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.”
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.