Chilham Square’s function in the community has been a point of discussion for more than 30 years. Public consultation for the Parish Appraisal (1996) and Parish Design Statement (2003) emphasised problems with traffic and demonstrated overwhelming support for solutions and improvement. By then, congestion had become a safety issue; access for ambulances and fire engines was being compromised.
Therefore, at its meeting on 4 Dec 2003, the Parish Council unanimously voted to investigate the feasibility of delivering a high quality, long-term improvement project. A Project Brief and invitations to tender were sent to 6 design teams in January 2005. After short-listing and interviewing four urban design consultants firms, the award-winning Rummey Design Associates were appointed.
By early 2006, sufficient funds, including a grant of c£20,000 from Defra had been raised so Rummey Design Associates began work in May 2006.
The Feasibility Study was presented to stakeholders by Rummey Design Associates at a ’round table discussion’ at Chilham Castle chaired by Martin Bacon, then Managing Director of Ashford’s Future Delivery Board. Participants included David Hill, Chief Executive of Ashford Borough Council, representatives from key stakeholders such as English Heritage, Kent County Council, Ashford Borough Council, Tourism South East, Canterbury City Council, East Kent Partnership, Kent Downs AONB Team, SEEDA, the Ashford Borough Councillor for Chilham Ward and Parish Councillors. The aim was to draw attention to likely supporters/stakeholders and grant-awarding organisations, Chilham’s potential and aspirations.
CPC formed CFDB, to project-manage the community engagement exercise and take forward the community’s aspirations for a regeneration and improvement project.
CFDB asked 3 urban design consultants to quote for running the community engagement exercise. Halcrow were selected based upon their experience, flexible and pragmatic approach to the problem and their costs. CFBD secured funding from Leader to cover the fixed costs of Halcrow for the engagement exercise.
CFDB held an Open Meeting in St Mary’s Church.with George Kennedy as independent chairman, to present the reasoning behind the next step in the project (a community engagement exercise planned for later in the year) and to collect views from those attending
An Open Workshop was held in Chilham Castle. Everyone in the parish was invited to the open workshop, the first step in our community engagement exercise. This gave parishioners the opportunity to engage with other members in the community to agree what needs to be achieved to improve the Square and its environs.
At a further workshop, groups were established and tasked with developing proposals for three options based on the following:
Each group progressed their proposal so that they could be presented to the community at an open meeting later in the year.
At an open meeting in St Mary’s Church in November 2010 option 2 gained majority support.
In January, 2007 the Chilham Tourism and Retailers Group (CTRG) met for the first time. Supported and funded by The Kent Downs AONB Sustainable Tourism Project it went on to help develop Chilham profile in the ‘Rural Ways’ / ‘Country Breaks’ scheme.
CTRG has become a thriving, active group, now working on a variety of tourism and promotional initiatives. It has designed a logo for Chilham, run an ‘Enjoy Chilham’ stand at horse trials at Chilham Castle and is currently working on all the tourism initiatives set out below.
The Kent Downs AONB Sustainable Tourism Project has funded and help develop and design a fresh leaflet on Chilham for visitors, Discover Chilham.
The Hidden Britain Project funded by SEEDA through the Rural Development Programme for England is now supporting Chilham, helping with tourism initiatives and a website.
It is intended that this project should be of the highest standard possible in all respects for the benefit of the community for generations to come.
There are design, materials, planning, highways and many other issues to be considered with ABC, KCC and Kent Highways. This will take time, the more so, if rigorously and professionally conducted. It is vital to get things ‘right’ and not to rush into an ad hoc ill-thought-out implementation of the scheme.
It is anticipated that, as with such long term improvement projects, it could take several years to complete.
The project has Ashford Borough Council’s full support in principle. This will help with many of the administrative hurdles e.g. negotiating the planning and highways authorities permissions. We have already had much useful advice and support from their officers.
Nevertheless, it cannot be assumed that any (or any significant) finance will be given by our local authorities, whether Ashford Borough Council or Kent County Council. They simply have too many demands on their budgets already.
Therefore much time and effort will be put into researching and obtaining grant funding. There are many schemes and categories of funding; central government departments; the Countryside Commission, Heritage Lottery, SEEDA, numerous ‘private’ sources such as charitable trusts and public companies (e.g. under their social responsibility schemes). CFDB will be working to secure any possible funding available.