DOES Faversham get its fair share? This is a question I’ve asked myself for a long time, like many others in the town. It was brought into sharp focus at last Wednesday’s Swale Cabinet Meeting. A grant of £200,000 for a new skateboard park in Sittingbourne, with the land required and £30,000 for initial work, was approved without hesitation, with easy conditions. The skateboard park will attract 10,000 visits a year. The part of the meeting to discuss the regeneration project for Sittingbourne town centre was held in secret, with another special planning meeting on Monday night March 16. The sums being discussed are more than £7 million.
A grant of £150,000 for much needed refurbishment of Faversham Swimming Pools was approved, subject to tight conditions. Much more money than this is needed. These pools attract mores than 213,000 visits a year, across the whole age range. We get a fraction of the money given to Swale’s other swimming pools in Sittingbourne and Sheppey – they get half a million pounds a year each, yet people drive past them to come to Faversham Pools. Swale’s contribution of £200,000 to the Swing Bridge Fund, launched by Mark Dance of KCC, was proposed by Cllr Mike Cosgrove, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Swale Councillor for St Ann’s Ward, Faversham. He specified no fewer than seven conditions.
The most controversial condition was the approval of the Neighbourhood Plan. I wrote to Council Leader Bowles and all the Cabinet before the meeting, pointing out that the timelines for the Neighbourhood Plan and the Bridge are not the same . This condition reads like a threat, or even blackmail — even though 91 per cent of Faversham people said they wanted an opening bridge, if they don’t vote for the whole plan they get nothing. The Neighbourhood Plan clearly states that “it does not have the authority to deliver an opening bridge or a navigable waterway.” It would be a tragedy and a travesty if this condition were allowed to remain. Cllr Cosgrove was scathing and insulting about the English Heritage report. He claimed there were “only minor amendments to be made” and that the report had been “written by a very junior member who had just joined, who hadn’t really read the Neighbourhood Plan.” He claimed the letter was just picky points. Local conservation experts have been in touch with English Heritage, who confirmed that several senior officers were involved in preparing their response to the Neighbourhood Plan, and the so-called “junior officer” had submitted the response because that is the job for which they employ him.
I found the closing remarks of Council Leader Bowles surprising and laughable when he praised Cllr Cosgrove for all his hard work on this project. Cllr Cosgrove has chaired the Faversham Creek Consortium for Swale since 2006. For seven years progress moved at a snail’s pace. In contrast, you have only to read the minutes of the Faversham Creek Consortium to understand Cllr Cosgrove’s perspective. Take the minutes for January 15:
“Mike (Cosgrove) reiterated that it was essential that the Neighbourhood Plan was passed if an opening bridge was to be achieved. He also expressed the view, which was supported by Nigel Kay (the Mayor), that if the draft Plan was rejected at the independent examination stage, the Town Council and Borough Council, in the light of their experience over the last three years or so, would not wish to restart the process. Hence any public gain would be lost.”
Compare these words with pages 18 and 19 of your copy of Inside Swale. Just who are these Councillors representing? It certainly does not appear to be the voters in Faversham.
Herne Bay Times, March 25th 2015