Where’s Our Bridge? Report of the Members’ and Guests’ Meeting 22/10/2018

42 people attended including a number of town councillors – one member of the press was also present.

 

After everyone was invited to give their views and share information – a process which took 90 minutes, it was clear that the meeting had been fully and well informed and that there was unanimity amongst those present that Faversham needed to press hard for promises to be kept and for action to result to “swing the bridge”. The consensus was that whether the new bridge swung or lifted it was essential that it permitted access for boats to the basin for economic regeneration and leisure as well as to ensure that scouring of the creek could be resumed in order to maintain its shape. A new bridge must have wider footpaths to allow safe pedestrian passage and KCC must recognise that without an improved bridge the town would be effectively split in two with substantial negative social and economic impacts. It was recognised that Peel Ports, as well as KCC, have responsibility for the bridge, but that it was KCC who had made the promise to build a new opening bridge. Consequently, it is towards and through KCC that we must focus our action.

Four possible lines of action were identified and discussed:

1.       Formal legal objection to KCC/Peel Ports for loss of navigation rights to the Creek Basin. There might be two strands to the objection: leisure and potential commercial craft as well as loss of economic regeneration for the Creek Trust due to the isolation of the Purifier Building from floating boats. Faversham Creek Trust to lead 

2.       Explore whether the promise of a swing bridge in return for £125,000 amounts in law to breach of contract. Bridge Steering Group members to provide the evidence on how the KCC commitment to build the opening bridge was made.

3.       Explore the possibility of a complaint of maladministration to the Local Government Ombudsman. Possible Freedom of Information request  

4.       It was seen as important to get a large attendance at the St Mary of Charity meeting on 29th  November to impress on the leader of KCC, Paul Carter, the strength of feeling and determination in the town. Particular effort should be made to engage those living on the Brents side of the Creek. 

Helen Whateley has also commented 9th October

Regarding Faversham Creek Bridge: Paul Carter

KENT COUNTY COUNCIL  Thursday 18 October 2018
Question by Antony Hook  to Paul Carter, Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Health Reform

REGARDING FAVERSHAM CREEK BRIDGE
A video recording can be viewed on the KCC Webcast system: https://kent.publici.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/374602
Question by Mr Hook

In 2015 Faversham was promised by Kent County Council that if the community raised £125,000, which was quickly done, the Swing Bridge would be rebuilt so that boats could once again pass, creating jobs and enriching our maritime culture. Would the Leader agree that almost four years on it is time for the promise to be fulfilled and a start date for work set?
Answer by Mr Carter
The ambition to restore the Faversham Swing Bridge, lockgates and dredge the basin, goes back many years and to the best of my knowledge is as follows:
The ambition for restoration gained momentum some five years ago, through the activity of several community groups who had the vision and saw the potential of restoring the basin to its former glory. This would allow boat owners to moor in the basin, enjoy the town and in addition, be a valuable tourist attraction. The community formed a steering group incorporating the already established Faversham Creek Trust.
Kent County Council very much wanted to support The Faversham Creek Trust and the Town Council in their vision.

David Brazier, the then Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste agreed to Mark Dance’s request (Cabinet Member for Economic Development) for Capital
funding. KCC set a Capital budget allocation of £450,000 which was subsequently increased to £510,000.
The Faversham Creek Trust raised £125,000.
Swale Borough Council pledged £200,000.
Faversham Town Council pledged £170,000.
In 2015, we were advised that the estimate for the work was circa £1.2million and all looked very promising as the budget broadly matched the estimate.

In 2016/17, design and procurement took place, culminating in final tenders being in the order of £2.6 million for the bridge restoration plus an additional £200,000 to repair the lock gates.

This was an exceedingly disappointing outcome and we needed to reflect on how we could solve the gap funding.

It was at my instigation, working alongside officers in Economic Development, that we researched the obligations placed upon the harbour authority, Peel Ports. We sought a QC’s opinion, which indicated that Peel Ports have obligations to restore the bridge to enable it to open and function as a Swing Bridge, including the lock gates.

Peel Ports have been advised of the legal opinion, and we are awaiting their full response. Various reminders have been sent, which culminated in the 14 October 2018 with a response and I quote from the letter from Peel Ports Group: “I can assure you that we are actively working on the matter, but that Peel Ports will not be forced into a formal response until a thorough and robust legal review has been undertaken”.

Supplementary question (summary)
Mr Hook asked why the estimate had been so badly wrong and why legal advice was not sought at the outset and whether, if Mr Carter would not set a date for work to start, he could specify a date when a date for work to start could be set.
Answer to supplementary question (summary)
Mr Carter said the error in the estimate was because a company in Faversham had said they would do it for the lower price then changed their minds. He did not know why legal advice was not sought earlier. It is down to Peel Ports when dates will be set.

All of the above can be watched in full online at the KCC website. https://kent.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/374602

The brick buildings by the swing bridge

At the Swing Bridge  Steering Group meeting yesterday the question of whether to demolish or preserve the brick sheds by the bridge was discussed. It was suggested that the Board of Trustees of the Faversham Society should be asked to express an opinion.

This will be considered at the next meeting of the Environment Committee and then at the August meeting of the Board of Trustees. Until the Board decides the Society’s position on this any views expressed by Board Trustees are made in a personal capacity only.

Background

The buildings are not listed or mentioned in the Conservation Area Character Appraisal (see below).
“4.11. The steel road bridge across the creek dates from 1976 but is set onto older, more interesting, abutments of brick and stone. Hydraulic accumulators and a hand operated pump of 1878 still provide the means for lifting the bridge off its seatings, but the last vessel to pass through here was in 1993. The release of water through the sluices is still the all-important means of cleansing the navigational channel, but with the head of the creek steadily silting up the reducing volume of available water makes the flushing action progressively less effective. This crossing point, with its panoramic views up and down the creek, its sluice gates and its old brick and stone abutments, continues to be a place of special appeal.”