Hook slams Tory Ministers for inaction over Faversham Bridge
By Antony Hook
Originally published by Liberal Democrats on Kent County Council
Building on Lord Palmer challenging Conservative Ministers in the House of Lords over the broken Faversham Swing Bridge, Kent Lib Dem Leader Antony Hook has written to the Minister demanding better than the answer she gave.
He wrote to the Minister:
Dear Baroness De Vere,
I write following Lord Palmer's Oral Question to you in the House of Lords yesterday about Faversham Creek Bridge. I have some difficulty accepting your answer.
You said,"assessments on the repair status of swing bridges would most likely fall to the relevant local authority or bridge owner".
Yes. Kent County Council has made extensive assessments, and these have been sent to your Department.
"We have not yet received sufficient information for responsibility to be determined" -
Faversham Town Council sent everything you asked Faversham Town Council for at the beginning of March 2022. Your Department has not replied asking for anything else. In what way is the information you have not sufficient? What else do you need?
"it is not the Department for Transport's job to determine responsibility"
Yes it is. The Medway Ports Act empowers the SoS to issue an abatement notice against a party obstructing a right of navigation. Are you suggesting the Act doesn't empower you to determine whom to issue such a notice against? That would be, with respect, a novel construction of a power to issue an enforcement notice and would have ramifications for many such powers were it not absurd.
"Local parties must work together to agree who is responsible for the bridge now"
If by "local parties" you include the international corporation Peel Ports, we cannot agree. After many years of discussion there is no realistic prospect of agreement because Peel Ports flatly deny any responsibility.
"there does not appear at the moment to be a commercial reason to re-open it and dredge the waterway"
There are a number of people who would dispute that. In any case the Act does not require there to be a commercial case. There are many right of navigation on water and rights of way on land which exist without, or even in spite of, commercial imperatives. Is the government against the protection of these rights?
A small number of DfT staff should be tasked to assess whether an abatement notice can be issued. This is a technical and legal exercise. A good friend of mine is a former DfT in-house lawyer and described this to me as the DfT lawyers' "bread and butter work."
I am driven to a conclusion that the government is making a policy decision to prioritise the financial interests of a large corporation at the expense of the interests of people in Faversham and a troubling decision to not enforce the law.
I attach to this email further copies of Faversham Town Council's letters to you of August 2021 and March 2022 with which documents your department asked for were enclosed.
I also attach, as previous sent to you, counsel's advise stating clearly that the SoS has power to issue an abatement notice.
I expect a number of things, please:
- Your department to have the courtesy to actually reply to our letters, notwithstanding our enormous gratitude to Lord Palmer is raising the matter in Parliament
- Specify what extra information, if any, you actually wish to have.
- Direct DfT staff to assess whether an abatement notice can be issued per counsel's advice and if they assess it cannot be supply us with a full a cogent explanation for that.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Kent County Councillor for Faversham, and Faversham Town Councillor