Residents and their MP have called on the government to intervene to fix a historic bridge, saying its owners are shirking their “duty” to maintain it, which could breathe new life into the town.
A petition signed by more than 1,500 people was presented to the Department for Transport on Monday, calling for ministers to force Peel Ports to repair the sluices and swing bridge at Faversham Creek.
However, the firm, which also owns Chatham Docks, Port of London Medway, and the port at Sheerness, says it is still waiting for a “business case” to have reason to fix it.
The area around Faversham Creek used to have an opening bridge and a sluice gate which controlled water levels, but the basin is now full of silt after years of disrepair.
Mayor of Faversham Cllr Trevor Martin (Lib Dem) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) “a temporary bridge” provided by Kent County Council (KCC) is costing the taxpayers of Kent £50,000 a year.
But the current one does not rise like the previous one.
On Peel Ports, Cllr Martin said: “They're saying they want a business case for doing the work - our advice is that it’s their responsibility to do the work, but obviously they’re a commercial enterprise and they’re looking at how they might be able to make some money out of it.
“But the right of navigation is much like a highway or public right of way - you have a responsibility to maintain and therefore just as KCC has to maintain highways and footpaths so too does Peel Ports to maintain the right of navigation for the waterway.”
Faversham Town Council had previously received legal advice that Peel Ports has a responsibility to maintain the waterway, but the company disputes this.
Cllr Martin added due to the build-up of silt from the broken sluices “vessels, even small vessels, can’t get into the creek and actually moor”.
In January this year, campaigners started the petition calling for the government to compel Peel Ports to fix the structure.
Several years ago, residents clubbed together to raise £125,000 for repairs to the bridge - and the money is still being held in trust by KCC, which estimates the total repair costs at about £1.2 million.
The county council previously told the LDRS it had spent more than half a million pounds on investigations at the bridge and installing the temporary one.
“A new bridge would be a game changer, bringing new boats and new economic opportunities to our area,” Cllr Martin added.
“I do think that Peel Ports has a duty to come up with a plan rather than say ‘no it’s not our problem’.
“They have that responsibility so they really need to engage with Kent and the people that are working on the creek to get it sorted.”
A spokesman for Port of London Medway (Peel Ports) said: “Kent City Council (KCC) owns (and has responsibility for) the public highway, and our team in Sheerness has been liaising with them on their ambitions for Faversham Bridge since 2018.
“We held a meeting in January 2020 with Helen Whately MP and representatives from KCC and several actions for KCC were agreed.
“We understand Faversham Town Council’s frustrations and met with their representatives in November 2021. In this meeting, we provided proposal documents we had sent to KCC in May 2019, containing actions that have yet to be progressed.
“In June 2021, Robert Courts MP (then Minister for Aviation, Maritime & Security), asked KCC to work with the relevant parties on their proposals for the Creek and the Bridge. We are awaiting sight of a viable business case from the relevant parties.
“In the meantime, we will continue to engage and support on the matter, where appropriate."
Helen Whately MP, who represents Faversham, told the LDRS: “Faversham swing bridge has been out of action for far too long.
“In the last few years, I’ve been working to bring people together locally and managed to get ministers at the Department for Transport on board to help move things forward.
“The next step is proving once and for all that Peel Ports are responsible for the working bridge.
“It’s not been an easy process, but if we can get the bridge up and running it will be a huge boost to the creek and the town."
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’re aware of the importance of the Faversham Creek Bridge to the local community and are supporting efforts to resolve the issue.”