Sunstroke: anti – solar park campaign gathers momentum

Alarm bells have been ringing recently concerning the proposed Cleve Hill Solar Park development, a planned industrial solar energy farm on the outskirts of Faversham that would destroy the local landscape.

Media interest in a local campaign against the proposal, which is being vigorously run by the Graveney Rural Environment Action Team, has started to gather its own energy, with recent articles in Faversham Times and the Daily Mail picking up on the urgency of the situation.

The current proposal, for a 1000-acre farm on the marshland and arable farmland to the north-west of Graveney, threatens to destroy an important area for wildlife, part of the flood defenses for that stretch of north Kent coast, and an area of historic importance. What would be the largest solar farm in the country is possibly also the veil for speculation on the energy market, whereby companies purchase electricty, store it in an enormous battery, and then sell it back to the National Grid at peak times – or, as Michael, one of the team, put it at the community event last Saturday, “when everyone goes and puts the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup.” And the project isn’t even a Government initiative; rather, it belongs to tycoon Elon Musk, who currently operates a similar installation in Australia.

Attending the community event last Saturday, held at All Saints Church in Graveney, was an eye-opening experience, not least because it put into perspective the staggering size of the proposed solar farm; each panel would be over 4.5 metres in height, allowing clearance beneath for flood-tides, across an area larger than neighbouring Faversham. A filmed fly-over of Graveney marshes (pictured above), running throughout the day, showed a bird’s-eye view of the marshland under threat – and ‘bird’s-eye’ is a phrase loaded here with extra poignancy, given that the plans threaten Schedule 1 birds and other wildlife, for whom the area provides crucial nesting and feeding habitats as well as a corridor on migratory patterns.

Behind the church, basking in the peaceful height of a gloriously sunny day, visitors were able to stand and look out over the landscape which could soon disappear beneath a wealth of double-decker-bus-height solar panels and industrial energy installations.

A view of the area under threat from behind All Saint Church, Graveney

Local voices have also stepped forward to express their concerns, including Faversham and Mid-Kent’s MP, Helen Whately, who attended Saturday’s information event, Janet Street-Porter and even Swale Green Party’s Tim Valentine. “It comes to something,” said Michael in his quietly authoritative way, “when even the Green Party objects to plans for renewable energy…”

So what now ? The action team has set up an online petition, which people are urged to sign (see online here); there is also the opportunity to provide comments and feedback to the developers before the deadline on July 13 (see online here); and the GREAT website has additional suggestions for ways in which to become involved here.

The community event at the weekend really brought home the personal issues threatened by the proposal, the impact on both the rural and the social communities for whom the plans would have devastating consequences. Take a look at the campaign’s website here, join the dialogue on Twitter here, and find out more about the proposal and how (if you wish) you can get involved in the fight to preserve a unique, historic and incredibly valuable (currently) unspoiled part of our coast.


Food for thought: annual Faversham Food Festival to whet your taste-buds

Foodies are in for a treat next week, as the annual Faversham Food Festival returns to the Market Town of Kings from 16 – 18 September.


Celebrating the best of locally-produced food and drink, the festival, this year the festival also includes the Ale Trail, a new venture inviting you to explore the beers and pubs of Faversham. Amongst a rich plethora of tempting events, the market will be offering food tastings, demonstrations and talks; St Mary’s church will host stalls and tea and cake; live jazz in the Abbey Physic Community Garden, followed by a Teddy Bear’s Picnic; local MP Helen Whateley will be presenting the festival’s Food Hero Award during a dinner at the Phoenix Tavern; champagne-tasting at the Creek Hotel; and a Gala Dinner at the Red Sails Restaurant. You can also vote for your favourite sausage on the Sausage Trail.

Details about all these and more can be found on the festival’s website here, or you can download the brochure here;  between 16-18 September, there’ll be something to really get your teeth into…

Hop to the first Hop Fest Fringe this weekend

This year, for the first time, Faversham’s Arden Theatre will be bursting with stand-up comedy, spoken word, poetry, theatre and more in the first Hop Fest Fringe.

Better Together: at the Hop Fest Fringe

From 2 – 4 September, alongside the annual Hop Festival, the Arden will froth with creative life, including ancillary events such as ‘Prose at the Purifier’ bringing theatre and poetry to the Purifier Building. Family-friendly events include ‘The Little Girl Who Was Sold With The Pears’ as a double-bill with ‘Baby,’ a dance-theatre performance using pop music to explore the joys of pregnancy and motherhood.

‘Better Together’ uses slapstick, acrobatics and physical comedy as it asks how you become best friends with someone, while ‘Water-Watcher’ weaves folk, fable, alchemy and ancient rites through spoken word as it investigates the north Kent coast.

hopfestfringe-logoFind out more about all these events here; tickets are a mere snip at £5 each, and the Hop Fest Fringe runs from Friday 2 to Sunday 3 September. Toi toi toi to the first Fringe Fest!

Deft, balanced and wry; Helen Whately’s maiden speech

MP for Faversham and MidKent, Helen Whately, gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon (thanks @HaggyT for the link on Twitter), in what reads to be a balanced and sure-footed start.

Her speech loses no time in referring to Faversham’s history, and keystones of its past including its maritime and agricultural heritage, its role as the home of Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, and its links with history as the Market Town of Kings. Heritage is one of Faversham’s key attributes, something that it strives to promote as part of its appeal to the tourism industry, and it’s reassuring that this is recognised and celebrated early on.

On the campaign trail in Faversham. Image: Helen

Her speech shows she is alive too to the issues and concerns at the heart of her constituency – the NHS, the uncertainty over the future of the Cottage Hospital; healthcare; education; housing development. There’s no mention of the thorny issues of addressing transport and traffic problems, but hopefully they are on the agenda.

It’s impossible, of course, to tell tone-of-voice from a transcript, but later on you can’t help feeling a certain wryness creeping in, with reference to her predecessor, Hugh Robertson, the former Minister for Sport;

I have lost count of the number of people who have told me how hard it will be to live up to the standard set by Sir Hugh, and that is just in his role as constituency MP.

Or, in other words; ‘Thanks to all those who just couldn’t wait to brow-beat me with the idea that  I’d have a lot to live up to; just let me get on with it, ok ?!’ And who can blame her.

So, a deft, positive start; mindful of the town’s past, aware of concerns, looking squarely to the future of the constituency whilst aware of its heritage. Let’s hope Helen is a genuine champion for the development, rejuvenation and revitalisation of the constituency.

You can read the full transcript of the speech here.

All about that bus: Faversham Transport Weekend brings town alive

An excellent first day of the Faversham Transport Weekend, which saw the town hosting all manner of vintage vehicles for enthusiasts of historic transport.

Whilst tomorrow brings vintage cars, today was all about buses, with many standing proud throughout the centre of town whilst others were fulfilling usual bus-route commitments to far-flung Challock and the like. The Alexander Centre is currently hosting a photographic display as part of the weekend as well as a collection of bicycles under the title ‘From Boneshaker to BMX.’ As usual, many of the town’s window-displays have responded to the occasion, including that in the window of The Disgruntled Cat, upon whom you can always rely for an eye-catching adornment to the town.


Further up Abbey Street, there’s also an opportunity to learn about the Swing the Bridge campaign at the stall outside no. 92, where you can find out more about this crucial project to raise funds for the installation of a swing-bridge to re-vitalise Faversham Creek Basin and the wider local community.

 Street entertainment includes live music and Punch & Judy; and there’s plenty more to enjoy tomorrow too. An historic market town with a rich heritage, Faversham certainly knows how to celebrate history. Catch it if you can.

Continued controversy over 12 Market Place, Faversham

12 MarketA new application has been submitted for 12 Market Place, Faversham. This is the third application for change of use since the shoe shop Stead & Simpson closed down. The owners have applied for the existing retail premises to become a restaurant. Costa withdrew a similar application in February, but have not responded to enquiries regarding their involvement in the new application.

While some welcome the introduction of a Costa coffee shop in the town centre, the application received many objections from members of the local community, who did want to lose retail premises in order to create another coffee shop. They also expressed concern that a Costa would create unfair competition to the independent coffee shops in the market square and the introduction of a multinational company would spoil the unique town centre.

Members of the community are invited to comment on the latest application, with their support or objection to the proposals, but must do so before 7th May. Find out more and have your say on the application on the Swale Planning website here.

Are Faversham residents stressed ?

A report in the Canterbury Times indicates that, according to a recent survey, experts have found Swale residents to be ‘anxious, depressed and temperamental.’

A team of psychologists has ranked 380 council areas according to how around 400,000 people assessed their key personality traits, and found residents of the Swale and Maidstone districts display high levels of neuroticism, although Faversham residents also rank highly in being conscientious.

oare_2If this is true, we need to do more to remind ourselves of the plentiful leisure opportunities Faversham affords – the Recreation ground, Oare Nature Reserve, Faversham Pools which has recently won a refurbishment grant of £150,000 – as well as its art galleries, cafés and restaurants, the Royal Cinema, the Arden Theatre, and its coastal proximity. Seasalter and Whitstable are but a step away, rural areas for walking and cycling including the Saxon Shore coastal trail; and every so often the town bursts into vigorous life with one festival or another – the Hat Festival, the Hop Festival, the vintage Transport Vehicle Weekend. For a town that’s supposed to be depressed, you can usually find it celebrating something!

Whilst the pace of life can often be frantic in the Digital Age, let’s also remember that you can find plenty to enjoy in Faversham. There are areas that give residents cause for concern, certainly; congestion around Abbey Street, the unpredictability of travelling by South East trains, the need for more buses – but there’s much to enjoy too.

Read the story online here.

Fundraising in memory of Josh Oliver

Josh Oliver’s dad, Paul is fundraising for Child Bereavement UK. The Olivers are a local family and their son, Josh died recently, at age just 15. Paul’s JustGiving site says:

“The purpose of the Josh Oliver Charity Foundation is to raise funds and to give something back to the Organisation that has supported and helped me and my family through this very tough time – Child Bereavement UK, which is mainly run by volunteers and parents who have lost their children.  With the help from The Personal Trainer Company, who are donating free Fitness sessions, diet & nutritional advice and on-going support, delivered by some of Kent’s finest fitness professionals, I will be aiming at losing 1.5 stone in weight over the next 8 weeks (starting w/e 27th March 2015)”.

You can find Paul’s JustGiving page here and more information about Child Bereavement UK here.