Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, 15 October 2013
Faversham Creek inched closer to becoming a housing estate last night, thanks to a meeting guaranteed to delight the town’s property speculators.
Around 80 people squeezed into an over-capacity Guildhall for the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group meeting but few were smiling. The anger and frustration was palpable, and sometimes audible, as a report backing yet more creekside housebuilding was steamrollered through before their eyes. By the end, many had left in disgust, myself included.
The Steering Group met to approve its own report on the threatened waterway’s future. I say report but it is actually more like a 15-page treatise on why it’s imperative that developers should be allowed to build new houses on parts of Faversham Creek not already lined with similar houses. These include Standard Quay and Ordnance Wharf, both the subject of popular public campaigns to save the creek’s maritime heritage. Not so much a report then, as a massive, flashing green light with golden pound signs on top. Completely at odds, in other words, with Faversham’s loud and clear response to the recent consultation: an even bigger red light to more housing and strong demand for traditional maritime use.
The low point of a consistently depressing evening of surreal machinations and barely-hidden agendas came when Professor Chris Wright, Chairman of the Faversham Creek Trust, was banished from the room.
Why? A “conflict of interests”, according to Andrew Osborne, Mike Cosgrove and chairman Nigel Kay – the usual suspects from Swale Council’s moribund ‘Creek Consortium’ – who demanded Prof Wright leave while Ordnance Wharf was under discussion.
Yes, you did read that correctly: They banned Faversham Creek Trust’s representative from the meeting because he represented Faversham Creek Trust.
Bizarre as it seems, Cosgrove, Kay, Osborne and Co were able to get away with this because their Steering Group is officially an offshoot of Faversham Town Council. It was set up that way, so the council’s arcane rules and regulations can be deployed to control and limit discussion. Community representatives are not allowed to vote, for example, and the public are only permitted 15 minutes to ask questions at the beginning of the meeting…before they know what’s going to be said.
Controversial plans to build a block of flats on Ordnance Wharf, a small island of industrial land in the creek basin, are strongly opposed by Faversham Creek Trust which is based in the adjacent Purifier Building. Instead, the Trust proposes a maritime use as a community boatyard. Yet its invited representative was blocked from listening to the conversation about Ordnance Wharf, let alone participating. (There is, of course, no personal conflict of interest because FCT is a charitable trust, not a business, so board members including Prof Wright cannot profit in any way from its activities.)
For reasons that were never quite made clear, Osborne also argued vociferously that the Purifier Building – the Trust’s headquarters and maritime skills workshop – should be officially recorded as having ‘nil’ use, despite Prof Wright politely explaining that the building was, in fact, very much in use.
Although clearly useful when attempting to enable deeply unpopular construction schemes in the face of overwhelming public opposition, bureaucratic wheezes and semantic smoke and mirrors tend to suggest a contempt for genuine democracy. In this case, I suspect they feed a growing conviction that those at the wheel of this steering group are pulling every lever within their grasp to serve an agenda which will finish the creek as a working waterway. They also entrench the kind of Them vs Us attitude demonstrated by Osborne when he referred to the public present as “that lot”, only to be told quietly, but firmly: “You’re supposed to represent us”.
Councillor Cosgrove, as usual, championed creekside housebuilding, arguing for 100 new homes along the historic waterway: a stance which impressed the assembled public about as much as his assertion that Ordnance Wharf remained unused because housing was the only possible viable use. This provoked a shout of “Absolute rubbish! We all know it’s empty because the owner wants to make money from building houses on it!” accompanied by cheers of agreement and an indignant little flurry of gavel-tapping from Chairman Kay.
Interestingly, in response to questions from a member of the public, both Cosgrove and Anne Salmon, another Creek Consortium cohort and an author of the report, denied they had ever been employed by creekside landowners to advise on planning matters.
Out in the corridor, I spoke to Faversham Creek Trust’s Chris Wright as he was waiting to be allowed back into the meeting and this is what he said:
“I do think there’s a major issue, not about my exclusion but about the way all these meetings are run by the council’s standing orders. We’re trying to have a constructive debate and it’s between people who are councillors and people who are not. And if it’s done under standing orders, this has a stultifying effect on the discussion.
“How can you collaborate, cooperate and adjust in that sort of atmosphere? It puts peoples’ backs up unnecessarily and it makes it extremely difficult to gain an understanding of where the crunch points are. It’s just not the right way to run a process where you’re trying to bring people together and smooth over what could be a lot of discord. The potential here is that if we don’t get this right it’s going to crash when it comes to the referendum.”
Conducted properly, public consultation should not feel like window-dressing for something predetermined, secretive and deeply undemocratic. Talk to people around Faversham about planning and the same word crops up with disturbing frequency. It begins with C. I’m not going to spell it out. But what I witnessed last night sounded like it, looked like it and smelled an awful lot like it.
We’ve just produced a trio of short videos documenting an important few weeks for Faversham Creek.
First, we filmed the arrival of the 1908 East Coast racing boat Mayhi at the Faversham Creek Trust’s workshop headquarters, the Purifier Building in Morrisons’ car park. As part of a new apprentice scheme, replacing the one lost when developers took over Standard Quay in 2011, trainee shipwrights will use the Mayhi as a template to build a full-size replica. Their newly-learned skills will then be put to use repairing bigger wooden ships.
Here she is being squeezed through the door of her new home unharmed thanks to the skill and ingenuity of shipwright Simon Grillett.
Secondly, we recorded Griff Rhys Jones’ visit to the Purifier is his role as head of Civic Voice, where he met volunteers and gave an impassioned speech about the importance of their work.
And finally, we were on hand to capture the official opening of both the building and the apprentice scheme by guest of honour Admiral Boyce.
Swale councillors did their job last night, throwing out the restaurant proposal which would have killed off any hope of future maritime industry at Standard Quay.
More info shortly but here’s initial reaction to the news from David Gwyn Jones and Brenda Chester from Faversham Creek Trust and Brian Pain, who resurrected the quay as a busy traditional shipyard before the current owner shut it down.
Please take a look at a very recent example of Swale council’s idea of democracy.
At Standard Quay on Monday, planning officers and councillors announced – with no prior notice – that a public meeting would take place inside the developer’s building, rather than outside, on neutral ground. The puzzled public were then herded inside while a doorman employed by the developer searched their bags for cameras which were apparently banned. Then planning committee chairman Richard Barnicott refused to start the meeting if anyone filmed or recorded the meeting without a ‘permit’ from Swale Borough Council, professional videojournalists accredited by the British Association of Journalists apparently included.
Is this seedy scenario your idea of open government, accountability, transparency or inclusion? Or does it just make you wonder what on earth these people are so afraid of?
To help put things in a national context, Government minister Eric Pickles has been advising councils to actively encourage all meetings to be filmed, recorded and live-blogged since 2011. Most local authorities have done so and some even stream meetings on the web. Swale, for reasons known only to itself, has decided to remain in the dark ages by keeping us in the dark. This arrogant and archaic stance may prove ultimately self-defeating, since secrecy inevitably breeds suspicion. If voters don’t feel they can change the way their councillors behave, they might just decide to change their councillors.
In light of some of the shameless rewriting of history being perpetrated by some of those promoting the Standard Quay restaurant proposal, we’ve put together a handy, illustrated print-out-and-keep, fib-spotter’s guide in pdf format.
Download it here:SQ Lie Guide
Feel free to distribute before councillors visit Standard Quay on Monday (April 29)…which by the way will be at 10.30am, rather than the 9.30am originally announced by Swale Borough Council.
Or just read it here:
A BEGINNERS’ GUIDE TO STANDARD QUAY LIES, SPIN AND MISINFORMATION:
1. “Historically, of course, Standard Quay was never actually used for shipbuilding.”
FACT: Simply untrue. Since 1700, around 120 sailing vessels have been built at Standard Quay. A detailed study by respected maritime historian and Thames barge authority Richard Hugh-Perks shows the names of boats built and launched specifically at Standard Quay and dating back well into the early 18th century.
The men who built boats and ships at Standard Quay are well documented through more than 200 years. We know where they were born, where they trained and we know the names and tonnage or size of the vessels they built at Standard Quay.
If in doubt, please take a look at this picture of the Goldfinch, probably the most famous barge built at Standard Quay by 19th Century master shipbuilder John Matthew Goldfinch. Goldfinch’s house still stands on Standard Quay, just a few metres from the black shed.
Read about shipbuilding at Standard Quay here:
2. “I read that Swale Council gave permission for the black sheds to be used for maritime industry in the 90s but they weren’t used for boat building until much later.”
FACT: From 1993, when historic fishing smack Emeline was restored at Standard Quay, until 2011 when the applicant/owner/developer took control, the site, including the black sheds, was in constant use as a nationally important centre for the repair and maintenance of large traditional vessels.
Despite false claims in a report by Swale planning officer Graham Thomas (already the subject of a formal complaint) that approvals for a sail loft in the black shed ‘were never implemented’, council officers, including Director of Regeneration, Pete Raine, actually visited the building and saw for themselves the spars, rigging and sails being stored and maintained in the upper floor space. SBC has been asked to provide evidence to back up Mr Thomas misleading claims but none has been forthcoming.
3. “But shipbuilding is a dying trade isn’t it? Surely the boatyard shut down through lack of business.”
FACT: Let’s be clear: The owner/applicant, a property developer, bought a busy, thriving, sustainable traditional boat-building yard and shut it down.
By hiking prices and removing facilities since mid-2011, Standard Quay’s owner drove out an established maritime industry and the visiting Thames barges which relied upon it.
Was this was a deliberate strategy aimed at creating a lack of ‘footfall’ which could be then used to justify change of use to more lucrative restaurant? Isn’t that what property developers do?
Thanks to exactly these kinds of waterfront development pressures, few boatyards remain with the facilities and specialist skills to maintain traditional wooden vessels. Nationally and regionally, supply is limited and demand is high.
Historic barges attract visitors. Pre-2011, Standard Quay’s museum/visitor centre guest book had 6000 signatures from all over the world. Since the barges stopped coming to the quay, visitor numbers have dwindled.
4. “The owner/applicant/developer has tried his best to run the site as a boatyard but there’s just no demand.”
FACT: The skilled shipwrights driven away from the site since he took control two years ago have not been replaced.
Despite his claims to the contrary, it’s highly questionable whether the applicant/owner/developer had any serious intentions to preserve maritime industry at the site and provide the services and facilities desperately required by the traditional boat community.
Please visit the site, take the recently-erected signs giving the impression of maritime industry with a healthy pinch of salt, and ask what really goes on in the buildings today.
5. “Only a small organized group of local campaigners actually oppose the application.”
FACT: In 2011, some 1,200 people put their names to an online petition calling on councillors to protect Standard Quay’s buildings from precisely this kind of development. In just over a week, the petition drew local and international support from the US, Australia, Italy and Egypt, such was Standard Quay’s importance in the worldwide maritime community. Hundreds more signed up after Swale Borough Council took the petition down.
So no, not a small organized group but simply a large number of democratically engaged voters and residents who care about their town’s history and future…in addition to the many local organisations including Faversham Town Council, Faversham Creek Trust and the Faversham Society who oppose the current eatery scheme.
Here’s a link to the petition on SBC’s website: http://www.swale.gov.uk/epetitions/petitiondetail.aspx?petitionid=110
6. “The owner/applicant/developer has made ‘improvements’ to the Quay and added new moorings.”
FACT: One of the owner’s first actions after taking control of the site in 2011 was to rip out the mooring rings sunk into the concrete wharf which allowed large vessels to be secured safely to the quayside.
He then constructed a new quay front East of the black sheds without permission, prompting an investigation by Swale Borough Council’s planning enforcement team.
On the 9th of July 2012, a large boat moored there broke free, taking with it the vertical piles it was tied to, an episode reported to Swale Borough Council. Luckily no damage or personal injury resulted but the incident demonstrated these new facilities to be unfit for purpose.
This photo shows one of the mooring rings since removed by Standard Quay’s owner:
7.“The buildings were dilapidated and badly need costly restoration”
FACT: Standard Quay’s black sheds were built as basic working structures and they have served a variety of maritime and storage purposes during their lifetime. Turning them into a restaurant would not be ‘restoration’, but a character-destroying conversion into something they were never designed to be. Costly? Yes, of course. Necessary? No.
When the owner/developer took control of them in 2011 the buildings were carefully preserved, well-maintained and recently painted, as shown in the photo below, taken on 27 June, 2011.
7. “A restaurant would be good for tourism”
FACT: Thanks to Standard Quay, Faversham was, until 2011, one of two national centres for historic Thames barges, attracting many tourists, maritime enthusiasts, history buffs, artists and photographers to the town.
Unlike Faversham, Maldon in Essex still has a thriving barge population. Its own quay, called The Hythe, bustles with traditional craft, martime industries and the visitors who flock to see them. For more information, please see:
Tourism quango Visit Kent’s ‘Head of Research and Strategy’ Ruth Wood sent an unsolicited email to Swale Borough Council supporting the restaurant proposal. Although Ms Wood has declined to explain why she took this initiative, we do know that:
- She sent the email after discussions with the developer.
- She admits she did not consult anyone opposing the scheme.
- Swale Borough Council did not ask for her views, or those of Visit Kent.
- Her Visit Kent colleagues were initially unaware of her email.
8. ‘A restaurant would create jobs’
FACT: In 2010, when Swale Borough Council’s head of regeneration Pete Raine visited Standard Quay, the barge yard employed 20 SKILLED maritime craftspeople and ran a pioneering City and Guilds shipwright apprentice scheme giving local young people a career in a highly-skilled trade. Despite promises to support it, this scheme ended abruptly when the owner/developer/applicant took over in 2011.
Assuming it survived in the current economic climate, how many skilled, long-term jobs and careers would an eatery really provide?
9. “But if the number of parking spaces is reduced from the 97 proposed, surely a restaurant wouldn’t prevent the quayside from being used for maritime industry in future.”
FACT: It has elsewhere and it will here. Boatbuilding is noisy, dirty, requires a great deal of space and presents health and safety issues. What restaurant owner would open a barge-yard next door? Does anyone seriously believe that would be the applicant/owner/developer’s intention if permission were granted for a waterfront eatery? Applying for 97 parking spaces – far more than any proposed restaurant would need – and then ‘compromising’ by accepting fewer is clearly a property developer’s negotiating tactic: nothing more, nothing less.
Heard the one about Standard Quay only being used for ship building for the last decade or so?
This is the myth being currently being promoted by the developer behind the Standard Quay restaurant scheme and Graham Thomas, the Swale council planning officer enthusiastically backing it.
It’s a dangerous untruth, because few of the councillors voting on the Quay’s future will be fully aware of the site’s history and may believe what they read in Mr Thomas highly questionable report.
Another developer tactic has been to define Standard Quay as a small stretch of the quayside once used for grain storage and deny boat building took place on that particular spot.
In fact, the developer’s own ‘regeneration’ proposals describe everything between the SECOS oil depot and Oyster Bay House as Standard Quay. It’s true. Take a look here.
Councillors have been urged to attend a site visit at Standard Quay at 10.30am on April 29th. It’s not known how many will actually turn up but let’s make sure they all know the real, centuries-old history of shipbuilding at Standard Quay.
We strongly advise emailing or writing to individual councillors despite Swale’s request that correspondence be sent to…Mr Thomas.
Standard Quay has a long and proud shipbuilding tradition that should be celebrated, not airbrushed away.
But don’t take our word for it. As part of The Quay film, we interviewed respected maritime historian and author of several books about Thames barges Richard Hugh Perks. This is what he said:
“We know that ships have been built at Standard Quay for at least 300 years. Since about 1700, somewhere in the region of 120 sailing vessels have been built here at Standard Quay. The vessels that were built here in the early days were basically the oyster smacks. The fishing and oyster industries were the major industries. The type of craft that carried cargo up to London tended to be small coasting hoys. These were vessels of around 55-60 feet in length.
“At least one packet boat was built here, the Prince Oscar, in about 1818. We know the names of the various builders who built here in the mid 18th Century back to about 1818. The builders were the Bennett family and after that the Redmans came and built large fishing smacks, sailing barges and various other craft. The most famous shipbuilder here was John Matthew Goldfinch who came to Faversham and built his first barge in 1853 and Faversham is probably best known for the Goldfinch barges including his famous schooner, The Goldfinch, which in 1930 was sailed out to British Guiana.
“So the history of Standard Quay has always, as far as recorded history is concerned, has always been concerned with the loading and unloading of goods, the storage of goods, the building of boats and in particular, the repairing of boats. That was the most important part. A ship, built out of wood, basically had a life of about 30 years. But of course they were always in collision, they were always in trouble or strandings. So maintaining and repairing these vessels was almost the most important work of the shipyard. If you look at the accounts of shipbuilders, most of them lost money building ships. Somebody like Goldfinch was an artist, his barges were beautifully built, they were soundly built. Out of something like 70 sailing barges that he built, their average life was just over 60 years. Now if a wooden vessel was designed to last for only 30 years, it meant there was a lot of repair work going on, a lot of refurbishment.
“We’ve got records out of the newspapers of colliery brigs and timber ships coming alongside Standard Quay to be worked on and repaired. Local ships got into the papers when they were built or when there was some form of accident or tragedy. In fact while a brigantine was being repaired here in the 1870s, the staging around it collapsed and one of the shipwrights was killed.”
With thanks to Richard Hugh Perks.
SWALE COUNCILLORS POSTPONE VOTE ON STANDARD QUAY’S FUTURE
At a strange and at times shambolic meeting last night, Swale councillors decided it might be a good idea to take a look at Faversham’s historic former shipyard before turning it into a restaurant and car park.
Conceding that the application to turn the listed former shipwrights’ sheds into a waterfront eatery is ‘controversial’, they have arranged to visit the quay on Monday April 29th at 9.30am. Members of the public and media are welcome to attend but previous Standard Quay site visits have been poorly attended by councillors and, this being Swale Borough Council, it might be wise to confirm the date and time.
Planning officer Graham Thomas listed various arguments recently received by the council, the majority opposing the scheme. Yet oddly, he failed to mention criticism of his own highly controversial report backing the restaurant plan based on the extraordinary (i.e. demonstrably untrue) claim that no shipbuilding activities occured at Standard Quay prior to 2002.
Instead Mr Thomas read out an unsolicited email, allegedly from the ‘Head of Research and Strategy’ at tourism organisation VisitKent, which claimed “29 percent of Kent visitors are motivated by fine dining opportunities”. Cue laughter and groans from the public gallery.
Mr Thomas then revealed that Kent Highways did ‘not expect the proposed use to give rise to significant volumes of traffic’ and recommended limiting the number of parking spaces from 97 to 13. This would, he argued, address many of the concerns raised (apart from, you know, the concerns about the quay never being used by maritime industry again).
For reasons which remain unclear, given that he had already decided to postpone the vote, meeting chairman Coun Richard Barnicott then asked Brian Pain to speak for a maximum of three minutes, as per Swale council’s rules.
Mr Pain, whose company Standard Quay (Faversham) Ltd revived Standard Quay’s centuries-old shipbuilding tradition from 1993 to 2011, began to explain that part of his speech had related to the proposal for 97 parking spaces and was therefore no longer relevant but was rather rudely shouted down by Coun Barnicott.
Mr Pain began his timed speech but was interrupted halfway through by Barnicott shouting ‘thirty seconds!’. Afterwards, realising he’d cut Mr Pain short, the bumbling chairman then allowed him a further minute.
The whole vaguely farcical interlude concluded with loud applause for Mr Pain and a shout of ‘We want people with vision, not greedy people!’ from the public gallery.
Mr Pain and others at the meeting give their reactions in the clip above…
By the way, VisitKent’s Head of Research and Strategy is Ruth Wood email@example.com tel. 01227 812919
Maritime historian Richard Hugh Perks talks about centuries of barge-building and repair at Faversham’s Standard Quay.
The site has a long and fascinating shipbuilding tradition which, for some reason, Swale Borough Council’s controversial planning report neglects to mention (starts page 34 on the pdf).
LAST CHANCE TO SAVE STANDARD QUAY’S FUTURE AS A WORKING SHIPYARD
Planners could hammer the final nail into Standard Quay’s coffin in just a few days. Please, take 15 minutes to watch The Quay and tell Swale councillors how you feel about the prospect of losing of Faversham’s last working quay after centuries of shipbuilding.
On Thursday April 11, Swale’s planning committee will decide the quay’s fate. If they grant permission for one of the listed former shipwrights’ sheds to be turned into a restaurant, the site will have no chance of any future as a working shipyard.
Local opposition is massive. The Town Council is against it, 60 planning objections were lodged and around 1,500 people signed a petition begging Swale to safeguard the quay from precisely this kind of development. However, a highly controversial report by planning officials recommends the restaurant scheme gets the go ahead.
Although the deadline for objections has passed, there is nothing to stop us writing to individual councillors on the planning committee and asking them to listen to the people they were elected to represent.
Their email addresses are on Swale Borough Council’s own website but we’ve gathered them together here to make it easier:
NOTE: I’ve been told that some of these emails may be out of date. If so, try these:
<firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
, Queenborough, Isle of Sheppey
, ME11 5AA
(no email address provided)
1 East Green, Kemsley, Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10 2SB
(no email provided)
If you don’t have time to write individually to councillors, just cc them by copy and pasting this:
firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;
email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
The Quay has been nominated for a Van d’Or independent film award. The winners will be announced by none other than cinema legend Barry Norman on Friday 14th September.