The conferencing hotel master flaw

Our fields, the trees and woods that connect with them, and  the hedges which interweave with and cut across them in such a wonderful mosaic, are now moving in full ‘midsummer mode’. This is the time of year when the fields are in many ways most alive with insect life, while the dawn and dusk choruses of its birds are still striking. As ever, it is great to be able to see all this natural energy being witnessed and experienced by large numbers of people,against the spectacular back drop of views of the Cathedral, and of the wider cityscape.

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Whether walking, running, cycling, playing or pursuing pastimes and hobbies, this is a shared green asset of extraordinary value in its current unspoilt condition.  And of course – picnics are much favoured too! Indeed in  the customary way, I have interspersed some photos here from the most recent collaborative picnic between the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society, the Abbot’s Mill Project, and Canterbury Greenpeace. This took place on Dover Down field earlier this month. Many thanks to musicians from across the Canterbury District but also from as far afield as Spain for their contributions, including the Native Oyster Band, Double Crossing,  Robert Rawson, and Elderberry Wine.

 

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Ongoing Consultation process: University master plans for Canterbury campus

This Blog is being written as the consultation process in relation to the University’s new “Conceptual Master Plan” (developed under contract to the University by the London-based architects Farrells)  proceeds. This is intended as an ideational stepping stone towards the substantive, more specific Master Plan which the University is required to submit as part of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan finalisation process. Since the last Blog, some information on the timing of this process has been provided:

  • The ongoing Conceptual Master Plan consultation process, although no deadline has been formally specified, is expected to continue until the end of this month, and possibly into August
  • There will then be “further technical and design work”, which means translating the Conceptual Master Plan into the substantive one required by Canterbury City Council for District Plan purposes. This will take place over the second part of the summer.
  • A (substantive) Master Plan draft will be presented for consultation in ‘the autumn’. (no date yet released)
  • In ‘spring 2017’, a final version will be submitted to Canterbury City Council (again, no actual date released).

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What is already known about the Conceptual Master Plan? Material can be found at https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/

You are urged to look at this for yourself. At a general level, there is much to be welcomed in these documents. For example, in terms of the suggestion that significant development activity can and should be concentrated on the central campus, which, it is argued, must be shaped to foster a more coherent and well structured sense of place.

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Crucially, an effort is also made by Farrells to develop publicly defensible “design principles” to ensure that this and other priorities can be followed through. These other values include recognition of the  overall contribution of the Canterbury campus as a green asset, and a heavily emphasis on the imperative of protecting the magnificent unspoilt vlews of the cityscape available from campus.  Interestingly, it is implied in the presentation of the materials that these “design principles”  are already adopted by the University authorities: at various points, ownership of them is stated on the University websites.

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In terms of more specific intentions, because it is at the conceptual stage, much is fuzzy and vague. Unfortunately, however, one aspect stands out a as a striking anomaly in the context of the aforementioned  “design principles”. This is the incorporation in the documents of the old idea of establishing a “Conferencing hotel” away from central campus  – in the heart of the currently unspoilt Chaucer Fields and wider Southern Slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”). There is also an additional building situated to the North East of the fields, in this case without any at all explanation (south west of Keynes bus stop).

 

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On what basis can we say the notion that a “Conferencing hotel..could be considered”  on the fields (the form of words used during presentations on the plans) is an anomaly? This will be painfully obvious to members of the local community and the University community at large, but for the avoidance of doubt, the following observations can be made:

  • the intention to keep alive  the idea of developing on these fields is inconsistent with the Conceptual Master Plan (CMPS)’s own design principles, including the idea that development should be focussed ‘at the heart’ of the campus, and that it is crucial to “safeguard existing views of historic Canterbury”
  • the CMP’s idea of potentiually locating development on these  fields directly contradicts Canterbury City Council’s proposal to give the the fields enhanced protection as expressed through the “Green Gap” status specified in the pending District Plan
  • the idea of developing  on the fields in this way is conspicuously out of line with a wide range of established indicators of local and university community (staff and students) priorities and values. As such, if pursued in practice, it would be a massive own-goal to the University authorities in terms of managing its public face, and its internal and external relations. It would undermine the credibility of any claims it might wish to make about its willingness to listen to, and work with, these  communities.

 

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If this seems overstated, it is important to remember that the University authorities have repeatedly been told – through wide ranging, strong reactions to the 2011 Planning Application, voting in University-based arenas for staff and students, and a further consultation (which ultimately led to the Turing college (Keynes III) development north of University road) – that both  the local and University communities are committed to retaining this land as unspoilt shared green space. What is more, the plan for “Green Gap” status, mentioned above, shows how this commitment has been recognised and embraced at the level of the democratic body representing Canterbury District as a whole. That is to say, Chaucer Fields as unspoilt shared green space is seen by elected local government as of high value not just for Canterbury, but for Whitstable, Herne Bay, and the surrounding villages – it is a priority for the District as a whole, and not just a matter for Canterbury.

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Morever, the Village Green Application completed earlier this year generated a vast body of evidence that these priorities go hand in hand with recognition of the fields  in their current form as exactly the sort of  high value “green asset” which needs to be protected. As unspoilt shared green space, the land has been shown to have been used for recreation, leisure and other pursuits for many decades in a way which would be compromised and undermined by any such development. Indeed, lawyers acting for the University were forced to concede  this pattern of land use within the VGA process: Even though the overall outcome was not to grant village green status, that process incidentally generated a mass of material demonstrating the high value of the land in its current unspoilt state, which the University authorities had to accept.

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Do you agree that this aspect of the Conceptual Master Plan is a mistaken, retrograde idea? Whether you do or not,  please consider expressing your  view, and  your overall reaction to the Conceptual Master Plan, in the ongoing consultation. You can do this by going to https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/contact.html or by emailing masterplan@kent.ac.uk

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To ensure that your view on the CMP will be  considered, it is probably wise to respond by the end of this month.
With best wishes
Chaucer Fielder
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

1 thought on “The conferencing hotel master flaw

  1. Update (2nd september 2016): at one of the local ‘consultation events’ towards the end of august, the University corporation communications directorate at last specified a deadline for the CMP consultation, and its later than expected: 21 SEPTEMBER. So if you haven’t yet given your feedback you still have just over a couple of weeks to do so

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