Published: 09:00, 06 May 2017
The people of Faversham have voted overwhelmingly for the approval of the Creek Neighbourhood Plan.
On Thursday, 42.28% of the constituency turned out to have their say on the plan, a turnout much greater than anywhere in Sittingbourne or Sheppey for the Kent County Council elections.
An astonishing 88% and 5418 people said they wanted the plan to go forward, with just 708 voting 'no'.
The question they were asked is: "Do you want Swale Borough Council to use the neighbourhood plan for Faversham Creek to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?”
The result of the referendum also means that Swale Borough Council will hand over £200,000 for a moving bridge, meaning that there is the full amount in the pot for the bridge to be constructed.
A swing bridge - which the Faversham community contributed £125,000 to in 2015 - will open up the upper basin, which campaigners say will increase tourism and employment opportunities in the area.
The specific sites considered in the plan are Ordnance Wharf, parts of the BMM Weston site, the former Frank and Whittome site on the town side of Belvedere Road, Swan Quay, the former oil depot, former coach depot, Standard Quay, Standard House and Fentiman’s Yard.
The vision of the Neighbourhood Plan is described as: “Faversham Creek is a place where we can celebrate the town’s rich history and attractive appearance, where we can enjoy spending time, both on and off the water, where boats, residents and visitors want to be, where developments integrate the needs of people and nature and where there is a distinctive character and identity, rooted in traditional industries and enrich by new businesses and uses.”
The Faversham Creek Trust has been campaigning tirelessly for voters to say 'yes', distributing 2,000 flyers and posters across the town.
Chairman Sue Akhurst said after the result was announced: "We are delighted with the turnout and the huge response in favour of the plan.
"The Trust has worked very hard over the last six years to achieve a plan that we could support.
"Now that we have one, we will continue to work hard to realise the objectives that this plan makes possible - including the swing bridge, the restoration of the basin and much more maritime activity along the Creek.
"We will also keep an eye on applications for development to make sure they comply with the plan."
The plan is a culmination of intense planning, hundreds of meetings, consultations and tireless effort from dozens of people - mainly voluntarily.
Town and borough councillor Nigel Kay was the chairman of the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan steering group.
He said after the result: "It is a wonderful result.
"So many people did so much for this plan and it now means the bridge is going to be built and we can have more control on development."
Another member of the steering group was borough and town councillor Mike Cosgrove, who was also part of the Faversham Creek Consortium which started discussions of a Creek Neighbourhood Plan back in 2006.
He said: "This is a thumping success showing that the majority of Faversham Voters wanted the four key actions in the Neighbourhood Plan, footpaths and walkways around the creek, better public access, employment, housing and a new swing bridge.
"I am delighted that the result was Yes. Thanks should go to those unsung heroes such as Anne Salmon, Janet Turner, Andrew Osborne, Jackie Westlake and John Coulter who against strong opposition helped shape the plan.
"Also to David Simmons and Nigel Kay who pressed for it at Faversham Town Council. The process and outcomes may not be perfect but they are much better than a rotting waterway and derelict buildings that lay along the Creek in the 1970s."
The Faversham Society - the town's leading conservationists - were also campaigning for the plan to be put in place.
Chairman of the Society Harold Goodwin said: "The plan is a compromise between many competing interests and the inspector made some major changes too.
"We are keen to see some initiatives which create employment for local people and to secure a great deal more affordable housing for residents and their children.
"The planning policies in the Neighbourhood Plan will also assist the Society in making its case for the conservation of our heritage and providing leisure and recreational access for residents and visitors.
"We shall doubtless have to continue to campaign in responding to planning applications - the Neighbourhood Plan will provide some support for the Society in making those arguments."
To find out more about the neighbourhood plan, click here to visit Swale Borough Council's website.