Stage 2 Framework Masterplan – submission example

Dear all

Many thanks to everyone who got involved with the latest consultation process, whether old hands or new enthusiasts! There has been powerful feedback submitted, and a great sense of shared commitment and determination in evidence from across the local and university communities.

This Blog presents one of the submissions made in defence of retaining the unspoilt fields as shared green space, and for not building a commercial hotel on Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (now called “University Rise” in the latest version of the plan).  It makes the case in terms of green heritage value and key policy parameters (the District Plan, the Masterplan, and the University’s own policy). It also points to the extraordinary lack of evidence  in terms of  the supposed case for the hotel proposal –  even as a narrowly understood economic proposition.

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The opportunity is also taken to brighten up the Blog once again with some recent pictures from parts of the unspoilt fields which would be most directly affected if the proposal proceeds. These are either from within the wooded site at the top of Dover Down field (mixed mature maples, oaks and yews) that the conferencing hotel would destroy; or perspectives taken from below or above this immediate site. It is very clear that situating the hotel here in incompatible with respecting these fields’ unique green heritage value,  would wreck the treasured beauty and tranquillity of this space, and would undermine irreversibly the integrity of the ‘green gap’. It would of course also set a precedent for further “development” in the years ahead (the so-called “thin edge of the wedge” argument.)

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SUBMISSION (SLIGHTLY EDITED) BEGINS

Like many others in the local residential and university communities, I have been shocked and appalled to see the resurrection of the proposal to situate [a conferencing hotel] south of University Road, on Chaucer Fields in the context of the Masterplan. Not only do these plans directly contradict the stated goals of the Masterplan itself, undermining its credibility and integrity overall (drawing attention from some otherwise sensible content within it). They are also self-evidently out of line with the expressed commitment to protect this place as an integral part of the ‘green gap’, ‘green belt’ or ‘green lung’ articulated on numerous occasions over the past seven years by the following groups:

  • University staff (expressed through support for a UCU motion to protect the fields in 2012, and re-affirmed in the staff expert focus group conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • University students (expressed through the all student vote in 2012, and reaffirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Experts from local government (affirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Experts from local civil society and voluntary groups (through representations made throughout the period from 2011 onwards, and most recently affirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Local residents groups, in close proximity to the proposed development site
  • Other local residents groups, from across the wider District
  • Individual people, who are neither current staff not students, nor members of residents’ associations, but a key part of the broader public from across the wider District and beyond, including alumni, former staff members, and other members of the community at large without direct University connections.
  • Canterbury City Council, which sought to heighten the protections already in place for this place as part of the District Plan finalisation process with its ‘green gap’ proposal.

 

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The commitments and values here are extremely well known and well documented, and reflect the irreplaceable status of the unspoilt Chaucer Fields resulting from a combination of this place’s exceptional value as a shared aesthetic, cultural, environmental, heritage and social (contributing to wellbeing and cohesion) resource, as recognised by the aforementioned “stakeholders”. Indeed, one of the most troubling aspects of the re-emergence of this proposal at the current time is that the University authorities can no longer claim that the evidence in support of these stakeholder perspectives in not utterly overwhelming. We now have literally hundreds of statements, representations, and testimonials to this effect, from lay people and experts alike, as a result of the reviews conducted over the past seven years. In the case of lay knowledge and experience, this includes (but is not limited to) the evidence tested through Kent County Council’s quasi-judicial village green application process, which affirmed that a meaningful ‘community’ can be identified with this place as a whole (including the land now proposed as the hotel site).  This quasi-judicial review also verified the extent to which the unspoilt green land here has been used for decades for beneficial recreational, amenity, and leisure pursuits.

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In the body of the [text] below I wish to emphasise three overarching sets of considerations: (a) heritage and cultural factors (b) the economic/business dimension; and (c) policy related matters.  (a) and (c) jointly reinforce one another and suggest that building a commercial Conferencing hotel and related facilities on Chaucer Fields  would be profoundly mistaken, and a violation of policy priorities at the level of both local government, and the University itself.  As to (b), since no information or evidence has been made available in support of hotel development – and there was silence on this matter at stage 1 of the Masterplan process –  all we can do is lament the damage done to the University’s reputation by the opaque way it has proceeded, as set out below.

 

(a) Heritage and Culture[1]

This land has remarkable resonance and value from this perspective not only at the District level, but at the County level too. This follows from:

  • the ways in which the gentle but varied topography has shaped the organic emergence of a beautiful ‘semi natural’ balance between nature and man;
  • the wide range of wildlife which makes Chaucer Fields its home, or use it as a staging post as the seasons and weather change;
  • the existence of tantalising myths about the site in the local community (for example, are some of the features of the site even anticipated in the Doomsday book?);
  • the strong existing sense of identity growing out of the demonstrable appreciation of this land by local people of all types;
  • the remarkable imprint of layers of history – from the obvious mediaeval field structure, and the connection with the Kentish yeoman farming tradition (following from the site’s connections with Beverley Farm), to ways in which the use of some of the land for orchards and market gardening purposes in the twentieth century are also in evidence;
  • The accessibility of this site to people from all directions, and the extent to which it provides an arena or ‘public realm’ which these people share.

This combination of  factors trace out a distinctly Kentish legacy, and underscore this site’s significance to the people of Kent, not just people who currently live close to it in Canterbury and the District.[2] It is clear from all this evidence and argument here that the development of a hotel and conference centre cannot be undertaken here without destroying this remarkably rich semi-natural legacy.

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(b) Economic and ‘business case’ considerations

There were serious weaknesses with the economic and ‘business case’ aspects of the hotel/conferencing facility aspect of the 2011/12 planning application, and many of the assumptions and claims being made at the time were not considered robust. In relation to the current Masterplan, unfortunately, no substantive information has been made available at all. Despite repeated requests from members of the local and university communities, the Masterplan Team have failed to present any documentation, analysis or reports outlining the case, in systematic terms and under current economic conditions, for proceeding with a conferencing hotel on campus. Worse still, the Masterplan Team also failed to evidence the assertions made repeatedly during the consultation events that such a facility (i) must be essentially commercial in character, and not integrated with the core educational and research functions of the University; and (ii) can only be situated on Chaucer Fields, rather than on any of the other available potential sites on campus (there are many). Instead, when questions were asked they were deflected with anecdotal ad hoc claims, and vague evocations that the undisclosed models/materials have found favour with ‘experts’ from the hotel and conferencing sector, and the ‘business community’. This level of opacity and evasiveness makes a mockery of the University authorities’ often repeated claims to be committed to such basic values as open communication and dialogue with its stakeholders; accountability; and responsiveness to the local and university communities.

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(c) The Policy arguments against the proposal for the conferencing hotel are at several levels

    • Planning Policy as per Canterbury City Council’s District Plan: The proposal demonstrably violates both general policy principles (relating to landscape policy, open space and amenity policies; as well as the heritage considerations already considered above) of the District Plan; and the detailed applications of policy specific to this site as they have evolved in recent years. One key example from the latter category are the guidelines requiring not only the resistance of site fragmentation and respect for traditional field structure patterns on the Southern Slopes, but their active strengthening. Another example is the extent to which retention of the open woods and fields in this particular place is crucial, due to this specific locality’s relative deprivation of amenity land and open space.[3]When account is taken of both these general principles, and the particularities as they relate to Chaucer Fields as integral to the unspoilt Southern Slopes, it becomes impossible to see how any claim could be made that the hotel proposal respects Canterbury City Council’s landscape, open spaces and amenity policies.

 

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    • Masterplan Priorities The whole purpose of the Masterplan process it to stabilise and offer a coherent sense of direction to what had previously been a chaotic and piecemeal approach to campus planning and development as pursued by the University authorities to date. It is intended to complement and support the legally pivotal District Plan.

 

The first observation about the Framework Masterplan, therefore, is that the inclusion of the conferencing hotel proposal on the Chaucer Fields site within it would have the opposite effect to that envisaged when the Masterplan became a requirement of local policy. This is because, as set out above, the proposal violates the District Plan’s priorities in relation to landscape, amenity and open space policy. Hence, retaining this as a possibility within the Framework Masterplan would embed an anomalous and contradictory element within the Plans, create costly uncertainty for the years to 2031, and make it difficult or impossible for the plans to function together in a stable and coherent way.

 

A second consideration is that the proposal directly contradicts what is probably the single most important aspect of the Masterplan (which has been widely welcomed by both local and university communities, and by expert opinion):  the imperative that development should be concentrated on the central campus/at the campus heart. Because Chaucer Fields and the proximate Southern Slopes are far from central campus, allowing the positioning of a hotel, and associated facilities here, directly undermines this core commitment, and further weakens the Masterplan.

 

A third consideration relates to many of the more specific supporting commitments and values emerging from the Stage one process. If the hotel proposals were to be retained, then these supporting values will have been undermined, and the credibility of the entire Masterplan approach, once again, weakened. The relevant aspects here overlap with many of the preceding points, but some can still usefully be identified here: the importance of responsible and responsive stewardship of the relevant land because of its landscape value; respect for how local people wish to protect and enhance their quality of life on a day to day basis (linking to amenity and open space); and respect for shared green heritage.  These important values will be seen to be fulfilled if and only if the Chaucer Fields conferencing hotel proposals are removed from the Masterplan; otherwise, they will not only ring hollow, but will have been actively undermined by the inclusion of this anomaly.

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    • University strategic policies As a non-profit higher educational institution, the University is a complex organisation, constantly evolving to balance a range of challenging educational, research oriented, social, cultural, environmental and economic considerations. In this context, it is worth clarifying what we know currently about how this balance can and should be struck, from the perspective of the University’s own governance institutions. Two aspects are especially pertinent:

First, we should not lose sight of the fact that the original decisions by the University Council to allow a hotel proposal to move forward, in 2011 and 2012, were not framed as offering executive planners a free rein to pursue unrestrained commercial activity. Rather, the decision was conditional on the hotel operating in such a way as to secure functional integration with the University’s core functions of education and research, and it was envisaged this would have particular advantages under conditions of economic uncertainty. It is unclear, therefore,  how the implied model of “unencumbered income generation”,  not directly related to University mission, as evoked at consultation events, is compatible with the foundational University Council decision.

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Second, there is rightly an increased emphasis in emerging strategic University policy (known as “Kent 2025”) on what is being called “civic mission”. Some of this is oriented towards the regional, national and international levels, but the University authorities are now also seeking to claim that, in order to protect reputation in a fast changing environment, they need to be more responsive to the local host community. There are even explicit references to “opening up our campuses and resources”, “building a sense of community and engagement” and “promoting access”.  These sentiments, values and priorities resonate well with the ways in which the unspoilt shared green space at Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes have traditionally functioned –  and can continue to do so to good effect –  if this “green gap” in its current form were to be protected and respected. To destroy this legacy and pursue the anomalous hotel option on this site  would cause major reputational damage, do great harm to the  direction of  policy travel suggested in “Kent 2025”, and embed in the university’s relationships a profoundly divisive element which will be ever present for years to come.

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ENDNOTES

[1] A key source for the first set of considerations is somewhat paradoxically perhaps, contained within the body of Chapters 7 (relating to landscape) and 8 (relating to culture) of the original 2011/12 Environmental Impact Assessment. This was supposed to support the University authorities’ planning application at the time  – but in fact contained a range of material that militated strongly against it. These considerations are, it  is suggested,  as relevant now than they were 6 years ago. The analysis for the second and third set of claims builds upon that, but links it to more recent considerations.

[2] This reality was emphasised especially in Chapters 7 and 8 of the 2012 EIA (with Chapter 8 drawing on the scholarship and insights of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust).

[3] The unspoilt Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes are in close proximity to areas of local open space deprivation at the urban Ward level. As the Council’s Open Space policy has rightly surmised, this is especially the case in relation to St Stephens. This is a problem which has become more significant over the period 2012 – 2018, in the light of the development of high-volume building in St Stephens, a trend also affecting the neighbouring St Dunstans Ward.

SUBMISSION (SLIGHTLY EDITED) ENDS

 

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Stage 2 Masterplan Final Feedback resources

Dear all

Once again, please forgive the lack of images of our shared fields and woodlands on this occasion – when time is of the essence!

Introduction

This Blog provides a very brief update, but is primarily a vehicle to provide resources and information for anyone still finalising their feedback for the ongoing Masterplan stage 2 consultation process. The deadline for your email submissions has been set at Friday 26th October. Please send to masterplan@kent.ac.uk .

Please see the previous Blog for a detailed discussion of what was learned from the first Stage 2 consultation event (at Westgate Hall). What has happened since? The subsequent 3 consultation events followed the same formula, finishing with the Darwin conference suite event on thursday. All exposed the same combination of incoherence and opacity, missing information, and raised broadly the same issues as the first event.

Sadly, despite repeated requests, at the 4 face to face events, that the ‘expert reports’ regarding the grounds for the conferencing/hotel decisions should be made available for discussion and debate, these materials continue to be withheld.  What is at stake here, but shrouded in mystery,  is (a) the justification for the case for a hotel on this campus; (b) the out-of-the-blue claim that the facility should be run for financial gain (profit maximisation) in line with the preferences of ‘corporate interests’, rather than integrated in a supportive way into the University’s education and research infrastructure; and (c) the  evidence for and against  situating any such development specifically on Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes, rather than elsewhere  ( Of course,  as soon as these materials are made available, they will be uploaded to this website.)

Furthermore the University authorities’  Masterplan website has been in a state of confused flux during the consultation period. For example, a key document was initially posted, withdrawn and then re-posted in revised form without explanation; more generally, information has been added and modified, again, without any account being given of the grounds for such apparently ad hoc actions. This classic ‘moving goalposts’ scenario –  well known to be associated with poorly designed, lightweight consultation exercises disconnected from the communities they are meant to serve –  is, sadly,  a  familiar scenario, in line with previous ‘consultation’ efforts evident since 2011 in relation to Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes.

Official Masterplan documents

This shambolic pattern is frustrating, but it is therefore especially important that you visit the site as it is now, rather than rely on your memory of earlier versions, in reflecting on how you want to express your feedback:

Canterbury campus Masterplan

One of the important documents added late is here:

Framework Materplan exhibitionversion20oct     [large document]

The section of the Exhibition summary relating to chaucer fields/the southern slopes has been pulled out here, for your convenience:

university risep16of21     [single page]

Note that this shows that the proposals include not just the hotel south of University road, but large overground car parks in the immediate vicinity to the north and west.  It also shows a structure identified as “Beverley Court” close to/south of Keynes bus stop  (apparently unmarked  in materials made available earlier in the process).

If possible, please do refer to other parts of the full “Exhibition summary” document in framing your feedback. In particular, if you look at p.8 of that-  which refers to the results of the stage 1 feedback –  you can see that the plans for “University Rise” directly contradict a number of  the lessons which the University authorities claim they have been responsive to, in relation to: concentrating development at the centre of campus; ensuring the integrity of the green gap;  the importance of good community relationships; and fostering green infrastructure and environmental sustainability. Reading the material in this context demonstrates how the proposal to sprawl south of University Road entirely undermines the intelligibility, coherence, and basic credibility of the Masterplan.

Community Perspectives

For a summary from CFPS, please see:

Chaucer_Fields_green_heritage_revised_twice_district_plan_map_2sidescorrected-docx

If you are looking for wider inspiration on how to express your feedback, you can draw  on the reservoir of actual statements used by local residents, staff, students, and voluntary groups over the years –   you could look at the following sources:

  • Vox populi 1: consultation sentiments summarised in 2011/12 concerning the landscape/green gap values associated with the Southern Slopes can be found at consultationstatement2011-12extract
  • Vox populi 2: a full inventory of sentiments expressed by individual consultees about the “Concept Masterplan” overall, in 2016/17,  had to be collated and can be found at master-plan-consultation-appendix-05b

In the specific case of University Staff, you may find it useful to be reminded of the ucu motion approved by members feb 2012, supported by a huge majority of  University and Colleges Union members in 2012. (Please note that the 6th point is no longer relevant, but the other points have all  been significantly strengthened in the light of the evidence generated since, especially through the quasi-judicial village green public enquiry); and more recently, do read the fully confirmatory Staff report, staff-focus-group-sept-2017.

Finally, in the specific case of  University Students, who have helped to energise the campaign at this crucial stage, please see:  this CFPS Blog from the time of the 2012 campaign, with reference to the All Student Vote; and please note that the President of Kent Union, as part of the stage one Masterplan expert workshop in 2016/17, expressed commitment to the unspoilt Southern Slopes as part of the expert-spatial-vision-workshop-report-2017. You could also find the following template, proposed by students and precariously employed staff, useful: precarious@kentuni template

Please do submit your feedback over the next 6 days! All strength to your elbows!

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

PS It has emerged that some of the links from the initial years of the campaign on the “Blogroll” were no longer working, including Concrete Lung/Richard Navarro, the Lantern Night and the KM report, and Hedgerow Havoc. These are now fixed or replaced: those have involved in these creative projects have been keen to support the continuing fight to protect our green heritage, so please do enjoy these ‘historic’ clips!

 

 

 

Emergency Blog UPDATED AFTER WESTGATE HALL EVENT

Dear all

This CFPS Blog necessarily takes a stark form! None of the usual colourful images!

[PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO GREEN FONT TEXT FOR UPDATE OF 6TH OCTOBER IN THE LIGHT OF WESTGATE HALL EVENT]

FURTHER UPDATE: THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

Its purpose is to provide information for those who wish to submit their feedback into the crucial step 2 of the University of Kent’s Masterplan consultation process, which is currently ongoing (the “Framework” Masterplan).

It is important that as many people as possible resist consultation fatigue and fatalism, and express their views. For the outcome is going to shape the landscape and environment inside and around the Canterbury campus for decades into the future.

The reasons this sort of elementary  information is needed here, sadly,  reflect multiple failures in the way the University authorities and their “Masterplan Team” are choosing to conduct the process. The most obvious failures are as follows:

  • Basic information on what is covered in the Masterplan at this crucial stage is only being made available to anyone who happens to be  able to attend one of 4 face to face events; or who was invited to a single “stakeholder” presentation last month. The former events  have been poorly advertised and  their content and method have not been explained, while the basis for invitation to the latter is obscure.
  • The “stakeholder presentation” was made publicly available temporarily on the Masterplan website. But it were then withdrawn  – with no explanation offered. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: THIS PRESENTATION, REVISED,  HAS NOW BEEN UPLOADED AGAIN TO THE MASTERPLAN SITE.  THIS IS AFTER PRESSURE FROM INTERESTED PARTIES, BUT STILL WITHOUT EXPLANATION FOR ITS EARLIER WITHDRAWAL 
  • The “Masterplan team” has failed to indicate whether or not student or alumni feedback on the plans at this stage is welcome. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: IT HAS BEEN BELATEDLY INDICATED THAT SUCH FEEDBACK IS PERMITTED, BUT NO EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THESE GROUPS IN THE USUAL WAY USING EMAIL LISTS ETC TO ACTIVELY ELICIT VIEWS
  • The  “Masterplan team” has also been unable or unwilling to indicate how the feedback it gathers at the 4 face to face events, and by email, will be used to inform the plan’s development. Unlike step 1, at which  a healthy and open dialogue with a range of stakeholders was beginning to emerge, with the current step 2 the process has become closed and  opaque. We are merely told there will be a ‘consultation statement’. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: AGAIN, UNDER PRESSURE, IT HAS BEEN INDICATED THAT THE CONSULTATION STATEMENT  FOR STAGE 2 WILL TAKE THE SAME FORM AS THE STAGE 1 STATEMENT. HOWEVER, THERE ARE NO WORKSHOPS AND FOCUS GROUPS IN STAGE 2, WHICH WERE KEY MOMENTS OF DIALOGUE IN STAGE 1 IN AFFIRMING THE SHARED AND STRONGLY HELD BELIEF AMONGST  THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY, LOCAL RESIDENTS AND LOCAL CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS THAT THE UNSPOILT FIELDS SHOULD NOT BE BUILT UPON. 

This combination of poor organisation, information hoarding, and opacity,  and the absence of any commitment to transparency and openness in sharing the results – AND NOW, TO ADD TO THE DYSFUNCTIONAL MIX, MOVING GOALPOSTS –   is simply not acceptable.

So to help shine a light on what is really happening, you can find some of the missing/withdrawn information here:

The above is a large multiple page file. If too large, two key pages in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes have been extracted for your convenience:

  • For a “before (unspoilt) &  after (developed)” comparison of “University Rise” which is the proposed “character area” relating to Chaucer Fields/ Southern Slopes, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: university rise p21of39
  • For a map showing “capital projects” which puts the “conferencing hotel” in context of other building projects proposed elsewhere on campus, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: hotel anomaly p37of39

Finally, a problem with the above materials is that they do not sufficiently highlight how the proposals have a cumulative effect,  involving the co-development of both the conferencing hotel “capital project” and overground car parks, in close proximity. To see this more clearly, and for an accompanying, short summary of the issues involved, go to the information document drawn up by the CFPS: Chaucer_Fields_green_heritage_revised_twice_district_plan_map_2sidescorrected-docx

Because of the opacity surrounding the pending ‘consultation statement’, it is important that where possible people making submissions share them with the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society. Please keep  a copy of any feedback form you submit at the Face to Face events (use a phone camera, perhaps?) . And please share any email you send to the Masterplan Team too (use cc or bcc):

Please use the email address:  chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com

UPDATE OF 8TH OCTOBER: PLEASE NOW MAKE SURE YOU EMAIL YOUR FEEDBACK BY THE BELATEDLY ANNOUNCED DEADLINE OF 26TH OCTOBER.

The CFPS is sorry to add a further layer of complexity to this already convoluted process. But there seems to be no other way of ensuring that the actual voices of people are expressed and heard openly, rather than being lost, stifled or deflected in a bland and uninformative ‘statement’ from the University authorities/Masterplan Team.

Finally, it is important that the voices of all are heard. This must include students and alumni. Please do offer your feedback, even though the Masterplan Team has not actively sought your views thus far .

Thank you for your help with this!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

**STOP PRESS – UPDATE POST  FACE TO FACE DISCUSSIONS AT WESTGATE HALL**

FURTHER UPDATE : THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

From the Westgate Hall event today (6th October), The following  key points stand out:

1. A positive point to start! By simply including a ‘students’ and ‘alumni’ category on the event’s feedback form (although the form itself is poorly designed see feedback form from westgate hall) the Masterplan Team have at last acknowledged that their perspectives are relevant. (If you want to use this form in  email responses, presumably you may do so: the Team seemed confused on this point, but have agreed to make it available on their website in the near future: please remember to copy your emails to chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com). Building on this, it will be important to push for a broadening of the consultation process to meaningfully include these key stakeholders. In particular, it is obviously ridiculous to expect alumni, based all over the globe, to attend consultation events over a few days in Blean, Tyler Hill or at the University campus.  The logical next step is for the consultation to systematically deploy other modes of communication. (However, if genuine outreach via non-face to face, electronic means is to proceed, it will be important to watch closely exactly how the process is conducted. Which information is provided as background? How are the core issues framed? And which questions are posed?)

2. More depressingly, the ‘intended direction of travel’,  in the run up to the final submission of the Masterplan to Canterbury City Council (in c. 2 months time) is  crystal clear from today’s event. The University authorities intend to force through the Conferencing Hotel on Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes if they possibly can by downplaying and belittling the opposition, and making unverified, vague claims about the extent of active endorsement. In particular:

  • To legitimise this steam roller approach, as per local media responses last week from a University spokesperson, as yet unidentified “experts” from the for-profit hotel sector and unknown segments of the business community are mysteriously being evoked and said to “know best”. Their perspectives and priorities (despite the obvious vested interest they have in any such development) are apparently intended to trump all others, whether inside the University community, or outside it.
  • To deflect and belittle opposition to the Conferencing Hotel (again, as per media statements),  “concerns” are ritualistically acknowledged, but claimed to be essentially limited to a small group of  local residents living in close proximity (implicitly identifying such people as self-interested NIMBYs)

As readers of the Blogs presented here over the past 7 years will know, portraying the situation this way is  a travesty, and involves a misrepresentation of the sentiment of the wider local residential community on this issue. It also attempts to airbrush out the extent of resistance to this destructive agenda within the University community and local civil society, and generally obscures more than it eludicates. 

Accordingly some challenges were made to the plans’ promoters today to create a reality check for this oddly circular and ill informed narrative. Some fairly straightforward questions were  posed to the Masterplan Team and its consultants. The results were as follows: 

  1. When advised that  local residents’ sentiments were not sensibly understood simply as narrow NIMBY-style “concerns”, but were clear and deeply held convictions within the local residential community across the City and wider District, there was a weak acknowledgement that some people not living directly alongside the Southern Slopes might hold oppositional views too. But when reminded that commitments to protect the fields as  unspoilt shared green space were also widely held yet more broadly –  through the University community at large (staff and students), in local civil society groups, and in local government itself – there was no acknowledgement at all. It can only be concluded that those involved are either unaware of, or essentially in denial about, the true situation in key respects –  despite the mass of affirmative evidence now available.
  2. When asked why  shadowy “experts” from “the hotel and conference sector” etc.  had not transparently fed their perspectives into stage 1 of the Masterplan process, in 2017, like other interested parties (via open consultation and contributions in workshops),  or why these obscure claims had not been tested through discussion and debate, no answer was given.
  3. When questioned on why “experts in the hotel business” and the “business community” had the competence to unilaterally determine a complex decision with many economic, social and environmental dimensions, no answer was forthcoming either. (It should also be remembered the University does not exist legally, constitutionally or ethically for financial gain or to pursue growth per se,  but instead is meant to be geared essentially towards achieving collectively agreed, nonprofit socio-educational objectives ) 
  4. When queried about the substantive basis for the claim  that a Conferencing Hotel on campus was  required, let alone that there was no alternative but to build it in the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slope green gap, there was obfuscation, with vague and elusive evocations of “the University believes…[etc]” instead of pointing to any clear evidential basis or defensible policy framework
  5. When challenged on which alternative sites for hotel development on campus had been considered, and for information on the grounds (economic, social, environmental etc) upon which these alternative sites had been dismissed by  so-called “experts” or their allies within the University authorities, no answer was forthcoming either.
  6. When asked why development was to be encouraged on the periphery of the campus, directly contradicting the core Masterplan purpose of concentrating development on central campus, no discernable response was forthcoming.   

The above characterisation of the University authorities’ position in evidence today, as involving denial, obfuscation and deflection,  might seem exaggerated. However, a sense of this position can even be gleaned by looking at their own texts. By simply reading and reflecting on the content of the “Hotel and Conference Centre flyer”( pro-CF-hotel propogandafrom westgate hall ) positioned alongside the table with feedback forms at the event, a flavour of this approach is apparent.  The patronising language deployed orally during  the event is echoed in this document (on page two). But it is also worth thinking about what  the use of images,  juxtaposed on the first page, tell us about the agenda of the University authorities.

The clear intention of this imagery is to foster fear-based deference and gratitude (“things might have been so much worse!”) because the 2018 proposal is not as appalling as the failed 2011 plan (inclusive of student accommodation tower blocks).  This is a nonsensical frame of reference: the failed first proposal is utterly irrelevant, and had to be withdrawn because it was a monstrosity and faced  mass opposition inside and outside the University. This was not a “benign”, voluntary decision by “listening”  University authorities, but an unavoidable withdrawal and humiliation for them because the proposal stood zero chance of getting planning permission. 

As ever, the only truly relevant comparison is with the unspoilt fields as they exist now. The question should always be  framed as: what are the considerations in choosing between the unspoilt woods and fields as shared green space on one hand; and any “development” which undermines this precious legacy on the other. In other words, do we want to retain the integrity of the green gap and all it embodies, or is it dispensable in the name of “development”? This way of looking at the issue is the only one which is defensible, given what we now know about the true nature of the local public interest after 7 years of debate, contention and controversy. 

The discredited plans are back : Please respond!

Welcome to the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! Our fields have witnessed winter snow, the blooming of spring, and the heat of an exceptional summer since the last Blog appeared. I’ll intersperse some images in the text to capture some of the variety across the seasons this year in what follows (as well as providing a much more depressing image – see below!).

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We are now moving towards autumn, and the fields and woodlands have that transitional feel.  As the natural cycle has progressed, in what direction have we moved in terms of  the future prospects for this wonderful shared green space? With the University authorities failing to meet their promised timeline regarding stage 2 of the Masterplan, members of the local residential and University communities could be forgiven for beginning to hope that serious learning was at last taking place.  Perhaps the pause reflected not the usual institutional inertia, but instead, a willingness to listen to the feedback received through multiple events, processes and arenas over the last 7 years? In terms of the “Stage one” Masterplan process most recently, had the University authorities at last recognised that development here would undermined the integrity of the entire process, contradicting the stated principle of focussing development on the centre of campus? After years of denial about the environmental, social and heritage value of the fields in their unspoilt form, had the penny finally dropped that this was and is a special and much loved place to be cherished, and not destroyed?

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Alas, we have found out this month that nothing could be further from the truth. As has become clear , the dismissive and condescending position taken towards community sentiment, reported in the previous Blog, has been in evidence once again.  Mass opposition fed back to the University at every opportunity offered  last year  documented clearly in the University authorities’ own consultation report is being ignored, and expert opinion disregarded. (This was expressed a year ago at “Conceptual Master Plan” consultation events,  a “spatial” expert group including professionals from local government and civil society, and a staff group convened at the last minute).  Directly contradicting this input, an  option of positioning  a “Conferencing Hotel” and related facilities on the fields has not been shelved. Instead, it has been retained as part of “stage 2” of the “incremental” Masterplan process.

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Those who follow this issue closely may notice in the image below, taken from the “stage 2” option plans now belatedly revealed , that this version of  the plan would position the buildings slightly to the west of where  they had been situated in  the “stage 1”  version of 2017, a little closer to Chaucer College. But it  is crucial to note that the latest plans retain the same disastrous scale, continue to contradict the stated intentions of the Masterplan, and would have essentially the same potentially catastrophic environmental, social and aesthetic impact on our fields as the “stage one” version.

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Raising this issue since the news broke, I have found those in the local and university community who have put time and effort into responding to the University authorities over the years are now  feel betrayed and affronted. This action is seen as demonstrating  a complete failure to listen or attempt to even begin to understand what is at stake. Many find this especially galling as the University is meant to be a learning institution where, if anywhere, we should expect to find an ability to move on and learn from past mistakes.  The retention of these plans within “stage 2” of the process is viewed as symptomatic of a profound rupture between remote, inward-looking University authorities on one hand, and the University community of teaching/professional staff and students at large on the other, which in turn overlaps symbiotically with the local residential community. (Many staff live locally, and many University alumni settle in the city when their studies are complete.)

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So, overall this latest “stage 2” development is being taken to confirm a depressing pattern of continuity with the past: the same old habits of disregard for the communities who host the university and make it function; and the perpetuation of exactly the clumsy,  incoherent and damaging muddling through approach that the Masterplan process was meant to prevent. Similar perspectives can also be found in organisations representing local civil society and expert opinion in the community more broadly.

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For some, this is even a depressing sign that the University has “lost the plot” entirely in terms of its mission and social/educational responsibilities. In both social media and out and about in the District,  it is now increasingly common to hear people claim that the University is functioning as a predatory for-profit developer in all but name. It is believed to be seeking to exploit the land, originally bequeathed to it by the local statutory authorities for educational purposes fifty years ago, for narrow financial gain.  And it is thought to be hiding behind the mantle of its status as a charitable educational institution with empty rhetorical claims, as exemplified recently by its circulation of “commUNIty” newsletters. On this view, such material claiming “learning” has taken place is seen as disingenuous window dressing, cynically designed to distract, divert and deflect attention from the University authorities indefensible “expansion at any cost” practices.

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Understandably, given this perspective, many can see little point in re-engaging with yet another round of consultation. What’s the point? Why should they do so, if the process is essentially a sham? I don’t doubt many people are  exasperated! If you share this frustration – why bother making an input? The reason is simple. If we succumb to consultation fatigue and fatalism, this will be spun as acquiescence and acceptance by the University authorities, and this, in turn increases the probability that this wonderful shared green space with be lost forever. We cannot assume previous inputs into consultations processes, fora and dialogues will be given any weight at all: indeed, the track record to date suggests exactly the opposite.

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So, it is crucial that as many people as possible come forward yet again, and express (or re-express) their views and commitments once more. This may feel like this is collectively banging our heads against a brick wall. But if we do not do this, and development here is then permitted, all the efforts and energy expended in defending the fields up until now will have been for nothing.

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So please do turn your attention to the Masterplan issue!  How can you do this? Unfortunately, the current stage of the process has not been well publicised. No prominence has yet been given to it on the University’s websites or communicative media at this key stage, with information buried in obscure places. While as to dissemination to local residents via the “CommUNIty newsletter“, these were made available in mid summer,  when many people were away, and so far ahead of the events next month that it is unlikely they will have been registered with many.

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However, what we now know is that there are two ways to express your views. First, for locally based people, there are 4 events which you can attend:

  • SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER 10.00  – 16.00 at WESTGATE HALL CANTERBURY
  • THURSDAY 11TH OCTOBER 14.00 – 20.00 at TYLER HILL MEMORIAL HALL
  • FRIDAY 12TH OCTOBER  14.00 – 20.00 at BLEAN VILLAGE HALL
  • THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER 10.00 – 16.00 at : DARWIN COLLEGE CONFERENCE SUITE on the eastern side of the University’s Canterbury campus.

Please look at the  timings and dates carefully: If you can’t make the one in Canterbury two weekends from now, please note that the alternative options are close by, including 2 which run until 8pm during the week that follows.

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Second, many readers of this Blog do not live locally, and a lot now live abroad.  If you are in this position, it appears that you can still email your feedback. The  email address – masterplan@kent.ac.uk  is provided on the Masterplan website here. (The website resources in relation to this process have been poorly organised, seem to have moved unpredictably between different addresses over time, and are hard to navigate.  But the information above seems to be accurate at the time of writing).

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If you go the email route, please can I suggest that you request an email acknowledgement and ask explicitly how your input will be used? I say this, because this is not clear from the University’s masterplan website. But if you are being generous enough with your time to make a contribution, you surely deserve at a basic minimum this sort of recognition and response.  Comments will be added to this Blog, or included in a later Blog, if any clarity is subsequently offered by the University authorities on this matter.

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Finally, please do feel free to mine the CFPS Blogs to inform your perspective and support your contributions. Although I suspect most of you will not need to do so, as you have plenty to offer based on your own experience and knowledge!

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

 

2017: one step forward, two steps back

Festive greetings!

It is once again time to offer seasonal greetings to readers of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! As has become customary, we use the evocative image of “Balloons over Canterbury” to communicate the idea that our fields are a fundamental  part of our city’s aesthetic, social and environmental heritage, treasured by the local and University communities alike. With its wartime provenance, the image emphasises not only the deep historical roots of this widely shared and valued commitment – stretching back to before the University was established –  but also the extent to which recognition of such a wonderful legacy is especially important at times of threat, discord and uncertainty

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It would have been great to have been positioned to kick off the Blog with a picture more suggestive of harmony and tranquillity. Readers will have noticed that in recent months, there have been some signs that the University authorities were at last beginning to register the significance of this place as an unspoilt shared green space to its own community, and of course way beyond that. However, sadly the most recent Statement to be released, last month, shows that a major opportunity has been missed by the University authorities to catch up with the thinking of the host community, expert knowledge, and the perspectives of their own people (staff and students), by unconditionally ruling out development on the fields in perpetuity.

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So, the fight must continue. This is because the latest Statement explicitly tries to keep development of the fields on the agenda: as we shall see, it  seeks to leave the University authorities an entry point to pursue development here in the future (an implied ‘window’ from the late 2020s onwards, a possibility discussed in the previous Blog). This is really a form of  denial in two senses: it involves the persistence of a dismissive attitude to the evidence on the Southern Slopes’ value as unspoilt shared green space; and it exhibits indifference to the extent to which development here would undermine the entire coherence and logic of the emerging campus Master Plan.  In this sense, 2017 has been a year of confusion and inconsistency on the part of the University authorities,  and as a result, we find ourselves in the “one step forward, two steps back” situation which gives the current Blog its title.

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In the rest of this Blog, we first explain how a step has been taken forward with the latest stages in the ongoing “incremental” Masterplan development process. But we then have to point out how the latest document to be released “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” embodies the extent to which the University authorities are, in spite of this, ultimately still failing to make a break with the troubled recent past regarding Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (or, to use Masterplan language, “Parklands”).  The Blog is interspersed with some recent images of the fields in the usual way.

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Stepping Forwards…

Credit where credit’s due. As part of the latest consultation exercise initiated in the summer, working through its external consultants (CMA Planning and John Leatherland limited), and facilitated by its own central Corporate Communications Directorate, the University first of all provided opportunities for relevant external expert input into the development of a “Spatial Vision” via a Workshop (see previous Blog for more details). Significantly, this led to a major gain in transparency with the August publication of the Workshop Report which clearly demonstrates the durability of the long held commitment amongst stakeholders to preserving Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space by explicitly ruling out any development there.  As the previous Blog showed, this report demonstrated unambiguous affirmation of the collective view that no buildings should ever be located here.  Such key stakeholders as representatives of Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council, local civil society organisations, and the President of Kent Union (the union for University of Kent students) all affirmed this position.

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Second, apparently in response to the incredulity expressed at the time that the process has not involved the University’s own staff, an additional, internal, event was  convened the following month. At the request of staff participants, this was also then openly published as the “Staff Focus Group” report , representing a positive move in terms of communication and freedom of information.  The Focus Group ranged over a number of issues relating to the Master Plan, but for brevity’s sake, we will focus here only on the directly relevant material. Below, for ease of reference, we reproduce in full the passage relating specifically to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes.

“there should be no development on the Southern Slopes – to do so would be inconsistent with notions of consolidation and intensification of the Campus heart [a core principle of the Masterplan]; it would also be seen as provocative and misguided by local residents as well as staff, students, local public authorities and relevant charities and societies, who evidently value the enviromental/heritage character of the landscape and the wide range of activities it permits in its unspoilt form. It would be deeply counter-productive to ongoing efforts to foster strong ties between the University and these constituencies to continue to threaten it with development” (Staff Focus Group, p. 5)

The statement captures the staff group’s shared commitment towards the unspoilt fields and slopes, and demonstrates an awareness of how the issue has become a high stakes one, deeply interwoven with the University’s reputation and image. It is also important to register here that this statement exhibits common cause from attendees coming from across a diverse set of University’s departments, with participants included academic staff as well as senior non-academic staff members. As such it goes beyond the motion in favour of protecting the fields agreed over 5 years ago in a vote of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), because the latter is primarily an organisation for academic staff (see this CFPS Blog from spring 2012 for more details)

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This affirmative material from both the external expert working group and the internal staff focus group has now  been reproduced in the “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” published last month. This report also strengthens further the case for the protection of Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes via the incorporation of additional written comments, over and above those put forward at the august and september events. Unsurprisingly, there is “strong endorsement” for “not building on Parklands” from the St Michael’s Road Residents’ Association (p. 18), representing many residents who live closest to the fields. But there is also amplification here of the point by Kent Wildlife Trust, expressing  their “concern that development does not appear to be ruled out for the area of Chaucer Fields, semi-natural grassland of high cultural value to the local residents and not without nature conservation interest. There is no mention of the Ancient Woodland on the site or the Local Wildlife Site, both requiring protection within the planning system” (op cit., p. 31; emphases added).  This is important because KWT is a  highly regarded charity which operates at the county level,  and this feedback builds on concerns it had already expressed at earlier consultations.

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…then stepping backwards again!

However, unfortunately, these advances are then effectively negated by the way in which the University authorities choose to respond to these views within the same Consultation Statement report. In this document, the Expert Workshop’s recognition of the high value of the unspoilt fields/slopes are greeted with vague, non-committal language – the words “noted” and “acknowledged” recurring at various points in the tables which juxtapose community comments and University authority responses. This is weak and uninformative, showing that while the articulated views have been logged, there is no sense of learning from the process in terms of reflecting on the significance of these commitments, or showing any willingness to express the consequences in actual policies and practices . An opportunity to respect the views put forward, and rule out development on the fields, has been squandered.

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More worrying still, the dismissive nature of the University authorities’ response to the analysis expressed in the Staff Focus group, as quoted above, goes even further. Here, the response does not merely avoiding saying anything with meaning and substance. It actively confirms, in no uncertain terms,  that old habits of thought  – and potentially action –  are still driving the process. The key passage here is as follows:

“Some development of the Southern Slopes may be necessary, including providing funding for landscape enhancements. to be explored in the Options” (op cit, p. 26, response bullet point 2)

The chosen tone and form of words in this response is deeply disappointing. Not only does it fail to rule out development on the Southern Slopes, but it actively confirms that it could be carried through as a possibility into the next stage of Masterplan development, presumably in keeping with the idea of a ‘window’ for building projects here emerging from the late 2020s onwards (see the previous Blog). Second, not even a cursory attempt is made to provide a rationale for this potential decision, in the context of the Masterplan’s philosophy and proposed principles, or indeed at any level (in contrast to the “responses” offered in relation to much of the other feedback elsewhere in the Step 1 Consultation Statement). This undermines the credibility of the wider process, because it seems to show that that the University authorities either unable or unwilling to take their own Masterplan’ s principles and processes seriously.

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Third, in the turn of phrase “may be necessary”  – with no attempt at explanation –  we see the authors of the University authorities’ response retreating symbolically from any meaningful notion of collaborative engagement at all.  It suggests the University authorities are, even now, trying to unilaterally take a superordinate position in relation to other stakeholders, including in relation to Canterbury City Council. This is damaging because it is at the level of this elected local authority were the planning process vests  statutory responsibility for determining matters of need and necessity, as embodied through the District Plan process. In this way, we sadly seem to see the University authorities’ old, pre-Masterplan, top down and paternalistic  “sense of entitlement”  reappearing.  Fourth, the use of the phrase “landscape enhancements”, as discussed in an earlier Blog, seems to be discursive cover for the construction of buildings: it is obfuscatory, and is ultimately just development expressed in more fuzzy language, to give the University authorities a potential licence to build as they please.

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It is important to remember that it is this arcane style of making policy, mixing up ambiguity and evasiveness,  which led to the chaotic ad hoc pattern of campus development in the past. It is a throwback formulation which exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of how things can and must change under the new planning framework. It entirely misses the  point of the Masterplan process in seeking to move towards a clearer, properly meaningful and responsive style of engagement, and to avoid arbitrary, ad hoc and unaccountable decision making.  This is, then, potential repeating of the mistakes of the past is the very situation which the Staff Focus Group warned the University it should make every effort to avoid, if it is to develop a more constructive relationship with the host community and its own staff and students in relation to campus development in the future (see “Staff Focus Group report”, p. 3, comment 3)

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A final note: timing and prospects

Where does all this leave us? If we look at the overall process plans as presented at recent events, we have a series of further delays in getting beyond stage 1: by now, we were expecting to have seen not just a Stage 1 Consultation Statement, but also the publication of a range of Stage 2 “Option Studies”, and for a consultation on these “Options” to be have already been completed! These next steps were originally timed to allow a draft, single Framework Masterplan to be in place for further consultation from January 2018, leading to further consultation,  finalisation and publication in late spring/summer, and adoption by Canterbury City Council  – and linkage to the all important District Plan – in September 2018.  Presumably the slippage in moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 means that this none of this will be achieved on time.

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Yet however the timelines is revised, the year ahead will be an crucial period for the fields. It is during 2018 that we will see whether the University authorities continue to operate in denial, pushing blindly for potential development, as they see fit, of the Southern Slopes; or whether they finally show themselves capable of recognising the damage that is being done by keeping this option in play. for there is still a chance to rule out development here. If it were to do this, it would bring the approach properly back  into line with the Masterplan’s own philosophy and principles; and demonstrate recognition of  the commitments and values of the University community, the host community, and  local public authorities. It is upon whose goodwill and trust of all these stakeholders, after all, that the University’s future ultimately depends.

Stay vigilant! Watch this space! Happy christmas and new year to all!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Picnic report…& endorsement from “spatial” expert workshop for retention of unspoilt character of Southern slopes

What a great summer picnic! This event on Dover Down field, the 6th since the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society was formed,  and the 4th in collaboration with the Abbots Mill Project and Canterbury Greenpeace, was one of the best yet. All the usual ingredients were to be found. Blessed with pretty good weather, we had a strong turnout of people of all ages and backgrounds, including people and families from the local and university communities (some familiar faces, some new friends); the sharing of food, drink, serious conversation and gossip; playing and unstructured fun for children, including tree climbing, hide and seek and exploration of all the nooks and crannies of this wonderful unspoilt fields, woods and hedgerow setting; and entertainment from various musicians on the Greenpeace stage, including Richard Navarro, Jack Barrack Cade, Pete Hicks and Luke Dodson. Pictures from the picnic are interspersed here.

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Semi-structured discussion of Masterplan

A further element in the picnic this year was a semi-structured discussion of the latest iteration of the Masterplan information, led by Dr William Rowlandson, the staff union (University and College Union)’s green representative. The discussion was shaped by the perspectives of people of different ages, with varying experiences of the fields, and from different roles and backgrounds in the local and university communities. Despite this striking diversity, it affirmed the value to all of the unspoilt fields and generated a clear consensus that buildings of any form on the fields should be strictly forbidden for the full duration of the pending Masterplan (to 2031) and indeed  beyond.

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This conclusion was  hardly surprising, since the prevalence of this view in both communities has now been well documented on innumerable occasions in the University’s own consultation processes (most recently, see the last CFPS Blog summary of the 2016 Conceptual Masterplan consultation report ); as part of  Kent County Council and Canterbury City Council led processes (the village green application review and the planning/green gap proposals  respectively); and of course, the university staff and student affirmative votes on the issue.

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However, it was still good to see this view underlined collectively with such clarity and force; to hear it being contextualised with interesting  ideas about how to enhance the green sustainability dimensions of other parts of the campus; and and to see it conjoined with the coming together of minds on what to look out for in the months ahead as the Masterplan process moves forward. There was shared tactical sentiment that it was crucial that both local and university communities watched, very closely, the University authorities’ words and actions as they unfold in the months ahead. Even if the process would likely be drawn out, complex and convoluted, it was agreed this vigilance was needed to ensure that any language used by the University authorities in seeking to portray itself as supportive of the host community and its own staff and students on this matter was not mere empty rhetoric or cynical spin.

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What was needed, it was agreed, was meaningful, firm and unambiguous commitment to ensure the protection of the unspoilt Southern Slopes (“Parklands”) landscape for the full duration of the Masterplan period (to 2031, crucially including the period after 2025, when the current University Estates Plan expires). If the fuzzy, equivocal buzzwords and vague  evocations (“enhancement”, “green assets”, “pavilions” etc) used in the 2016 Conceptual Master Plan were retained and carried through  in the stages ahead without proper clarification, it was recognised this sort of elastic and unfocussed language  could potentially provide dangerous discursive cover for damaging development. Structures and buildings on the Southern Slopes could potentially be smuggled through in the years ahead, claiming such ‘development’ involved ‘landscape enhancement’ or the strengthening of ‘green assets’,  an outcome against which all there where wholly committed.

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“Spatial Workshop” affirms need to protect Southern Slopes

Although not publicised at the time, it also emerged at the picnic that the University Corporate Communications department had convened, to take place a few days later, an expert invite-only  “spatial workshop” to discuss “place making”, “planning and environment”, “landscape and biodiversity” and “transport and movement”. A useful report of the event has now been made available, and can be seen here. This should be welcomed, and as the appendices show, it  turned out to involve a sensible balance of people with relevant authority, knowledge and experience –  with one exception.  Other than a handful of Estates staff,  a core constituency of the university community – its own academic and nonacademic staff, most obviously as represented through the UCU – had not even been invited. At the picnic and afterwards,  bewilderment was expressed on this glaring omission!

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Luckily, the discussion at the picnic helped partially address this, because Richard Norman, one of the picnic attendees,  had been invited to the “spatial workshop” in his capacity as a residents’ association representative. Richard was positioned to draw on the wider set of views – from residents and staff alike – that he had encountered at the UCU-convened picnic discussion, in articulating a position at the “spatial workshop”. (There has subsequently been a belated attempt to address this issue by addressing an invite to university staff to attend a separate “focus group” to discuss the meeting report (this seems likely to happen in september, but the date has not yet been made known).. Once again, such a “focus group” is helpful, but it was nevertheless a shame that the opportunity was missed to formally include staff representation at the July event, and thus integrate their input more systematically into the process.)

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What do we learn from the “Spatial Workshop” about expert and representative opinion regarding the appropriate place of the Southern Slopes/”Parklands” in the Master Plan? In fact, the report further adds to the massive stockpile of evidence concerning the strength of sentiment in favour of retaining these fields, woods and hedgerows as unspoilt space.  Two of the four groups which were organised at the event directly discussed this place. First,  Group 4, whose members included representatives of CCC, KCC, and local voluntary and amenity groups,  are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained and not built upon” (op cit, p. 8).  Second, Group 1, whose members included Ruth Wilkinson, the incoming President of Kent Union (the students’ union), CCC and parish council leaders, and Richard Norman (residents’ association) are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained” (op cit, p. 6). However, it is important here to understand that the latter, vaguer phrase in relation to Group 1 cannot and should not be interpreted as expressing a different view from that expressed by Group 4: Richard was able to confirm that this Group were also unambiguously committed to the rejection of any idea of placing buildings or associated structures on the Southern Slopes too.

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Recognising Shared Heritage: Towards a place on the agenda?

Finally, although not linking the matter directly to the Southern Slopes/”Parklands”, it is encouraging to see that elsewhere in the Worshop report, as part of the agenda for the  “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” two of the expert Groups (3 and  4) emphasised the need to look for opportunities to “reflect the historical landscape” (op cit, pp. 11 – 12). There is obvious and direct relevance here for Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes, because we know the extent to which the unspoilt landscape here reflects a particularly rich heritage, including its association with the wonderful Beverley Farmhouse; its enduring salience as a shared open viewing point of the cityscape (from long before the university existed); the legacy of field structures,  meadows and orchards (including apple trees still in place to the east); and  the existence on the land of part of the original, ancient “salt way” from the Cathedral to Whitstable (to the west). In Blogs written five years ago (see History Really Matters and Midsummer Notes: 6 Easy Ways to enhance Chaucer Fields as unspoilt Space) the potential not only to remember these things passively, but to bring them actively back to life by rescuscitating relevant language, including the original place names –  whilst also making new connections evoking local history – was proposed. Let’s hope that the existence of an explicit heritage strand in the “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” could help make some of these ideas real in the future.

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Picnic time approaching… plus Consultation, District Plan Green Gap status and Signage update

This Blog has been “rested” for a while, buts its time to rejoin! There are three reasons for this. First, after several months of unexplained delay, the Consultation Report on the Conceptual Master Plan, covering the consultation of summer 2016, was finally published a few weeks ago. So, there’s some news to report on that. And also further news concerning  the proposed “Green Gap” status (updating the details in the last Blog.)

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Second, regular users of the fields may have noticed the change in wording on the signage which demarcates this land, words that are also reproduced on the signs used at other points on the edge of the campus. What little is known about this is worth sharing.  Third, it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to picnics, including on these fields, to take advantage of the sunshine and good weather in this extraordinarily beautiful, currently unspoilt shared green space. As evidence presented in various contexts by many local people and groups over the past few years has shown –  in responding to planning applications, earlier consultations, and when compiling the vast body of material needed to make the case for village green status –  this is a customary form of leisure and recreation here which goes back for decades. It reflects deep community attachment and commitment to this unspoilt green space. Indeed, given the  historical record of using this place as a spot to view, linger and appreciate the Cathedral and cityscape – a practice  long pre-dating the University’s founding –  we can speak of this as a truly time honoured  tradition (see the “History Matters” CFPS Blog).

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So, once again I am delighted to confirm the annual collaborative picnic which symbolises this precious legacy, organised jointly with Greenpeace Canterbuy and the Abbot’s Mill Project, and supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blog Roll on the right of this text for further details). More information on what happens at the picnics come at the end of the Blog! You could skip straight to that, if you would rather find out about the latest news at the picnic itself. But please do consider reading the detailed updates on the Conceptual Master Plan Consultation, Green Gap status, and signage change issues, presented in what follows first, if you have a little time. As ever, images are interspersed to make it more digestible. This time, they are photographs taken on a short walk yesterday.

Campus Conceptual Master Plan Consultation Report

This report, published by the University’s Corporate Communications Directorate, can  be found here. It is not a particularly attractive read, but it seems reasonable for the University to claim that the process of developing the Master Plan and undertaking a consultation has been “welcomed”. This is  formally true, and reflects civility on the part of those consulted. On the other hand, of course, it could be pointed out that the University is not really positioned to claim any credit for this: it has been expressly specified as a requirement  by Canterbury City Council (CCC) –  the relevant local planning authority –  and it is hard to see on what grounds it could be resisted by the University authorities.  And especially because developments on campus in recent years have been haphazard and at times even appeared chaotic and shambolic, there has  been a steady build up of public pressure to take this obvious step –  and to take it transparently.   Ad hoc and piecemeal ‘business as usual’ is simply no longer acceptable.

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What do we learn? The report demonstrates a mixture of  reactions from consultees, and publishes the full set of responses in its voluminous appendices. This transparency is certainly a point in its favour. So, for example, there are 16 pages covering responses from “local groups” (Appendix 5A, pp. 61 – 76).  We can see the opposition to building south of University Road on the Southern Slopes clearly stated by local residents’ associations, one of which even supplied evocative photographs of the fields. But these are not the only relevant concerns from organisations. We also see explicit recognition from the influential Canterbury Society (see Blogroll) that this sentiment is much more widely shared: ‘people in the City feel like the Chaucer Fields should be kept undeveloped and not built upon’. At the same time, two highly respected local charities, orientating themselves towards the overall style and process of the consultation, highlight major concerns. The Kent Wildlife Trust and Council for the Protection of Rural England both use robust language in respectively challenging the University authorities on their failure to attend to the biodiversity dimension in developing the Conceptual Masterplan;  and highlighting apparent incompetence, mistakes and oversights in the way the University undertook the consultation process.

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Appendix 5B then  reports written feedback from individual people – over 81 pages (pp 77 – 158). Once again, it is striking to see how many such consultees have felt moved to write expressing their strong and implacable opposition to the potential loss of the Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes green gap. Large numbers of respondents point out that if the building of a “Parklands” conferencing hotel and other units were  to proceed there, as posited in the Conceptual Master Plan,  unspoilt shared green space, with extraordinary heritage, social, aesthetic and environment value, would be lost forever to both the local and university communities.

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These sentiments are perhaps predictable, reacting as to they do conferencing hotel proposals which have essentially been carried over from earlier in the decade,  cosmetically reframed now within a Conceptual Master Plan with comforting imagery, the soft focus, fuzzy language of  “enhanced landscape” and narratives deploying the vocabulary of “green assets”. So is this consultation document just telling us what we already know, that there is little or no support for the ‘development’ of the fields from either the university or local communities? In a sense, yes. But it can also be read positively by those who value the fields as generating  new evidence in support of the durability of this sentiment, sorely tested by already being expressed on multiple occasions for several years. In other words, it reaffirms and underlines the enduring strength of these values, and the level of attachment and commitment to this landscape and place amongst local and university people. It is remarkable that many people still had the energy to raise this issue for the umpteenth time, having repeatedly done so already, year after year, on a massive scale in relation to earlier versions of ‘development’ proposals. This is a tribute to the resilience of the local and university communities in the face of consultation fatigue. 

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Indeed, the resistance to Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields despoilment emerges as  amongst the most vehemently expressed views in the entire document, as acknowledged in the main body of the document (Table 5, pp. 20 -21, Main Report): The other major issue emerging here is confirmation of the extent of opposition to ‘developing’ agricultural land purchased by the University to the North of the core campus, proximate to Blean and the Crab & Winkle Way (“Northern Land Holdings”) by situating car parks, sports facilities/buildings and a range of permanent strutures and units  (again, often using soft language – this time, ‘hubs’ – to downplay the extent to which land use would no longer be essentially agricultural in character, and involve significant and irreversible development)

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It is also worth emphasising another finding revealed by this process not in writing, but in relation to the face to face feedback witnessed at the various  events convened as part of the process. Table 2 (pp. 12 – 14, Main Report) lists a number of ‘presentations’ and ‘exhibitions’ conducted. Most of these events were not well attended, perhaps relating to a lack of effective communication about them (see the remarks above, as per the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s response).  However, at the  events that were best attended – for University Staff on campus, and in Blean village hall –  audiences once again reasserted their resistance and opposition, and sometimes with real anger.  The narratives adopted by the University authority representatives and architectural consultants were greeted with marked incredulity by many attendees at these events.  Why?  There were probably three main reasons for this reaction.

  • the narratives demonstrated a lack of basic familiarity with,  and understanding of, the character and topography of the relevant local landscapes
  • they showed a lack of awareness of the sheer strength and evidence base for pro-unspoilt space community sentiment, and
  • the narratives also suggested that the  ‘landscape enhancements’  in question (in practice, of course, nothing but development –  since we are referring to hotel buildings, other built units, car parks, facilities of various forms  etc) were something audiences didn’t need to be so concerned about, because they weren’t envisaged to take place in the immediate timeframe of the existing Estates Plan (the University Council, in signing off the Estates Plan 2015-2025, has nowhere  endorsed, or indicated funding for, the proposed hotel or other developments).

 

This third feature of the narrative  was experienced as patronising , because it appears to assume that, while the University authorities ‘think ahead’, the university and local communities are characterised by either transience or short sightedness, an unwillingness or inability to think more than 8 years ahead (a lack of concern for developments after 2025).   This disregard for forward thinking public concern is not only directly at odds with the notion that there should be a long term District Plan at all (in lie with national policy expectations,the timeframe for the ’emerging’ CCC District Plan runs to 2031, 6 years after the current Estates Plan expires). In relation to chaucer fields/the southern slopes, the revealed assumption of myopia or transience is also out of line with one of the  core findings of the village green enquiry –  that meaningful local residential communities, with durable, collective shared practices, commitments and beliefs – and therefore, capable of taking the long view –  do exist in relation to this place.

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The next steps in the process are referred to in the documentation. It is suggested the University will work ‘collaboratively’ with CCC over a period of several months to move towards the substantive Master Plan. In relation to Chaucer Fields, we know that CCC already responded to the overwhelming nature of local (and university) community sentiment in favour of protecting the fields with the “Green Gap status” proposal. Even if this particular protection cannot be included in the new District Plan for technical reasons, we can and should expect CCC to take a strong and clear position on this issue in these upcoming discussions: the key point is that the principle of protection and respect for this space has been publicly affirmed and agreed by CCC, even if “Green gap status” proposal fell on a technicality. This is a point the following section will now consider.

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“Green Gap status” not permitted as District Plan moves towards adoption

In the last Blog, it was reported that the proposal supported by CCC, that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes be given “green gap” status in the District Plan, was, in response to claims-making by the University authorities’ hired legal consultants,  being challenged by the Planning Inspectorate on technical-procedural grounds (not substantive grounds, as reported in the local press). As expected, further to this initial response, this proposed “green gap” provision has now been removed, as part of the latest step in moving towards District Plan adoption. This is a technocratic “modification” needed to ensure the Plan will be ‘sound and legally compliant’.  Full details can be found here at CCC’s official update on the Plan.

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On the face of it, this seems like a setback for those who wish to see the unspoilt fields protected and respected. However, it is important to stress two considerations to make clear that it also has advantages. First, the very process of CCC even considering this status, and then taking the enormous step of proposing it be built into the District Plan, shows that the political will is there at local Council level to commit to the unspoilt fields. Even if ultimately overturned on a technicality, this does not reverse the fact that CCC have boldy come forward and defended the values of the community on this issue, or alter the motivation that lay behind this proposed protection. Second, in order to deflect the “need” for this protection, the University legal advisers who argued for its removal had to build their case, in part, on the claim that existing protections as expressed in CCC documents (including internal papers and documents relating to CCC meetings) were already shown to be so extensive in relation to this landscape that additional policies, such as the “green gap”, were not “needed.”  The University is thus potentially “locked in” to recognition of the value of the unspoilt landscape by its own legal consultants’ position taking in relation to this issue in the future. It has itself been forced to chart and acknowledge in its submissions to the Planning Inspectorate the high salience and significance of existing protections, already in place, and additional to any “green gap” status. It would be incoherent, inconsistent, and create an impression of disregard for due process to claim at a future date that such existing protections can be readily dispensed with.

Signage update

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Observant users of the fields may have noticed early last month that the form of words used on the demarcation signs has now changed: the image above shows the new language, where the one below shows the older formulation.

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This can be read in a number of ways. Is it a strengthening of the role of the relevant elected public authorities (in this case, Kent County Council) over the University, insisting on greater clarity on the publics’ right to use ‘rights of way’ crossing the land in our county? On the other hand, it could be seen as clearing the ground  in the longer term for a situation in which access here and in other places where the University owns land will be more strictly circumscribed, driving a strict wedge between allowable and forbidden use.  A world of narrow pathways and functional ‘desire lines’ to and from workplaces in the context of a looming hotel complex,  a range of other buildings and facilities, and car parks, all  erected on a previously unspoilt landscape where roaming had previously been the norm. In other words, this is a scenario in which the free sharing of  land around the University, for recreation and leisure by the university and local communities, is over time constrained and then ultimately brought to a halt in the name of ‘development’ (or, ‘enhanced landscape’).

The University authorities have indicated they have taken this initiative as a result of ‘legal advice’, but it is not in the public domain what form that advice took, or the nature of the agenda in asking for it. The most benign and optimistic explanation, more in line with the first reading, is that it is a response to the fact the cyclists, walkers and others, particularly those trying to ‘find their way’ onto the Crab & Winkle route, had often found the older signage confusing, and this is a way to rectify this. However, only time will tell whether a more controlling intention to restrict non-public right-based of way activities into the future is  part of the thinking too.

 

Upcoming Picnic – Sunday 16th July midday onwards   

And so to the picnic – this will be the sixth collaborative one since the CFPS was formed in 2011.  The event is always great fun, with every one is slightly different from its predecessors. However, certain key features always endure – sharing food and drink in a truly beautiful setting, appreciating both the nature surroundings and the proximate cityscape; play for families, ranging from impromptu tree climbing, hide and seek to more organised activities, such as football, kite flying, rounders and dodgeball; conversation and socialising, finding out about people, places and gossip, crossing the boundaries between the local and university communities; and last but not least, music, ranging from a small stage with amplification for those inclined, to more casual jamming and swopping of tunes and musical ideas.

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This year, we are delighted to highlight two special features of the event, each linking back to the support base for the fields as it has been nurtured and grown over the years. First, Richard Navarro will be playing once more! A regular at earlier picnics, and someone who did a lot to raise awareness of the cause with his Joni Mitchell inspired Concrete Lung , touring and other commitments meant Richard was missed at recent gatherings. However, he will join us this time, fresh from a recent highly successful tour of Ireland.

Second, we will take the chance of the gathering to convene a group to informally talk about ways forward in protecting, respecting and enhancing the local landscape (the demarcated campus, and any adjacent/other land now acquired by the University). This will be in the light of what we have now learned about the University authorities’ agenda and intentions thus far (through the Master Plan process). This will be led by Dr William Rowlandson, green representative at the University of Kent for the University and Colleges Union. (See William’s response to the Conceptual Master Plan consultation here.) UCU has already been an important actor in confirming University staff’s commitment to protecting the fields (facilitating the motion leading to a strong vote in favour of protecting the fields as undeveloped green space shared with the local community in 2012), and there is potential for it in the context of this new initiative to take an wider role regarding the local environmental agenda too.

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We look forward to welcoming you to the picnic on sunday – 12.00 midday onwards! (Facebook users, see the event information from the Abbot’s Mill Project here).

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society