Published: 15:46, 24 January 2020
| Updated: 15:47, 24 January 2020
A 20-year battle for the Isle of Sheppey to get brown motorway tourist signs has been given a boost but also suffered a set-back.
Cllr Elliott Jayes has offered to apply for funding from Swale council's new £1 million special projects fund to help pay for them to be installed at the M2's junction 5 with the A249 at Sittingbourne.
He said: "I heard at the Sheppey Community Development Forum that the sticking point was the cost of £40,000. Using the special projects fund could be one way of getting some of the money. I need to get a business case prepared to demonstrate the benefits."
Oasis Academy boss the Rev Steve Chalke, who founded the Forum to boost the Island's profile to encourage more health and teaching professionals to live and work there, said: "I have talked to Swale council leader Cllr Roger Truelove and he thinks the request might be looked at favourably. There are no motorway signs to Sheppey pointing out its award-winning beaches, maritime history or nature reserves."
But the project, which has the support of Visit Kent, has hit a snag after personnel changes at Highways England which has to approve the signs.
Kent County Council's Cllr Mike Whiting, who has been a supporter and is now cabinet member for Economic Development, said: "Swale’s offer to fund this in whole or in part is very welcome. But the immediate issue is getting permission from Highways England to install the signs.
"The design has been done to the Highways England standards with wording agreed by the wider group. Visit Kent has written a letter of support to Highways England.
"KCC Highways has been in discussions with Highways England on our behalf for many, many months and was making good progress but a recent change of staff at Highways England has set that back considerably.
"Highways England is now demanding a 'signing philosophy' to be prepared. KCC says it can organise this but it may be quicker to pay Highways England to undertake this.
"KCC has formally requested Highways England to do the work and is waiting a reply. If the request is declined then we will need procure the report.
"It is one step forward and two steps back. But I have asked KCC's director of highways to update me on negotiations.
"Visit Kent has offered to assist further if KCC Highways continues to meet resistance from Highways England."
Steve Chalke is hopeful Peel Ports, which runs Sheerness Docks, could still help with the cost.
The company promised to foot all the bill at one of the forum's first meetings until it realised how much the two signs could cost.
A Peel Ports spokesman said: “We will always support initiatives which have the ability to improve the economic development of the region. It is for this reason we have a dedicated community fund.
"We review all requests on their individual merits and have allocated the funds available this year to other community activities and charities around the Sheerness and Swale including local charities, social groups and the war memorial project.Please rest assured we remain committed to supporting the communities we serve.”
The next review is in June. Highways England estimated the signs could cost £40,000 each.
Cllr Whiting said Royal British Legion Industries at Aylesford had been approached to help and had offered to make the signs for half price.
Jenny Hurkett, who runs the Blue Town Heritage Centre, has been campaigning for the signs for more than 20 years. She said: "The latest setback doesn't surprise me but it is exasperating. What more do we have to do as an Island to get one?
"Towns like Herne Bay, Whitstable, Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester and Gravesend all have brown tourist signs on either the M2 or A2 but we don't seem warrant a mention despite being the cradle of British aviation, having strong connections with Lord Nelson, Charles Dickens and JMW Turner, award-winning beaches, wonderful nature reserves and world-class fossils."
Mr Chalke added: "You can't put a price on signs like these.Hundreds of thousands of motorists pass this junction yet they remain unaware of what the Island has to offer. Objectors say people Google places now but you can't Google somewhere you've never heard of."
More by this authorJohn Nurden