A large and increasing number of people are clearly watching developments around Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes ever more closely. What are the signs of this attention? A large ‘Save Chaucer Fields’ banner now stands proudly just south of Dover Down Field, so for the hundreds of people who walk past this spot, the issue simply can’t be ignored (see below)
But this dramatic symbol right next to the Slopes is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve drawn attention in previous Blogs to some of the ways in which interest and attachment has been expressed over recent months through a whole range of actions and happenings. And indeed the CFPS wants to help to communicate some of the sheer depth of energy and commitment that is demonstrably out there. Looking at the number of recorded hits – by the end of last month, over 2,500 visits to the CFPS Blog had been made – it is evidently having some success in raising awareness in the local community, nationally, and in many countries overseas (more on that in a future Blog…).
As many of us return from holidays, important events loom. I’ll use this first Blog of September essentially to remind you of something reported before, but also to give a futher update. Events are about to unfold rapidly: this month, it turns out, and its not just about the Village Green Application. We’ll look at that first, but read on to find out more….
1. Village Green Application (VGA) meeting,
Westgate Hall 11 September, 1 pm onwards
The single most important reason that September is vital is the Village Green Application. Please refer back to the previous Blog for all the details, but one further logistical detail is worth pointing to. As reported there, the general meeting starts at 1pm, but please be warned that VGAs from other parts of Kent are on the agenda too. It is quite likely that the Chaucer Fields application won’t start to be discussed until after1.30pm or even nearer to 2pm. So do be aware that the Chaucer Fields part of the meeting won’t begin until a bit later on.
2. New Development: University of Kent to begin seeking to promote revised Proposal in September too
Now for something of a bombshell. The University has apparently chosen this month to start the process of trying to promote a modified development Proposal, presumably in order to prepare the ground for re-submission of the long deferred Planning Application to CCC (Canterbury City Council) . In a message to Canterbury City Councillors sent on 20th August the scheme’s architect, Professor Keith Mander, indicated that:
- On 10th September, there will be a preview of “revised proposals for student residences and a conference suite”. This is apparently a closed invitation to Councillors (elected CCC members), a few CCC officers (officials), and a few “other stakeholders” (a euphemism for other people or organisations the promoters consider relevant. Their identities have not been revealed. But this is an exclusive event, and it is revealing that members of the host community or University people [staff, students….] are apparently not considered to be “stakeholders”)
- A “public consultation” will begin on the 11th September which will include an “open day for the general public (including detailed presentations)” on Saturday 22nd September.
What is going on? Its hard to know, because nothing has been defined properly. Apparently, the organisation of these events, and the process of “consultation” more generally, have been left deliberately vague, and no further information was provided even to invitees in terms of substance, content or location. This seems like short notice, and it is strange that the development’s promoters has not yet even announced this formally to the community through ithe University’s usual publicity routes. The “open day”, for example, is now only two and a half weeks away. It has to be said that this evasive lack of transparency does not seem helpful for University-community relations, given the extraordinary level and depth of public concern. It seems that an opportunity is being missed to learn from the mistakes of the past (the disastrous ‘Local Dialogue consultation’ [sic] and the deferred Planning Application of 2011)
In addition, this particular choice of timing, with the “preview” scheduled for before the VGA meeting at Westgate Hall, seems simply bizarre. It is bizarre because on 10th September, the members of the relevant KCC committee will have not yet have decided how to respond to the VGA, which will potentially transform, or set in train a process for transforming, the legal treatment of the land forever: that meeting, as emphasied above, is on 11th September. Indeed as reported in an earlier Blog, Keith Mander in a presentation at an open UCU meeting (UCU are the main University staff trade union) stated that the existence of the VGA had forced the University to put its development proposals on hold, because potential private sector funders were averse to the associated uncertainty.
The relevant question must be: What has changed since that UCU open meeting? The University seems to be either confident in a way that it was not then that the VGA proposal to be discussed on11th September can be dismissed – effectively pre-judging a quasi-judicial process. Or, for reasons which are shrouded in mystery, it now believes it can fund the proposal in spite of the uncertainty created by the VGA. Perhaps the proposal has been dramatically altered to make it more palatable to its financial backers (in the for-profit banking sector), or other routes for finance are now being lined up.
We will have to wait and see to find out – for privileged ‘stakeholders’ this will be on 10th september; and for humble members of the host community, University staff and students, presumably we may be told some time from 11th september onwards. You may well be getting angry at how confusing and convoluted this has become. Sadly, it is confusing and convoluted, and that’s all I can say for now. Of course, I will report back on the VGA outcome as soon as the decision has been made next week. But please do try to be there if you possible can, as this is an important moment for Canterbury.
I will for sure also pass on information about the pending University “consultation” and “open day” as soon as this is available, but given the track record to date, we had better nor hold our breathe on that! In the meantime, let’s take heart from the excellent gathering organised by SCF last weekend, to rally supporters in readiness for next week’s meeting (see picture above, and there may be story in tomorrow’s Kentish Gazette). In spite of the difficult time of year, it is clear there was an excellent turn out! Finger’s crossed for next week!
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society