Category Archives: Neighbourhood Plan

Let’s talk about the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan

A quiz

Who has put it on record that they are unhappy with “incompatible juxtaposition of residential and industrial uses which would likely result in an unacceptably low level of amenity” and would be “likely to give rise to adverse pressure on existing businesses in the vicinity to change their methods of working, which could negatively affect their viability”, and with an “unacceptable loss of business use in an area [Faversham creekside] which is characterised by industrial and maritime uses and has historically suffered from under-provision of employment uses and an over-provision of dwellings”?

Is it (a) the Confederation of British Industry, (b) aggressive and unreasonable Creek activists, or (c) Swale Borough Council?

A slight delay

During the preparation of the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan, “too late” was the constant refrain whenever it was suggested that alternative proposals should be explored in response to consultation feedback, or when there were calls to pause and reconsider. There was to be no delay, we were told, not even if an extra couple of weeks might have made all the difference to the soundness of the plan – a case of better never than late.

And yet, in summer 2014 we had to wait three months after the close of the pre-submission consultation, before a frantic rush to revise the plan and get it out for next stage of consultation. That consultation closed on 22 December, and now there has been another two months of silence.

The plan was supposed to have been submitted to an Independent Examiner by the end of January. We understand, from responses to enquiries by members of the public, that this has been delayed “slightly” and that an Examiner has not even been appointed yet. This could result in further delays; the usual advice is to start getting an Examiner lined up as soon as the plan goes out for consultation.

What will be sent to the Examiner?
There have been concerns about the form in which responses to the last consultation would be sent to the Examiner, since SBC had said they would be summarised. In response to enquiries, it has now been confirmed that the full original representations will be sent to the Examiner along with the summaries.

SBC says that all the representations will be made public in a Word document. This will be a table which includes a reference number; name and/or organisation of respondent; whether it is a support, object or comment; the full representation and the summary of the representation. The document will be available on the SBC website, and Faversham Town Council will be asked to place it on the Neighbourhood Plan website.

This will not, however be done until the representations have been sent to the Examiner. But the consultation closed two months ago, so there has been plenty of time to compile the information, which is (or should be) in the public domain. Why can it not be put on the websites now, so we can all see it?

All at SEA
We also understand that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which is a legal requirement, has not yet been completed. The SEA should evaluate the impact of the plan’s proposals on the environment (this includes heritage as well as the natural environment) in consultation with statutory bodies including English Heritage and Natural England.

The government’s Planning Practice Guidance, which accompanies the NPPF, says that at an early stage in the development of the plan it should be established whether an SEA is needed. If so, it should be prepared alongside the plan as an integral part of the process, so that the environmental impact of different options can be compared, with the outcome being a factor in the decision on which options should be chosen.

When the final version of a plan is submitted to the local authority, it must be accompanied by either a statement saying it does not need an SEA and explaining why, or a full Environmental Report plus a “non-technical summary” (ie, in layman’s terms). These should be among the documents put out for consultation.

Fatal blow
The importance of the SEA is illustrated by the fact that the only Neighbourhood Plan so far to have failed at Examination (Slougham) did so because its SEA was unsatisfactory. It had other flaws too, but these might have been overcome with amendments advised by the Examiner; the SEA was the fatal blow, since it is a statutory requirement and there was nothing the Examiner could do to fix it.

The Slougham plan did at least have an SEA of some form. Ours has nothing at all, even though it has long been accepted that it would need one. This is on record as far back as February 2012, and was confirmed at a steering group meeting in February 2014 when the first draft of the plan was being worked on, but still nothing was done.

A member of the public who enquired about our SEA last November was told it would be “available shortly”, but nothing appeared. Three months later, it is apparently still “not quite ready”.

Ready or not, it is difficult to see the logic of carrying out an SEA at this stage of the process. By definition, it cannot have been used to inform the choices made during the drafting of the plan. There can be no comparison of alternative options. It was not available during the consultation period, so the public and other consultees have had no opportunity to comment on it.

Transparency?
This all cries out for an explanation, but nothing is forthcoming from either SBC or Faversham Town Council. What little information we have has emerged from enquiries by individuals – but we shouldn’t have to ask. This is a Neighbourhood Plan, and the neighbourhood is entitled to know what is happening.

After the Town Council had agreed the final draft of the plan (apart from the bits that were added or amended later when no-one was looking), the steering group was formally “suspended” – but it was not dissolved. It should be brought back, so that all the representative members as well as the general public can find out what’s going on and be involved in it.

Shut that door!

When this website was set up, nearly two years ago, one of the biggest concerns about the Neighbourhood Plan amongst members of the public was that meetings were being held and decisions made behind closed doors. Six months later, Neighbourhood Plan meetings were opened to the public and there was at least some degree of transparency. But since the plan was submitted to Swale Borough Council, it seems the doors have closed again.

According to the Neighbourhood Plan timetable, the plan – along with its supporting documents and all the representations made in response to the final consultation – was scheduled to have been sent to the Independent Examiner by the end of January. That would mean an Examiner should have been appointed by now. Has this happened? Who is it? We don’t know.

One item conspicuously absent from the supporting documents was a Strategic Environment Assessment. There seems to have been general agreement that one would be needed, to comply with EU legislation, and it should have been carried out in parallel with the drafting of the plan. That didn’t happen, but we were told it would be done last autumn. There is still no sign of it.

A meeting of the Brents Community Association last week was told by a Swale Borough Councillor that there had been private discussions between English Heritage (EH) and Swale planning officers about the EH’s response to the Neighbourhood Plan. Apparently this took place some time ago, but there seems to be no information about it in the public domain. Although Faversham Town Council is responsible for the Neighbourhood Plan – Swale’s role is purely to advise and facilitate – it has said nothing about these discussions or whether it was involved in them, and they are not mentioned on the agenda for the Town Council meeting tonight (9 February).

If anyone knows what’s going on behind those doors, perhaps – in the spirit of “localism” – they  would like to enlighten the public.

Bridging loan

Some good news in the minutes of the Faversham Town Council finance meeting held on 19 January, at which the council agreed its budget for 2014/15:

“The Mayor said that KCC had allocated £400,000 in its budget for a replacement bridge, which was the cost of a fixed bridge. If an opening bridge was agreed, an additional amount of £600,000 would be needed. Faversham Town Council might want to consider investigating taking out a loan of £175,000 to enable the new bridge to be a swing bridge. Swale Borough Council might be minded to match the Town Council’s contribution and another body might be minded to contribute another £100,000. Other commercial and community organisations were also considering whether they could contribute.

However, Swale Borough Council’s support for a loan was dependent on Peel Ports acknowledging their responsibility for the gates and sluices, and the successful adoption of the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan as currently drafted.

Preserving the maritime heritage of Faversham by getting the Creek Basin back into use, which at one stage looked impossible, now appeared to be a distinct possibility given a fair wind and support from all quarters. Members expressed concern about the Town Council taking on a loan as it had been debt-free, but recognised the once in a lifetime opportunity to revive the Creek. The idea of a swing bridge was one that had almost universal support from the whole town. The two points made by Swale Borough Council were critical, and had to be borne in mind by the Town Council if it decided to consider a loan. Having a swing bridge that enabled water (through the sluices and gates) to be retained in the inner basin would be a significant tourism boost to the town.

The Mayor proposed and, on being put to the meeting, it was:
RESOLVED that the Town Council was minded to consider taking out a loan of a maximum of £175,000. The loan would be over 30/40 years, payments to begin to be made in 2016/17. The loan would be conditional on other parties’ support.”

Sour note
The one sour note here is the suggestion that funding from Swale Borough Council is conditional on “the successful adoption of the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan as currently drafted”.*

During the development of the Neighbourhood Plan it was frequently pointed out by the steering group that the plan does not have the power to deliver an opening bridge – but now Swale seems to be expecting an opening bridge to deliver the Neighbourhood Plan. It is difficult to see the logic of this. If the bridge will revive the Creek and boost tourism, and has “almost universal support from the whole town”, then it deserves support from our borough council regardless of the outcome of the Neighbourhood Plan.

Whose plan is it anyway?
Those of a suspicious nature might interpret Swale’s stance as a form of blackmail – you won’t get an opening bridge unless you support the Neighbourhood Plan the way we want it.

This is not Swale’s plan. It is Faversham’s plan. In statute, the role of the borough council is merely to support, not to dictate or direct. Swale’s insistence that the plan as currently drafted must go through sends a clear signal as to whose plan this really is.

* Whatever happens, it is highly improbable that the plan would ever be adopted “as currently drafted”. Independent Examiners always find things that need changing, even in the best-written plans.

What the Swale Local Plan says about the Creek

There are references to Faversham and the Creek throughout the Swale Local Plan, but this is the wording of the main section relating to the Creek and the Neighbourhood Plan. The deadline for comments on the Local Plan is 5pm on Friday 30 January 2015.

The Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan

6.8.8 The Faversham Creek area is part of the town’s extensive conservation area and contains a number of historic buildings, together with traditional marine related activities and a series of green spaces. All contribute to the character of the area and represent an important asset to the town.

6.8.9 The Creek is operating under a number of complex constraints. Navigation is restricted in parts by a loss of depth and width to the channel and there is no longer safe navigation for large craft in its Basin due to silting. Navigation into the Basin is also restricted by a defective swing bridge at Bridge Road. Navigation could also be improved by dredging, but in addition to its costs, there are likely to be limitations imposed on large scale industrial dredging of the Creek by the Swale Special Protection Area (SPA).

6.8.10 Flood risk, particularly in relation to the re-use of previously developed land within the 1:20 year flood zone of Faversham Creek, must be carefully assessed and managed, whilst a number of these sites are likely to be contaminated and require some remediation work. A further issue is that the attractive waterside environment of the creekside area has not had the same investment to improve the quality of its environment as the town centre. There are also a number of historic buildings needing restoration.

6.8.11 For these reasons, the regeneration of Faversham Creek, whilst protecting the rich maritime, industrial and landscape heritage for economic, environmental and educational purposes, is the principal objective. This has been strongly supported by local consultation.(6.4)* This analysis indicates that the Neighbourhood Plan should seek to regenerate Faversham Creek by focusing on: clusters of heritage assets and marine-related activities with regeneration potential; navigation improvements to the Creek through a combination of sluicing and smaller scale injection dredging; protecting and enhancing important green spaces and upgrading the public realm within the area; and maximising pedestrian links between the Creek and the town, along the creekside and to wider
countryside routes.
*6.4 is: “Stakeholder Consultation and Options Report 2009. Urban Initiatives for SBC and Developing proposals and future planning policy options to deliver regeneration of the Creek area 2010. Tony Fullwood Associates for SBC.”

Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan Vision

The Creek at the heart of Faversham. Faversham Creek is leading the regeneration of the town; a place where we can celebrate its rich history and attractive appearance; a place where we enjoy spending time, both on and off the water; a place where boats, residents and visitors want to be. A place where developments integrate the needs of people and nature and where its distinctive character and identity is rooted in its traditional industries and enriched by new businesses.
[Note: This differs from the wording of the Vision in the latest version of the Neighbourhood Plan, which was changed in response to landowner comments.]

Land allocations for new development

6.8.12 Within the areas of heritage/marine-related activity adjoining the Creek, listed and other historic buildings and maritime uses, wharves and moorings important to the character of the Creek should be retained and, where necessary, restored alongside complementary redevelopment opportunities. Given the location of these areas within the functional floodplain, and the historic association with the Creek, workshops/business uses, facilities for moored boats (e.g. showers/toilets) and small scale retail and restaurant uses would be best able to address these issues and improve the visitor attraction to the area.(6.5) Dependent on design, amenity and flood risk considerations, residential development could be permitted above ground floor level to assist with the viability of mixed use schemes and to provide activity throughout the day and evening. On some sites, mixed-use development would be unsuitable and on these sites 100% residential development would be acceptable. New buildings should be of a sensitive design with their scale and context respecting the setting of the listed building and the adjoining creekside buildings.

6.8.13 A Faversham Creek Streetscape Strategy has been prepared and adopted by the Swale Joint Transport Board which seeks to extend town centre streetscape enhancements to the creekside area. The principal aim of the strategy is that improvements in the public realm around Faversham Creek should respond to and enhance the character and distinctiveness of the creekside area. The Strategy outlines the guiding principles regarding the improvements to the streetscape of the creekside area and establishes guidelines for the design of specific items in the overall streetscape. The Strategy also sets out guidance for creek streetscape enhancements for discrete areas of the creekside. The priorities for implementation will be set through the Neighbourhood Plan process.
[Note: In the pre-submission consultation, it was suggested by landowners that the Streetscape Strategy should carry less weight, as it has not been independently examined. This was accepted by the consultants and the wording was amended so that development should merely “have regard to” the strategy.]

6.8.14 The Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan will detail its strategy, guided by Policy NP1. It will include the allocation of specific sites and levels of development, the parameters for development as well as proposals for the improvement to accessibility and the public realm. Proposals will be delivered through the granting of consents and the implementation of improvements set out in the Neighbourhood Plan. Whilst Policy ST4 has indicated a level of new housing as arising from the Neighbourhood Plan area, this is soley [sic] for the purposes of demonstrating its potential contribution to the overall supply of housing in the Borough. It will be for the Neighbourhood Plan process to determine locally the final levels of employment, housing and other uses that will come forward.

Policy NP 1
Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan
Within the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan area, as shown on the Proposals Map, priority will be given to the regeneration of Faversham Creek by retaining maritime activities (including the retention and improvement of wharfs and moorings, including for large craft) with complementary redevelopment opportunities for workshops/business uses, residential, small scale retail and restaurant uses. Where relevant, development of the area will:

  1. Accord with the Neighbourhood Plan (once it has taken effect);
  2. Provide for the restoration of and enhancement to the settings of listed and other important historic buildings;
  3. The protection of open space and nature conservation interests and upgrading of the public realm;
  4. Navigation improvements to the Creek (subject to appropriate mitigation of the impacts on the adjacent International Designations and the Shellfish Waters);
  5. The provision of a publicly accessible creekside walkway;
  6. High quality designs which respect their context;
  7. Proposals which are acceptable in terms of flood risk; and
  8. The remediation of contaminated sites.

 

Neither opposing nor endorsing: Faversham Society response to the Neighbourhood Plan

This is the Faversham Society’s response to the Neighbourhood Plan consultation, as published in the February edition of the Society’s newsletter.

“The Faversham Society’s board of trustees has considered the above plan and comment as follows that in its opinion the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan (FCNP) fails to meet the basic conditions inasmuch as: It is not in accordance with European law in respect of the

“Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) directive; It is not in accordance with UK and European law and guidance on the process of consultation; English Heritage has not provided any input. [Editorial note: this response from the Faversham Society pre-dated the response from English Heritage, which can be seen here.]

“The board further considered that as there has been continuous use of the creek as a waterway since Roman times that an objective of the Neighbourhood Plan should include: Ensuring that before any development involving work on wharves around the creek there is an archaeological investigation and that no significant remains are destroyed by development.

“Concerning site specific amendments, the society feels that with regard to Ordnance Wharf it should object on the grounds that three storeys would obstruct significant views and be out of keeping with Faversham’s historic townscape and undermine the heritage value of the conservation area.

“The society feels that any development at Standard Quay should ensure the integrity of the conservation area and the maintenance of positive public space.

“The society acknowledges that the consultant has made significant improvements to the plan which now focuses upon the historic importance of the creek. This area is of enormous importance to the heritage of the town and we urge the examiner to look closely at the views we have expressed.

“We are neither opposing nor endorsing the plan at this time we are simply seeking to strengthen the protection of heritage in the plan and of course the society will take a view on the final version of the plan at the appropriate time.”

English Heritage comments on the neighbourhood plan

“At present the draft neighbourhood plan requires a number of revisions to provide an appropriate guide to decision making with regard to the historic environment, and to fulfil the requirements of national policy and guidance and to conform with the District Council’s strategic policies.”

This is the conclusion of English Heritage, in its formal response to the latest consultation on the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan.

In a nine-page letter, Robert Lloyd-Sweet (Historic Places Advisor, South East England) raises concerns about whether the plan meets the basic conditions set out in the Localism Act with regard to heritage. The letter says there has been no adequate assessment or analysis of the significance of heritage assets or sites of archaeological interest, or any positive strategy for their conservation and enjoyment, as required by the National Planning Policy Framework and Planning Practice Guidance. It points out that the entire plan lies within the Faversham Conservation Area and this in itself is a designated heritage asset, so everything within it that contributes positively to the special interest and character of the conservation area must be treated accordingly.

It adds that this “may not reside solely in the buildings and spaces, but may also result from the activities that traditionally were, and in some cases continue to be conducted within these. The loss of key employment sites that contribute to the viability of the area for a range of waterside industries, notably boat building, that contributes to the working character of the waterway and creekside, would represent a loss of significance of the conservation area as an historic focus for such activities and ultimately, a reason for the town’s existence.” It considers that residential development and the requirement for uncontrolled public access to the waterfront would interfere with such activities.

The letter identifies particular concerns with Ordnance Wharf, BMM Weston, Swan Quay, Standard Quay and Standard House. For Ordnance Wharf, it refers to the site’s “potential to contribute to the character of the conservation area as an area of maritime industrial activity, as well as the wider character of Faversham, including its small-scale historic character and maritime traditions” and says that different options should be considered: “The potential impacts of different land use allocations and scales and forms of development for this site should be considered to identify its optimum viable use, as part of the designated heritage asset.”

The National Planning Practice Guidance defines optimum viable use: “If there is only one viable use, that use is the optimum viable use. If there is a range of alternative viable uses, the optimum use is the one likely to cause the least harm to the significance of the asset, not just through necessary initial changes, but also as a result of subsequent wear and tear and likely future changes. The optimum viable use may not necessarily be the most profitable one.”

Concerns about BMM Weston relate the original house (now part of the offices) and the archaeological potential of the site, which is recorded as having been a Roman urnfield.

For Swan Quay, English Heritage has “serious reservations about the appropriateness of the development proposed” and considers that demolition of the open-sided shed “would be regarded as substantial harm to the conservation area and would not normally be expected to receive permission.” It also says the plan should not include a description of a specific development, as it does here.

For Standard Quay, the letter expresses surprise that the plan does not pay regard to the planning inspector’s reasons for refusal of the restaurant application for Building No 1, and does not identify any public benefits that would outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the area that would be caused by proposed developments.

English Heritage says it would welcome dialogue to see how the plan might be amended to “provide an approach to planning for the neighbourhood that better aligns with national and local strategic planning policy, whilst delivering the aspirations of the local community.” It remains to be seen whether Swale Borough Council and Faversham Town Council will be willing to engage in such dialogue.

Cllr Nigel Kay, who chaired the neighbourhood plan steering group, is reported in the Faversham News (8 January) to be surprised at English Heritage’s comments at this stage, and complains that they should have responded to the previous consultation. (The Town Council says it wrote to English Heritage at that time, but English Heritage says it has no record of any such communication.)

Cllr Kay seems determined that the plan should go ahead regardless. He is quoted as saying “It is vital that this process is not delayed as the position is linked to the replacement of the Creek Bridge and that is now in need of urgent replacement.”

The logic of this is unclear, since the replacement of the bridge is being handled by a separate group, led by Kent County Council, which is unconnected with the neighbourhood plan. The plan itself, on page 13, distances itself from the matter, saying that, as a land use document, it has no authority to deliver an opening bridge.

Unfair and unlawful?

‘Listen carefully, then ignore completely’ – the cynic’s definition of public consultation, according to one legal commentator. But the authorities may have to up their game following a Supreme Court decision against Haringey council on October 29.

In R (on the application of Moseley (in substitution of Stirling Deceased)) (Appellant) v London Borough of Haringey (Respondent) [2014] UKSC 56, the court declared that a consultation that failed to mention alternative options was unfair and unlawful. The judgement refers to procedural fairness (interested persons should be consulted not only on the preferred option but also upon discarded options) and to the need for consultees to at least be made aware of the existence of alternative options in order to be able to express meaningful views on the proposals.

The decision endorses and strengthens the Gunning/Sedley principles (1985), which state that consultation must be at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage; the proposer must give sufficient reasons for any proposal to permit of intelligent consideration and response; adequate time must be given for consideration and response; and the product of consultation must be conscientiously taken into account in finalising any statutory proposals. These principles were defined by the Court of Appeal in 2012 as “a prescription for fairness”.

The Haringey case involved council tax, but the Supreme Court’s judgement applies equally to other public consultations. It notes that “Sometimes, particularly when statute does not limit the subject of the requisite consultation to the preferred option, fairness will require that interested persons be consulted not only upon the preferred option but also upon arguable yet discarded alternative options” and that “even when the subject of the requisite consultation is limited to the preferred option, fairness may nevertheless require passing reference to be made” to such alternative options.

In the case of the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan, it cannot be denied that “arguable options” have been put forward to the steering group/town council, who have refused to consult on them or refer them in consultations – most recently on April 1, when the steering group voted to exclude options from the pre-submission draft of the plan. Since one of the Basic Conditions for neighbourhood plans is that they must be in accordance with the law, this judgement raises the possibility of failure because of an unlawful consultation process.

Paper promises

From; Sue Cooper

At the meeting of Swale Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday 30 October, where permission was granted to rubber stamp the building works at Baltic House and grant planning permission again despite ongoing enforcement matters (presumably the illegal work without planning permission or listed building consent to connect to mains drainage), another big issue for Swale was discussed which is of great relevance to the thinking behind our developer led Neighbourhood Plan.

The prime reason for allowing increases in land values is so that development cash can be injected into infrastructure projects for the Creek? Is that right? We all know that is tosh because any sums thought of in the first place would only ever be enough to fund cosmetics such as neat moorings, tidy paths and surfacing with maybe a mooring post or two and a few affordable houses.  Well, if the negotiations with the Paper Mill site in Sittingbourne are anything to go by this is pie in the sky in an improbable galaxy way beyond our properly researched and evidence-based hopes for a working creek.

The excitingly named Essential Land are negotiating and Swale are in a very very weak position and are having to agree to vast reductions in their promises. There are now only 5 affordable units (3% of the total), they are asking to be excused from education contributions, rescheduling landscaping, renegotiating underpasses, and – as for the heritage bits, well that was not apparently even worth discussing as the other losses outweigh them – arguing that their profit levels forecast in 2012 to be at a level which would allow all this loveliness have dropped below the 20% of final sale value that they are apparently entitled to. Gosh, who knew the housing market was sinking so fast?

When will Councillors learn not to trust developers’ promises?