This is the third of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department, which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers. ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may choose to provide. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned, are unknown at the time of writing. In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).
The feedback below was put forward by Professor Christopher Rootes, a leading international expert on the political and social aspects of environmental issues, and a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference. The interprersed images relate to musical picnics ad events which have unfolded on the fields over recent years.
Beginning of Professor Rootes’ Feedback
I welcome the proposals in the CMP to preserve the landscape values of the campus, and to establish design principles to guide the design qualities of new / replacement buildings. Thus the plan promises to preserve the strongest positive appeal of the estate (its green landscapes and views over the city) and to mitigate the weakest (the poor design quality and functionality of most existing buildings). In particular, I applaud the statement (p.59): ‘Whilst advocating the enhancement of the University’s relationship with the City, special care should be taken to preserve the character of the University as satellite of the City, and to nurture the views of historic Canterbury, which are one of the most delightful features of the Campus.’ That said, the specific proposals too often show little appreciation of the qualities of the existing campus and would impose a ‘rationalisation’ that is in many respects subversive of those qualities.
The CMP recognises that ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting. Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury.’ These, surely, are invaluable assets that should be preserved. The ‘spaces to be considered for development’ include almost all the remaining woodland remnants in and around the central campus. Yet it is these that most enhance the central campus and give relief from the unattractive buildings that neighbour / surround them. The woodland fringe to the north of Giles Lane and along Parkwood Road, and the copse between Jarman and Keynes are a few examples – ‘rationalising’ these spaces, or building on them, would greatly diminish the visual appeal of those parts of the campus, and the sense of well-being that they presently impart. Likewise, further development in the green space to the south of the Library (between Eliot and Rutherford) would compromise one of the iconic views of the cathedral from the campus.
I find it very odd that existing green spaces are considered ‘too homogenous’, yet the plan is to give the university greater ‘identity’ by ‘rationalising’ it. In fact, there is a considerable variety of green spaces on the campus, and it is mostly the relatively recently planted ones that could be said to be ‘too homogenous’. Preserving diversity is important, but it could be enhanced by better landscaping of some of the recently planted areas rather than wholesale redevelopment. The correlation between ‘quality of place’ and ‘university performance’ as presented in the draft is almost certainly spurious. The main driver of ‘performance’ (measured here by rank order in a league table) is academic performance in teaching and research, and in student recruitment; Kent’s lower ranking than its peer group mainly reflects early decisions about subject mix and subsequent investment in academic development. Moreover, giving the lie to the claimed correlation, the university has been rising in the rankings without any notable improvement in ‘quality of place’. The idea that the hideously over-developed urban space of Lancaster gives it greater ‘quality of place’ than Kent now is, to me, laughable. Kent has, as the CMP’s remarks about its greenness and landscape setting make clear, unique advantages that make such comparisons meaningless.
I really do not understand the enthusiasm in the CMP for Jarman Square (existing or enlarged) and a new ‘Darwin Square’. The existing hard-landscaped space around Jarman is, to me, one of the least attractive places on the campus, and I struggle to see it as either very useful or even potentially attractive, especially in Kent’s term-time weather. Squares were, historically, parade grounds and, unless someone is envisaging an improbable revival of revolutionary student activity, such spaces really do not deserve a place on a modern university campus. Better by far to develop new, smaller, more intimate spaces to which students and staff might develop attachment and which they might actually use. I really do not see the need for ‘formal, ceremonial spaces’.
The idea that the Darwin Square will be associated with a ‘new eastern pedestrian entrance to the campus’ is mystifying, particularly because the narrowness and steepness of, and heavy traffic on, St Stephen’s Hill make this a very unsuitable point for a new principal entrance. I am also sceptical of the value of a central street fronted by shops and cafes. Universities are not shopping centres and do not seem likely to become so, and cafes and restaurants (notably poor at Kent) are better located in quieter and more ‘defensible’ nooks in various places on the campus.
The ambition ‘to build a reputation ‘The Best Garden Campus in the U.K.’’ is familiar – it was tried some 25 years ago and was responsible for much of the poor / mediocre landscaping and planting from which the campus now suffers. It would be much better to preserve and enhance the woodlands, to make Kent the UK’s best woodland campus. Now, that could be truly magnificent.
The thing I find most disturbing in the CMP is the proposals for the ‘Parklands’. The landscape value of the historic buildings is admitted, but the significance of their historic status and their relationship to the historic relationship between the site and the city and Cathedral is not. The area between Beverley Farmhouse and the city is especially sensitive in this respect, sited as it is as the northern end of what remains of the ancient trackway from the Cathedral to Blean Woods. For this reason, I am opposed to any suggestion that ‘the Parklands will also provide a location for the continued development of new buildings and other facilities as and when appropriate.’ Such development simply cannot be compatible with the preservation of the key landscape and cultural values of the site. I would be very skeptical that ‘Such buildings will be designed as ‘landscape buildings’ or ‘pavilions in the landscape’; that might work in formal gardens, but on a hilly, partly wooded site such as thus where views over the city are of such value, it would be much better, surely, to preserve these sites and to lightly manage to improve their existing landscape value. The area formerly referred to as ‘the Southern slopes’ also has clear value as a green buffer between the city and the university, and is highly prized as a local green space in a part of the city that is otherwise relatively deprived in that respect. The preservation and enhancement of such unimproved green space should be a high priority for the university and the city.
One disappointing aspect of the CMP is its lack of clear proposal for cross-campus cycle routes. Even within the core campus, it is difficult to get from one end to the other in the time between lectures and seminars, and for those of us who are dependent on bicycles, this is an obvious area for urgent improvement.
I have refrained from commenting on the CMP’s proposals for the ‘Northern lands’, partly because I know this presently undeveloped area less well, but also because the proposals appear to be so contrary to a variety of planning guidelines – e.g., those against ribbon development (as development along the Tyler Hill Link Road would be); those protecting existing footpaths and cycleways (of which the Crab and Winkle Way is a nationally important example); those protecting the landscape setting of historic buildings (sucha s the church of St Cosmus and St Damien in the Blean). I would be surprised if planners would permit any such development on or accessed via the Tyler Hill Link Road. Developments on the existing fields closer to and accessible from Parkwood Road would seem much more likely to gain planning permission.
End of Professor Rootes’ Feedback