Note: If too busy to read this long Blog in full , please scroll down to the section entitled
“The Keynes III proposal: rationales for Planning objections”!
Autumn foraging preamble
Chaucer Fields now have that late autumn feel. Some trees have lost their leaves entirely, such as one of the English Oaks next to the ancient pathway leading from the Cathedral to Blean Church (see above).While others, particularly the Red Oaks in Beverley Boughs, are variously showing interesting combinations of colours (see below).
This time of year is also a good one for foragers. The most obvious opportunities to gather nature’s bounty have passed with the blackberry and apple crop well and truly over for some time. But even now, there are at least three other ways in which we can all share what our fields have to offer. First, the abundant hawthorn berries may be on their last legs, but can still be gathered for culinary purposes! Second, sweet chestnuts such as those which can be found at the heart of the fields – where Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres join (next to the old cart track where the hedges meet) – are excellent in casseroles! And thirdly, foraging is not necessarily only about food. For example, at this time of year, the several horse chestnuts on the fields offer local children conkers galore!
It would be fun to write more about each of these – and I have some tried and tested recipes up my sleeve involving the edible ingredients mentioned above if anyone is interested! However, more immediately important is to make sure people are aware of unfolding developments in relation to the current Planning Application process. Please recall, as reported in a previous Blog, that the University chose this summer to promote both the Keynes III undergraduate student accommodation blocks and the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel plan (the enlarged hotel proposal) together – at the private preview and public exhibition events in September). But then it chose to separate them for the purposes of the Planning Application process. We have a planning application for Keynes III now pending and with the Council. There’ll be a seperate one, probably in March 2013 or soon thereafter, for the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel.
The Templeman Library Development (yes – it is relevant!)
To make matters yet more complicated, there is currently also a Planning Application with Canterbury City Council for what seem – to me at least – to be well thought out and imaginative plans for the Templeman Library, for which the University should be applauded. Others are expected to follow shortly in relation to other planned development on Campus, but because the University has failed to develop a Master Plan, the timing of these other plans is unknown (an avoidable problem – see below). Concerning the Templeman, it is now beginning to emerge that this plan envisages not only the most obvious forms of capacity expansion you would expect for a modern library of this kind. Also planned under the flexible mode being proposed is a new capacity for hosting conferences outside term time (using a 250-seater lecture theatre, 8 seminar rooms for break out sessions. These would be used for teaching (and study space overspill) in term times, but at other times they will not be needed for internal needs, and can be used for conferencing, with a range of catering facilities conveniently on hand ).
This weakens the case for the conference element of the proposed mass Conference complex anywhere on campus, and suggests the need for more modest facilities to enhance the University’s conference ‘offer’. A good deal of any future demand existing in the District for such a facility could now be met by intelligently combining the use of the Templeman’s exciting new planned facilities with the great variety of accommodation and conferencing options already available on other parts of campus. This includes, for example, those at Darwin college, and excellent facilities for residential conferencing at Chaucer College, which seem to be under-utilised, currently used from time to time for spill-over redirected from within the University. (Perhaps some expansion of the conferencing capability of Chaucer College could also be re-considered, although I understand the scope for this is limited because the Japanese foundation which runs this establishment does not wish to develop on a large scale. But a modest enhancement, in partnership with the University, could be considered.)
There are also possibilities off campus. There are a range of sites in the city in which the University could readily consider investing, but has apparently chosen to overlook to date. But let’s also not lose site of the offer of excellent independent operators in the city, with whom the University already has contracts, like Cathedral Lodge. Conferencing needs currently not met by the existing ad hoc arrangements could be met by more systematic, carefully planned and extensive partnership arrangements. This would leave only a residual need, which could be met by more modest conference development on a much smaller scale than that proposed under the ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ plans.
The essential point is that we can only understand conferencing needs by taking into account the full range of University-related existing facilities and contracting arrangements, on campus and off it. And crucially it seems to me these collaborative ways of increasing capacity were not reviewed in the report being used to justify the claim that a massive development is now required. This is hardly surprising, since the report was written by marketing group “Hotel Solutions”, a London-based multi-national consultancy, without the inclination, time or local knowledge needed to identify, let alone analyse, such partnership possibilities.
But – back to the Library specifically: The Library Planning application is case CA//12/01831, which can be found on the Council’s Planning Application website or go straight to the proposals by following this link. The University is commendably conducted this as a very open process of engagement with the University community itself, and involved a mature ongoing dialogue with Canterbury City Council. This is a refreshing contrast with its handling of Chaucer Fields. It is good news for those of us who believe in transparent governance and decision making, and shows the University is, when it chooses. able of engaging with the community and the Council in a mature way. I’ll be writing to Canterbury City Council in to support the Library proposals, subject to the condition that a publicly shared Master Plan to put this development in the context of the Campus as a whole, is urgently made available (see below). By the way, I will also suggest when I write how important it will be to make sure the needs of University students and staff are not compromised by external conference use of library space, since the learning and research needs of University people must always be fundamental, and study space has been a key issue in the past. Anyway, the deadline for written representations on this particular application is 19 november – so please do make your views known if you feel this is appropriate, by reviewing the case materials, and writing to development control at Canterbury City Council (see address below).
The obvious, urgent need for a Clear, Comprehensive UKC Campus Master Plan
It is frankly a no-brainer that these and other University-led developments, which are closely related and functionally affect each other on and off the increasingly diverse and complex UKC campus, need to be scrutinised together. This is the only way that their inter-dependencies can efficiently and effectively be taken into account and managed to good effect. The example of the joint emerging conferencing capabilities discussed above evidently illustrates the case for a much more joined-up and publicly transparent planning approach. It makes you realise that a clear and comprehensive Master Plan of the University’s various emerging and pending development projects is now needed as a matter of urgency, so that these sorts of connections can be made explicit and analysed in the round. At the moment, by withholding a clear statement of what its overall (on and off campus) development intentions are at present, the University is not only needlessly perpetuating uncertainty about the future in its own community and the host community too, especially in places abutting the edges of campus It is also risking its reputation for transparency in decision making.
And aside from the obvious economic and technocratic reasons for looking at pending and current developments jointly, there is also an important “micro political” dimension to all this. That is in the sense that absent a Master Plan, the impression seems to be being left to some observers that ‘back room deals’, as opposed to publicly justifed and defended decisions, are playing an unhealthy role in driving priorities. At the moment, there are even unsubstantiated rumours circulating that plans for buildings on campus are being developed under a veil of secrecy and deliberately left vague, so that those who want such facilities developed are ‘on side’ with the Chaucer Conference Centre proposals. This is apparently believed to be on the understanding that if they don’t ‘rock the boat’ in relation to those proposals, they are more likely to see their favoured facilities build. I do not know if there is any truth in these claims. But I do know that this state of affairs is avoidable via a transparent Master Plan.
In summary, I think the main advantages of a shared and inclusive Master Plan indicating clearly the current plans of the University, would be that:
- the dangers of inward looking, anti-democratic patterns of communication driving development priorites could be minimised, – and be seen to be minimised; and
- the University’s reputation as a public institution with responsibilities for communicating with relevant communities about its activities would be salvaged
I believe such an open approach is actually the least we should expect in the twenty first century from a powerful local nonprofit institution. Let’s remember it is an exempt charity benefitting from a myriad of tax and other policy privileges and subsidies, and meant to be accountable to a wide range of stakeholders: its approach to planning should reflect this.
University “Statement of Consultation” made available
Unfortunately, the closest we get to engagement with the democratic process in relation to Chaucer Fields at the moment (that is, until its treatment in Canterbury City Council’s District Plan is revealed, and elected Councillor’s vote upon this case in Planning) is the documentation prepared for the Keynes III Planning Application. Despite its surface focus on Keynes III, as we’ll see below, it does relate to Chaucer Fields too. As part of its efforts to defend its approach in the context of the statutory planning process, the University has now had no option but to submit a report of the recent promotion events and ‘consultation’ available to Canterbury City Council, who in turn have posted it on the case website. Although the planning applications are now split, this first application refers to the consultation in relation to both elements. This document has materialised some time after all the other required documents were posted (with no explanation for the delay, incidentally). Strangely, it has not, at the time of writing this Blog, been made available on the University’s own Corporate Communications website relating to developments If you want to review it, it can be now be found alongside the myriad other planning materials needed for the Planning Application, CA//12/01887, at Canterbury City Council’s Planning website
It has to be said that this is a peculiar and partial document. It adopts an uninformative approach, noting the events, reproducing materials already otherwise available to boost the size of the report, and with just one table reporting on the feedback received, which was presumably the point of the exercisel Please do form your own view about how useful this is if you have time by reading the report in full. But in my opinion it is yet another opportunity missed. Why? The report’s authors had a chance to communicate clearly its rationale for the modified approach, interpret as well as report on the findings, and express in a balanced way what they have learned from the host community as a result.
I believe they have demonstrably failed to do all this. First no explanation as to why the University have not re-situated the conference centre/hotel proposals, as well as those relating to student accommodation blocks, away from Chaucer Fields is offered. The document simply parrots the mantra ‘the University remains of the opinion that the Chaucer Fields site represents the most appropriate location within the campus to deliver a conference hotel’ (Executive Summary, op cit, p. 0). The problem is that this is asserted without any explanation or explicit line of reasoning as to why it believes this currently unspoilt place must be ‘developed’! This weakness in the University’s position has also been recognised by the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee – see the previous Blog. There is also still no explanation of any sort as to why the premise that the developments needed to be co-located has been abandoned. (In 2011, it was emphasised that both components must be developed side by side, but there is silence in this report concerning what has changed since then)
Second, there is no recognition on the collapse of feedback from the local community. The number of responses over time has collapsed from around 260 in 2011 (the “Local Dialogue” report on the original proposals) to just short of 100 now, and less than a third of those refer to the Chaucer Fields site. The report is even presented as ‘successfully raising awareness’. But given the thousands of leaflets distributed, and the efforts of the University’s Corporate Communications website to present the case, this is a very poor level of engagement. I personally think the low response levels likely reflects the extent of community’s disillusionment with, and distrust of, University-led consultation in relation to the Chaucer Fields site, as inherited from last year. Based on the 2011 experience, many have reasoned that there is little point in responding – when the University is expected to simply disregard what it is told about community sentiment, because it appears bent on ‘developing’ Chaucer Fields, and potentially the wider Southern Slopes.
Third, as noted above, the only material on the content of this limited feedback, expressed in reductionist tabular format, is presented in an eccentric fashion. And unfortunately, unlike the “Local Dialogue” report, in which, commendably, respondent’s own words were made available in full in a supporting appendix, the reader has no way of assessing these comments in the round with this document.
Take a look at the table below. It extracts from the ‘Statement of Consultation’ summary table the feedback received as reported specifically in relation to the hotel/conference proposals (see the full report for material on Keynes III). It is noticeable that even the two responses categorised as ‘supporting’ the ‘Chaucer Fields Conference Hotel Proposals’ are actually referring to the idea that a need for such facilities exists in the abstract, rather than expressing a belief that they should be build in this particular place. In fact, the only explicit response in favour of this place is categorised as ‘partial support’, because it requires ‘proof that no other site is available’. Yet – as previous CFPS Blogs have shown, of course, no such evidence has been forthcoming from the University (also, see below for the suggestion that this oversight should be considered grounds for withholding Planning Permission).
Additionally, other statements cited as representing ‘partial support’ for the ‘Chaucer Conference Hotel Proposals’ in fact essentially express reasons for basic opposition to it! This includes two respondents who explicitly rejected the Chaucer fields site by commenting that ‘the building should be to the north or on the sport fields’. I too would agree with exploring those options properly (see below) – although would recognise the need to insist on the replacement of any lost sports fields, And I would hardly be judged as in ‘partial support’ of this plan!
As acknowledged earlier, any attempt to re-interpret these findings is going to be fraught, because, unlike in 2011, we don’t know what respondents actually said. But we can have a reasonable stab at doing this in an indicative way. I would suggest a more defensible figure of the proportion who have on balance been persuaded, recategorising responses like the example given, would be something closer 20%. So – on this more balanced reading, the exercise seems to have found that around 80% of those who engaged were against the proposal. If we then factor in the point already made about the evident resistance to participating in a University-led consultation at all from precisely some of the people who are most opposed to it, the figure would begin to become comparable with earlier findings of widespread, systematic and deep opposition to Chaucer Fields development. For example, it would be in line with the community feedback found in the “Local Dialogue” report of 2011 mentioned above, where a review of the Appendix of actual responses reveals principled opposition at over 90%.
The Keynes III proposal: rationales for Planning objections
It has been emphasised in the above that the promoters of the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes ‘development’ option can take no comfort at all from the feedback they received during September’s events. Indeed, the opposite is true: the evidence confirms the remarkable extent of opposition and resistance to the loss of this unspoilt space in the host community.
However, I would concede that significant numbers of people in the local community currently feel very differently about the Keynes III proposals. As you will recall if you have followed this issue this development, previously part of the Chaucer Fields megasite, is now proposed for construction elsewhere. If allowed to proceed,it would be situated north of University road, next to the recent Keynes extension already functioning, and so not on Chaucer Fields itself . Why, then, might you be concerned about this?
In this regard, can you first of all be encouraged to review the position set out by SCF on this matter. If you live locally, you may have received their November newsletter through the mail. Otherwise, their clear statement has now been uploaded onto the landing page of their website (see Blogroll, above). You can see here that SCF themselves are not opposing the Keynes III development – essentially simply because it is away from Chaucer Fields, and not on the currently unspoilt part of the Southern slopes (south of University road).
I believe, however, that there are potential grounds for objecting to the proposal. As reported in an earlier Blog, it seems obvious to me what the scheme’s promoters are trying to do: get the “Keynes III” proposals accepted early in 2013, so as to allow it to start construction on the project around March 2013 (as per the timetable discussed in earlier Blogs). At around this moment, my guess is that it would then intend to submit the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal, claiming that no alternative sites were available. This not least because the onset of Keynes III’s construction would at precisely that moment be demonstrably ruling out the option of using that space for this development!
But there is an alternative. If ‘Keynes III’ were not to proceed, modest conference facilities could readily be built north of University road, at, or close to, the site which is now being specified for ‘Keynes III’, adjacent to or overlapping with the proposed ‘business’ or ‘science’ park instead. But how would student accommodation needs then be met? I personally favour a combination of Giles Lane car park and Park Woods, although there are many other alternative ways of using sites, or combining them to meet accommodation needs which the University has evidently failed to explore (see below).
If you are thinking on the same lines – and many people do seem to be on the same page with this issue – the problem we face is that presenting the case in this ‘common sense’ way does not go with the grain of what are considered relevant ‘considerations’ in the Planning process. So, a way needs to be found to express this argument in a way which is, in fact, potentially compatible with Planning ‘considerations’.
I believe there are five reasons which may be worth proposing, and which could conceivably be seen as relevant by the planning authority (Canterbury City Council). Three of these build on the suggestions set out in this and earlier Blogs, and the first two are, I believe, in line with the thinking of the Canterbury Society (see Blogroll);the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee (representing expert opinion across the District); and principles recently set out by Natural England (see its submission to the latest consultation). The other two of them are more novel. I would welcome comments from readers as to the value of these potential objections, and also whether there are other considerations which should be taken into account as well. For example, I have not had a chance to look in detail at heritage and environmental considerations, because of the impenetrable and non-navigatable character of the relevant documentation. But there may well be reasons here for contesting the University’s case here too.
So, here are the five reasons:
1. The University has demonstrably failed in its Keynes III application to make a convincing case that alternative, more appropriate sites, including those earmarked in the District Plan cannot meet the need for student accommodation
This holds true in two senses.
First, it is because each of the alternatives, presented in turn and in isolation from one another, involve unsubstantiated assertions about cost and logistical feasibility. Indeed, there is very little here beyond the superficial material presented to the Council in the 2011 Planning Application, to which the Council reasonably responded in its draft report that a much more searching analysis was clearly needed. Given that keeping with development on some of the alternative sites would allow the development to stay within the constraints of the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework, which requires developments to stay on already spoilt and developed land, other than in truly exceptional circumstances. The Keynes III proposal is on an unspoilt green field site, albeit without high local amenity value, and the case for exceptionality has simply not been made. So, development here would be incompatible with both the NPPF and the District Plan.
Second, the University has failed to consider possible approaches which involve the provision of the necessary accommodation by combining developments across more than one alternative site: it has failed to ‘join up’ its analysis. For example, the last CFPS Blog suggested that if part of the development were located at Giles Lane Car Park, and part were located at Park Wood, the problems associated with each site when considered in isolation could be offset against one another to overcome the difficulties emphasised by the University. But this particular combination of possible sites was just one, perhaps the most obvious, example. The University should have looked at the full range of combinations in an effort to develop options which do not violate the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.
2. The University should not be granted planning permission for Keynes III or related applications until it has shared with its own University community (including staff and students), Canterbury City Council, and the local community a comprehensive, clearly specified, publicly defensible and professionally presented Master Plan for development purposes.
Planning decisions on the Canterbury campus are increasingly related to one another in numerous complex ways as the University seeks to diversify its resources and widen its reach. In this context, development decision making which is not properly joined up by a Master Plan, and seen to be coherently interrelated, will increasingly evolved in ad hoc, fragmented, piecemeal and inefficient ways. As long as the University fails to share a comprehensive overview of its plans with its own employees and students, and with local people, this pattern will steadily worsen.
3. The Keynes III development cannot reasonably be considered out of the context of a more developed account of the plans for a ‘business innovation park’ or ‘science park’ north of University road, near to Beverley Farm and the Canterbury Innovation Centre in its immediate vicinity.
At the moment, it is unclear to almost everyone what this ‘park’ will involve, and there is certainly little information in the public domain. If the ‘park’ is intended to allow for the development of commercial activity and trading only indirectly related to the University’s mission, then inside this ‘park’ is the obvious site for any revenue-maximising hotel element of the proposal, which would be dealing with transient visitors. (Keith Mander has explicitly stated to the CCAC, in minutes available for public scrutiny, that the purpose of the hotel element of the proposal is nothing more than income generation). On the other hand, activity related directly to the University’s core mission – student residential facilities (to the extent they involve supportive infrastructure for, and nurturance of, committed students over several years) and conference facilities (used for the advancement of learning rather than for commercial gain) would logically be located outside the business innovation park. The University needs to be much clearer about how its plans relate to these key distinctions, and the boundaries of, and focus of, the intended ‘park’, which are currently chronically unclear.
4. The University’s claims about the level and nature of demand for student accommodation which underpin the Keynes III Planning Application do not adequately account for the true characteristics of its current student body, nor the likely effects of the new fee environment on domestic undergraduates’ choices.
Regarding the former, while it seems to be implicitly claimed that the University should act as if it were purely a ‘residential University’ when it makes planning assumptions, this representation of its functioning has become a misleading simplification. Significant numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students are local people or are at least within commuting distance, and are choosing to live at home while studying in Canterbury (for example, residing elsewhere in the District, in other parts of Kent, or in South London). They neither required campus accommodation, nor make claims on accommodation in Canterbury, and are therefore not a ‘problem’ to the extent the University assert, although those who use cars obviously add to pressure on parking space. As to the new fee environment, the monolithic ‘residential University’ assumption may be becoming increasingly out of date. With the costs encountered by potential students rising, we can expect increasing numbers to choose to reside at home and commute to limit living costs. The University should recognise that reality in making planning assumptions.
5. The Keynes III development may involve the loss of land, some of which can be described as ‘playing fields’. By apparently failing to make commitments to secure ‘like with like’ provision, the University may be violating national regulations.
Current and future users of the open space set to be occupied by Keynes III – including University students and staff pursuing sports and recreational activity, as well as local people, would be adversely affected by the development. While this land does not seem to exhibit the same intense patterns of amenity use as the Southern Slopes further south, it may involve significant activity from planning perspective. Its development could be incompatible with Sports and Recreation policies both nationally and locally.
If you agree with me in relation to some or all of these reasons, please do consider expressing your view to Canterbury City Council over the next 10 days If doing this, please remember to:
- include your address on the letter or email
- Refer to the case number, to repeat, this is CA//12/01887
- Set out clearly those reasons you believe mean that Planning Permission should not be granted
- Address your letter or email to email@example.com as well as to Katie.Miller@canterbury.gov.uk
- Make sure you send your letter or email before 26 November (a week on monday)
As I say, please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org – if you believe other grounds for objecting are also relevant, and those perspectives can then be made available to the CFPS readership
Kent Union Community Zone Initiative
Most of the above has been pretty heavy stuff! But I can end the Blog on a lighter note with confirmation of a collaborative community event which we hope wil attract anyone who cares about this issue, be they residents, staff, students or visitors. From 7.30pm onwards on 8 December, we are holding an English Ceilidh at St Stephen’s school. (We call it an ‘English Ceilidh’ to emphasise that the music and style of dancing is predominantly English rather than Gaelic, although of course the word ‘Ceilidh’ is Gaelic). Please come along to support the cause, and have fun – the dancing is great to join in, but is not compulsory! You can still enjoy great company, and listen to traditional music (mainly English, with a bit of Irish thrown in) from local group Roystercatcher(s). Please see the image below, and if you can, download it at Christmas Event 2012 and display it prominently! But a couple of things to add to that:
- Do email me (email@example.com) if you haven’t managed to get a ticket from the people listed below, they are all very busy and may not always be available. Please send me a message at including a contact phone number and the number of tickets, and I’ll pass on your request by email to the SCF Fighting Fund team
- Please note that Murray’s General Store at the Good’s Shed near Canterbury West train station will be offering a 10% discount on all beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) purchased for your consumption at this event. I recommend sharing one of the local beer kegs, but there are plenty of other options. To qualify, all you need do is show Lee or his colleagues your Ceilidh ticket!
- If this is a new sort of event for you, don’t be deterred. It will be presided over by a ‘caller’ with over 20 years experience, and you will pick up the dances as you go along!
That’s all for now
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society