A belated Happy ‘New’ Year! There’s one important, and perhaps under-reported development to note with the first Blog of 2013. We learned this week that Canterbury City Council officers are recommending to the Development Management Committee that the Keynes III development be granted planning permission. More on that below. Other than that, there’s nothing dramatic to pick up on: in a sense the “waiting game” continues in the run-up to March. However, there are some healthy signs that the momentum is steadily gathering in terms of actions and planning on the part of those seeking to protect the Fields as unspoilt shared green space. I’ll intersperse the text relating to the unspoilt slopes with images from last weekend’s snow on the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields. As ever when it snows, many families and students were out and about enjoying the scenic beauty, and making the most of the opportunities to have fun that the weather presented!
1. Keynes III: Councillors likely to approve planning permission on 5 February 2013
A report has been written by officials for the Councillors who sit on the Development Management Committee of Canterbury City Council recommending the proposed development – west of the existing Keynes II extension, and north of the Innovation centre (between Giles Lane and University Road) – be granted planning permission. Typically, Councillors vote in line with recommendations, so it is very likely that permission will be given. The report (download here) affirms the development is potentially positive both in terms of dealing with currently unmet accommodation needs for students (for the benefit of the University and city/District alike), as well as being on balance conducive to implementing existing business park plans. (This is argued to follow especially from the construction of a new access road which would service both sets of needs).
As discussed in earlier Blogs, this was not a foregone conclusion. While the overwhelming majority of local opinion was in favour of the development – not least simply out of relief that it is less appalling than the Chaucer Fields megasite alternative originally mooted in 2011 – there were reasons for questioning the plans. Some of these perspectives were expressed in feedback received from expert bodies inside and outside the Council, and also by lay people too.
In a Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog written when the application was submitted in November, you may recall that four considerations were highlighted. However, since then, new information has surfaced, much of it reported clearly in the officer’s report, which has lead to a revision in my position in respect of three of these issues.
- Playing Fields: The objection has been withdrawn in the light of belated clarification by the University, following an internvention by Sports England, on the temporary nature of the playing fields in the context of its overall playing field provision;
- Pre-existing Development Policies: The original objection, on the grounds of lack of clarity relating to the business park, has been withdrawn. That’s because a clear account on how the plans relate positively to long established policies (the District Plan, Supplementary Planning Guidance and linked Briefings), covering development of the land north of University Road, is included in the officer’s report.. (The University’s own material on this issue had been vague and incoherent, hence my initial objection);
- New evidence on the Resilience of demand for University places (not in the officer’s report) suggests the absolute number of students seeking residential accommodation may be stable (even if, as a proportion of all students, the number seeking residential accommodation may fall in response to the new financial environment). The related objection has been withdrawn.
Accordingly, I have written to the Council (download here) to say that the earlier representation should be adapted. The view is expressed that planning permission should not be unconditionally withheld. While the impact on the landscape north of Beverley farm (and the University Road) it problematic, the officer’s report does seem to put forward a balanced justification for allowing development there, in terms of policies and priorities which are democratically determined, and already in place.
However, it is suggested that the other point made in the original letter – that the alternative site analyses have been wholly inadequate – still stands, and it is noted that the Council’s report does highlight ‘reservations’ on this point. Accordingly, the view is expressed that planning permission might reasonably be given, but given more conditionally: It is suggested it could be forthcoming if and only if the University is now able to demonstrate conclusively that other sites are not appropriate (including especially the obvious options of Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking)). Its failure to do so convincingly to date, given the importance of the issue, is frankly unacceptable. So, this basic requirement is still outstanding, and has not gone away. And the Council is always going to be haunted by ‘reservations’ and doubts about avoidable loss of green space, albeit of relatively modest amenity value, unless this condition is attached and demonstrably and unambiguously met. .
2. Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) initiated January 2013
So evidently Council officials have been hard at work in recent weeks in drawing together the evidence needed by Councillors to make an informed decision. For their part, the promoters of the ‘development’ at the University have been publicly silent for around 3 months now, although no doubt further work has been undertaken behind closed doors, especially in preparation for March’s public enquiry and potential planning application on Chaucer Fields themselves (see previous Blog).
Elsewhere, those who embrace a positive vision for the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space have been preparing the ground for the future. Most importantly perhaps, the Save Chaucer Fields (SCF) group, the coalition of residents associations which has been central in driving the grass roots campaign against ‘development’ on the unspoilt fields since 2011, have prioritised working with relevant parties in preparing for the Village Green public inquiry. With the University conspicously choosing to be incommunicado, focussing on this crucial groundwork has made good sense. Please do refer to the ‘refreshed’ SCF homepage,and the SCF village green sub-page, which contains very important information about the pending public inquiry (see also the January newsletter, below). Week beginning 18 march is the key moment, with hearings taking place on campus, but at an institution which is constitutionally separate from the University: the venue is the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury CT2 7NA.
It is significant too that a Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) was initiated this month to facilitate communication and co-operation in defending the unspoilt Southern Slopes in the months ahead. The Forum is informal but will meet regularly, and includes CFPS, the Save Chaucer Fields group; participation from Kent Union, the students’ union, with community zone and environmental interests coming forward (now with a clear mandate to defend the Fields in the aftermath of last term’s decisive all student vote requiring the Union to campaign to Save Chaucer Fields); and involvement by the University and Colleges Union, the University of Kent staff union, whose members voted in favour of protection for the Fields last year.
The SoS Forum intends to liaise with and potentially involve the many other sympathetic parties who share commitment to the fields – including local church groups (especially the Church of England, with its historic stewardship role in relation to community land); the Canterbury Society, Greenpeace, local recreation groups, individual student-led societies, and a number of local businesses and local and national charities, including those who were mentioned in CFPS Blogs in 2012. The idea is to make sure that the collective voice of civil society on this matter cannot be marginalised. Not only will this voice be heard, but it will necessarily be heard with increasing volume and persistence!
3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013
In its latest newsletter (see below) SCF report that they have set a target of £4,800 for the weeks ahead – especially to cover the costs of legal advice in pursuing the Village Green Application, and the costs associated with contesting the Chaucer Conference Centre Planning Application expected in March. .
The SoS Forum are keen to build on the success of previous fundraising community events to support the campaign. And I am pleased to say that the joint SCF-CFPS Ceilidh, featuring traditional English dance music from Roystercatchers, at the end of last year raised over £500, as well as bringing people together for a great – and different, for many – night out. Attendees included not only local people without University connections, but UKC staff and UKC students currently studying here with origins as far afield as the Middle East, China and the Caribbean! We’ll need more events like this to keep the momentum going.
Indeed, as mentioned in the newsletter above – and you’ll be aware of this if you follow Save Chaucer Fields on Facebook – a further fundraising quiz on the evening of 9th March in St Dunstans church hall is also planned. These events are indeed great fun, good for community morale, and strongly recommended. And: this is an especially important event, happening as it does at the beginning of March. Please do try to go if you can, or if you are unable to do so, please consider making a donation to the cause (see above).
Aside from further quizzes, other collaborative events currently being planned for 2013, with guidance form the SoS Forum, include::
- A further Roystercatcher English Ceilidh, and related acoustic musical happenings on the University campus and beyond
- As weather permits in the Spring, a series of picnics involving play and recreation
- A gathering on the Southern Slopes focussed on the ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ constructed by Whitstable’s Dead Horse Morris, to mark the arrival of May, as happened in 2012
- A celebration of “Beating of the Bounds” – also in May. In collaboration with local church authorities, this will be based around the parish boundary (between St Dunstans and St Stephens) that has across the Southern Slopes for centuries – as well, of course as other places in Canterbury further south where the boundary lies. This ancient tradition has long been enacted in and around our city (see photo below), and has a fascinating history in this particular place. The Blog will have more to say about this tradition in the months ahead!
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society