50th Blog: SCF report on VGA decision

Introduction

Welcome to this “Guest Blog”, the 50th  CFPS Society Blog since we started 5 years ago. It is written by David Smith, the spokesperson for the Save Chaucer Fields group, and reports on the outcome of the application to Kent County Council to have the fields recognised as a village green. It’s not the news we would have ideally liked: the application has not been accepted, so the  ultimate goal of inviolable and perpetually legally protected status for the fields has not yet been achieved.

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However, as David’s blog makes clear, engagement with this process has  been of great value for the cause. First, it has generated a powerful and incontestable body of officially validated evidence that the fields were, during a 20 year period, of enormous value as a space for recreational use; and that this use was demonstrably associated with an identifiable local community. This  reality is now unambigously a matter of public record, and can no longer be dismissed, deflected or denied.  Second, the Village Green Application has acted as a symbolic and substantive rallying point for community action, and has been crucial in sustaining the overall momentum of the overall campaign. This has continued to go from strength to strength, broadening and deepening in its appeal over time.

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SCF and CFPS look forward to continuing to work together, for as a long as it takes to settle on a status proportionate to the value, beauty and historic significance of this remarkable place. As usual, the text is interspersed with some recent late winter/early spring photographs.  

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After five years of campaigning, we at last have a decision on our application to register Chaucer Fields as a Village Green.  On Friday 18th March, Kent County Council’s Regulation Committee Member Panel considered the report from its Officer, which was based on the findings of the Inspector who conducted the Public Inquiry held last year.

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The Inquiry had been set up because the University had objected to our application on three grounds:

  • The University claimed that insufficient numbers of local inhabitants had indulged in lawful sports and pastimes on the land in the period 1991 to 2011.

At the Public Inquiry this was shown to be incorrect.  The Inspector concluded that there was evidence of a wide range of lawful sports and pastimes throughout the twenty year period, and that recreational use was of the whole of the application land and not just limited to parts of it.  The University’s legal team accepted this at the Inquiry.

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  • The University claimed that we had failed to provide evidence that the land had been used by a significant number of residents of a particular locality or neighbourhood.

Again the Inspector found in our favour.  Whilst disallowing some of the neighbourhoods claimed, she took the view that a significant number of residents of St. Dunstan’s Parish, and of the Harkness Drive area, had used the fields throughout the twenty year period.  These did therefore qualify as a locality and a neighbourhood for Village Green registration.

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  • The University claimed that use of the land was with their permission, because they had installed permissive notices at various locations on the application site, and therefore use by the public was not “as of right”.

After exhaustive examination of the evidence provided by the University and the Applicants, the Inspector concluded that the University did do enough by erecting signs, and that the signs were in position for long enough, to communicate to the public that use of the land was by revocable licence and therefore not “as of right” in the technical legal sense.

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Sadly, therefore, on this legal test the application has failed.  We have given it our best shot, and we have proved our case on two of the points, but not on the third.  This is obviously a big disappointment, but there a number of positives which we can take from the result.  The Village Green application was just one of the routes by which we have been working to preserve the fields for future generations, and we have made real progress towards that goal.

SO, WHAT NOW?

Firstly, a very sincere thanks to the many hundreds of people who have supported the campaign.  Without your help we couldn’t have got this far and had Chaucer Fields confirmed as being a highly valued open space for people to enjoy.

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Next, we hope that the University authorities have listened, and now accept that the Southern Slopes of their campus are a very valuable asset, not only for the local community but also for themselves, their students and staff – as a green open space, not a piece of real estate to be built upon.  Canterbury City Council has certainly recognised the value of the Southern Slopes as a buffer between “Town and Gown”. Their proposal, in the Local Plan, to designate the whole of the Southern Slopes as a “Green Gap”, would greatly assist in preventing development on the fields.  The proposal has still to be tested when the Inspector continues with his examination of the Local Plan, but we hope that the “Green Gap” designation will be confirmed. The Save Chaucer Fields Campaign group remain resolute in our determination to preserve the fields for the enjoyment of all, and for future generations. Please follow our Facebook page where we will post any new information.

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