; the Neighbourhood Plan was set by a group which perhaps was not the local authority, and it was not theirs to direct what should happen. [The legislation in fact requires Neighbourhood Plans to be set up by parish councils/communities and not to be directed by the planning authority.]
Cllr Bowles (leader of the Council and chair of the Cabinet) said that Swale Borough Council is not responsible for highways (they are the responsibility of Kent County Council) and would not recommend spending a large sum on a highways scheme. The only reason for funding the bridge was as part of a regeneration scheme, and this depended on mooring and clearing the upper basin. [There is in fact no suggestion that SBC should contribute to the highways aspect of the bridge – ie, the road/pedestrian crossing – which is fully funded by Kent County Council.]
Cllr Bowles seconded Cllr Cosgrove’s proposal, including the Neighbourhood Plan condition, and praised Cllr Cosgrove effusively for his work on this project. Cllr Cosgrove said he was touched.
The Cabinet unanimously voted to approve the funding allocation, subject to completion of a feasibility study and all the stated conditions, including the Neighbourhood Plan.