Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #1

Since the last CFPS Blog, when our fields were at the height of their midsummer splendour, with uncut grass, buzzing insects, and trees and hedgerows brimming with natural life and energy, things have moved on.  As we now move away from summer, the trees are just beginning to feel autumnal, and the atmosphere has gradually adopted a lower key.

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Meanwhile, a very different feel characterises the time horizons of policy and planning at the level of the University institutions and the world they inhabit. Things are slowly hotting up! The deadline for consultation over the “Conceptual Master Plan” proposed earlier in the summer (see previous Blogs) –  announced belatedly towards the end of august –  has now passed. And we are  entering a period during which the University authorities will need to decide how to respond to the feedback they have received. How will they learn from this evidence and argument? Which of the  “concepts” will they retain, and which will they jettison in the light of this information? This is, of course, just the latest round of feedback concerning the views of the local and University communities concerning the future of the fields in particular: both communities have, repeatedly  over the past five years, made clear that they are committed to the retention of this land as unspoilt shared green space,  a “green gap” or “green lung” for the enjoyment and appreciation of all. Crucially, this is also a  commitment recognised by  elected local representatives , at Canterbury City Council, in the draft District Plan.

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The current Master Plan process, however, looks at the campus as a whole. It is interesting to see that this agenda  has already provided momentum for the formation of a new, Blean-based group, seeking to situate both the University of Kent’s Canterbury master plan and that of Canterbury Christ Church in a broader political context, both locally and nationally. Readers of this Blog are encouraged to visit their “University Challenged” site, reflect on its implications and relevance to them, and potentially contribute to the debate as it takes shape there. It should be underlined that what is in focus here is the entirely of the University’s Canterbury land holdings, extending hundreds of acres far to the North (beyond Park Wood, sports pitches, and Brotherhood Wood ) and over to the East (fields and woods beyond St Stephen’s hill/Canterbury Hill). This is way beyond  the familiar blue-sign demarcated area (which the casual observer might reasonably assume constituted the relevant area.) This follows from the University authorities’ decision to quietly but systematically acquire vast swathes of  agricultural land in recent years.

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So, a new climate of questioning and challenge may be emerging. This must be a healthy , and indeed rather overdue development. Powerful institutions of all types, whether Universities, corporations or national media conglomerates will, after all, tend to resist learning from their mistakes, become self-referential and pursue narrow institutional interests, unless exposed to critical scrutiny and held to account for their plans and actions. Commentary and critique emerging  from affected local people  can and should be integral to that  process, alongside the role of the local media, and in our case, Canterbury’s extraordinary concentration of associations, charities and NGOs with relevant expertise (for example, the specialist knowledge of the Canterbury Society, and the front line everyday experience of  myriad community and environmental groups – see CFPS Blogroll examples).

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Against this backdrop, this Blog  – and further Blogs which will soon follow – will give a flavour of just a segment of the feedback submitted to the University’s Corporate Communications department  over the past couple of months. It will present comments from some respondents from  the local / University communities who are committed to the retention of the fields as unspoilt shared green space. Of course, such respondents also hold  views about other aspects of the Conceptual Master Plan too. The contributions will be presented here uncut, exactly as they were directly expressed to the University authorities, so covering feedback on the entire Conceptual Master Plan. Material relating directly to the fields, however, will be highlighted in bold for ease of navigation.

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In terms of the overall picture that will emerge in the weeks ahead, it is worth noting that attempts are currently being made by residents associations working with the University authorities  to ensure that the  the aggregate results of the exercise, when collated, can be shared, and presented in a fair and balanced way. Let us hope that the University authorities agree to communicate openly, transparently and in a spirit of real collaboration.  In the meantime, the perspectives offered in this series of Blogs may give a preliminary sense of the flavour of some of the issues which will be at stake.

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Rather than the usual seasonal, close-to-real time photos, the images from the fields interspersed with this text for these Blogs will be thematic, drawing together material gathered over the past 5 or so years by the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society.  As you may have already noticed, the joy of tree climbing is the theme for this Blog, but the ones to follow will focus on other aspects of life on the unspoilt fields. All will be revealed!

best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Beginning of Feedback Example #1

The Conceptual Master Plan contains some sensible and welcome ideas, especially  where the University’s willingness to follow the consultant’s recommended design principles is manifested in the ideational proposals: so, concentrating development in the centre of campus, enhancing a sense of place through better signage and structure, recognising the green asset value of the campus, and protecting the views from campus of the Cathedral and cityscape are all sound ideas. However, there are six major problems too.

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First, central campus’s potential to better meet conferencing needs is not considered, but it is arbitrarily assumed that ‘parklands’ is an appropriate site. This undermines the whole logic of the conceptual plan (see sixth point below). Second, the proposals in relation to the Crab & Winkle seem to exhibit a lack of understanding of the landscape, and are apparently disconnected from the reality of how this route is used in practice, and how it is valued and enjoyed in everyday use (without the need for costly hands on ‘development’) in its current form.

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Third, the fuzzy representations of building possibilities on some parts of campus implies the loss of significant swathes of woodland, and alarmingly when presenting the proposals the consultants admitted in this context that they were not sufficiently familiar with the campus to be aware of these consequences (University officials remained silent on this point). Fourth, there is bizarrely little consideration of the situation regarding already-developed Park Wood, where there is scope for heightened meeting of accommodation need (hence relieving pressure on other sites) by efficient replacement of existing delapidated and poorly designed stock.

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Fifth, the plans are weak on the issue of parking. The opportunity for imaginative thinking here, including underground options for parking zones, is left unrealised. (To anticipate the routine response that the costs of this are prohibitive: why is this a standard option for meeting parking needs in many other situations where space pressure is intense? Also note that underground parking goes with the logic of the plan in relation to consolidation of a quasi-urban core).

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Sixth, the plan’s contemplation of the idea of situating development (a “conferencing hotel” and two other structures) on chaucer fields and the southern slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”) is a disastrous misjudgement. There are several reasons for this. It undermines the integrity of the conceptual plan, because it demonstrably violates that plan’s own design principles in relation to strategic views, spatial concentration of development, and green asset recognition and protection  – priorities that give the plan coherence. It therefore makes the exercise look cynical, ad hoc and inconsistent – fundamental historical problems which the whole notion of the Master Plan was meant to address. Furthermore, the “Parklands” element directly contradicts the priorities and values of the local (geographical) community, the University community, and expert opinion made known to the University authorities on several occasions over the past 5 years across a range of consultative, legal and planning arenas. In addition, it also contradicts the democratically mandated designation of this space as a green gap in the draft District Plan – a designation which has made clear that preservation of this place as unspoilt shared green space is a priority not just for immediate residents and the university community, but for the District as a whole.

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It must be concluded that to carry this element of the proposals forward into the substantive Master Plan would be inconsistent with the basic function of that Plan; spectacularly undermine any claims University authorities might wish to make as to their good stewardship of one of the most attractive of English university campuses; and damage profoundly the University authorities’ relationship with each of the aforementioned geographical, workplace and expert communities.

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End of Feedback Example #1

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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

 

Campus Master Plan and Picnic News

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Chaucer Fields and the wider Southern Slopes are currently at one of their seasonal highpoints, reflecting all the vigour and freshness of late spring and early summer. The bluebells season is over, but dramatic displays of flower, both native –  in particular  mayflower (hawthorn) –  and non-native – especially, sweet chestnut blossom –  are amongst the most striking manifestations of all this life and energy. And the foliage of the many trees to be found here is tantalisingly fresh and lends the fields a feeling of promise and expectation  As usual, I’ve included recent photos in this Blog to capture some of the seasonal flavour of the moment.

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What’s next on the agenda for our fields, in the aftermath of the Village Green decision (see previous Blog?). We’ll report here an important development in the expression of the University’s evolving policy position which as significant implications for this place  – the first systematic initiative to share its plans for the Canterbury campus as a whole (including the unspoilt Slopes); and give some information on the traditional Chaucer Fields Picnic Society picnic, upcoming a little later in the year than usual.

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University Campus “Conceptual Masterplan” presentations

One of the likely requirements of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan – still under review after a series of delays, but likely to be settled and formalised within the next couple of years – is that the University publicly present a “Master Plan”. The rationale is to help alleviate some of the uncertainty suffered by both the local and University communities in recent years concerning intended patterns of development in the long run.

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After a period of  opacity  concerning whether or not the Estates Plan, signed off formally by the University Council at the end of 2015 after some revisions, would be made publicly available as part of the response to this expected legal requirement, it has now become clear that this will not happen. However, the good news is that the University is choosing to respond by engaging with both the staff component of its own community, and the wider constituency of local interests and experts. This is by sharing a draft of its “Conceptual Masterplan” as developed under contract by the well known London-based architects Farrells, and inviting feedback in the days and weeks ahead, through a series of consultation events.

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On a website launched over the last week. the University’s  corporate communications directorate suggests that the “Conceptual Masterplan….contains ideas on how best to develop our campus to meet the needs of the University as well as deliver long-term benefits to our local communities, and improve our intellectual, physical, economic and cultural connections with the city of Canterbury.”   The bulletin goes further to say that the University would like to encourage attendance, and to receive comments.

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At the time of writing it is known that the process will formally begin tonight with  presentations to Canterbury City Councillors; and that a presentation for local neighbourhood groups – essentially meaning the residents’ associations closest to campus – will follow tomorrow. There will then be a two-stage process of engagement with University staff: first, one of the responsible architects,  John Letherland, will present the plans at 2-3pm tomorrow in the Gulbenkian Cinema; and second, an exhibition, featuring highlights of the “conceptual masterplan”, with be available for viewing in the Colyer-Fergusson building from 2pm tomorrow until 4 pm on friday. Because the John Letherland presentation coincides with industrial action by the University and College Union (today and tomorrow),  a request has been made that the presentation be recorded so that members taking action may also benefit from access to this opportunity.

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Finally, it is also expected that there may be additional events allowing others to respond to the “conceptual masterplan” too. That is to say, presentations or exhibitions for the benefit of interested parties who have not already been included in the schedule specified thus far (people who are neither University staff, District Councillors nor involved with proximate residents associations) are likely to take place as well. When more information on these further processes are available it will be presented on this Blog.

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This consultation process is welcome in principle, and is being seen by many in a broadly positive light. However, it is important, to stress that it will only ultimately help to address the fundamental issues of transparency, uncertainty alleviation and the strengthening of relations between the University authorities, the wider University community and the local community, and achieve the right level of green asset protection under certain conditions.

  • Does the  content of the “Conceptual Master Plan” indicate in principle that the overwhelming consensus in favour of protecting the unspoilt environmental, natural  and green open space assets for which the University acts as a steward – including the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes – have at last been acknowledged? Are protections for these assets actively designed into the “conceptual” framework, or some supporting/related documentation,  to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated?
  • Are clear arrangements in place for specifying the relationship between the architect-led “Conceptual Master Plan” as currently under consultation and the ultimate, substantive “Master Plan”  – as expected to be required for the purposes of planning law under the pending District Plan – in the years ahead?
  • Are there well planned arrangements to ensure that the actual implementation of the substantive Master Plan proceeds in a transparent and inclusive way? Are there arenas in place to ensure that the University community and the local community are given clear, ongoing opportunities to shape the development process as it unfolds, and so avoid a relapse into ad hoc, occasional consultations which both exacerbate uncertainty, are run the risk of being dismissed as tokenistic?

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It is to be hoped that answers will begin to emerge in relation to the first of these considerations over the weeks ahead. However, it is still far from clear whether the second and third conditions will be met. The timeframe for these developments will be measured in years. It will only be if transparency is embedded in procedures and pursued in a sustained way, and if foresight and a genuine, enduring engagement by the University authorities with the communities upon which they depend demonstrably unfolds, that commentators will feel able to view this initiative as a meaningful step forward.

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Picnic News

On a lighter note,  everyday enjoyment and appreciation of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes continues to happen as it has done for decades (and probably centuries)! To celebrate and heighten awareness of these practices (now conceded as significant by the University in the context of the Village Green application), our usual picnic will take place this summer, albeit slightly later in the year than normal: 3rd July, 1 – 5pm.

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As usual, the picnic is in collaboration with Greenpeace Canterbury and the Abbots Mill project, and is supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group. We have already confirmed a good musical line up, including Richard Navarro and Double Crossing. Storytelling, as usual, is also planned. But these are a whole range of other options too.

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One advantage of  the later-than-usual timing is that the grass will almost certainly be cut!  This means that alongside the usual activities which can proceed however long the grass- tree climbing, hide and seek, kite flying, frisbee etc – there’ll be chances for more formal sports and pastimes. Cricket, football, rounders and martial arts are amongst the activities which over the years have been undertaken on the relatively flat part of the fields at the southern end, so let’s hope for good weather to allow these things to happen on the day.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

PS For those of you who use Facebook, please consider indicating your planned attendance/interest on the Abbot’s Mill events page (see Blogroll, above).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Festive greetings and short update

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Above, you will not be surprised to find the customary chaucer fields chrismas greeting card! This will be super short update, to pick up on the three issues highlighted in the last Blog (see that for more detail).  I incorporate my favourite picture from 2015 – over the summer, a kestrel about to take off from an oak at the heart of the fields – and some more recent human oak tree climbing snaps a little evocative, I hope of the eve of the winter solstice. The fields are atmospheric in a gloomy way now!

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1.Village Green Application – as per the past Blog, there’s no news at the moment. We’ll find out more early in the new year.

2. District Plan progress – in response to Central Government’s Planning Inspectorate’s first reaction to the submitted draft, Canterbury City Council has needed to seek to identify further sites for some extra housing (and has proposing some adjustments in relation to existing sites.) None of this affects the fields directly, but is delaying the wider technical ‘soundness’ review, which will refer to the green gap status for the fields included in the submitted draft.

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We how have a further round of consultation to 22 January to allow the public an opportunity to respond to this immediate ‘extra housing  adjustment’ as proposed by CCC  before the broader process as a whole re-commences. (For more on this current ongoing consultation round , a  summary including a list of all site additions and adjustments can be found at  p. 13 of the latest edition of District Life, CCC’s magazine).  When more is known about the timing of the longer run process, this will be reported here.

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3. Estates Plan progress – the University’s 10 year ‘Strategy’ has now been revised and finalised – but unfortunately, this finalised version is not yet openly published . This is on the grounds that it may  contain ‘commercially sensitive’ information. Members of the University who have a log in and password may already view it on the University’s Estates website; but others will not be able to access it yet. It is expected that a fully publicly access version will be available early in the new year. So watch this space for an analysis when the document is fully in the public domain.

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Happy festive season and new year to everyone!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Multiple Waiting Games continue…

The summer has been and gone on Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes since the last CFPS Blog. It had been hoped, by now, to be able to report on significant steps forward in securing the protection of this much loved green space. However, as often seems to be in the case when charting developments here, things are taking longer than expected.

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Indeed, it seems we have not just the expected waiting game – but an exceptionally drawn out, and prolonged waiting game, characterised by further extensions to time frames, delays, and sundry bureaucratic twists and turns.

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So, for now, what this Blog can do is summarise the state of play in respect of three aspects of the process which together are crucially important in shaping the future of these fields, woods and hedgerows. As ever, colour is added by interspersing some pictures.

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Included here are  images from our June picnic – a great success, jointly organised with the Abbots Mill Project and Greenpeace in Canterbury, supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blogroll, top right). As well as pictures  from the fields more recently.  They are now very much into early autumn , showing striking contrasts in colour and texture.

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1.Village Green Application (VGA)  – process still ongoing

Previous Blogs reported on the unfolding of the VGA to Kent County Council (KCC), an attempt to protect the fields in perpetuity,  taken forward with the support of the SCF campaign. The Public Inquiry hearings were held in Canterbury earlier this year.

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The latest news is that the VGA will be presented to KCC’s Regulation Committee Member Panel at the end of this year, or very early in 2016. The Panel will make a final decision at this point about whether or not to grant village green status. This decision will be based on the Public Inquiry findings, as reported by the presiding Inspector, and the report and recommendations of a Commons Registration Officer.

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Both reports will be made available on KCC’s website a few days before the Committee meets, and this will be publicised via this CFPS Blog and by the SCF group.

 

2. District Plan – Green Gap status – confirmation of  ‘soundness’ still pending

The policy of another tier of local government – Canterbury City Council – is also relevant.  In this case, again as reported in earlier Blogs, an opportunity was taken when drafting CCC’s  District Plan (the key long term local policy statement in relation to planning)  to strengthen the existing provisions constraining potential development on Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes. This was by including a proposed policy offering a much heightened level of protection than had been in place in the previous Plan – the idea of so called ‘Green Gap’ status.

CF picnic 199In developing this component of the plan, CCC drew an a wide range of information and feedback gather during a complex consultation process. The Green Gap initiative was demonstrably responding to a very widely held and deeply felt  local community sentiment, building on a long established tradition of respecting this space as a shared ‘green lung’ benefitting both local and university communities.

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However, it emerged in late summer that the processing of this policy will take longer than anticipated. This reflects the requirements specified in Central Government’s overarching frameworks, that  the local plan must be in line with national priorities. Central Government’s Planning Inspectorate, in its initial examination of the Plan, has provisionally suggested that the District Plan’s overall treatment of housing need may not be sufficient. CCC has accordingly been tasked with providing more information to confirm the Plan can be rendered fully compatible with local housing sufficiency, as part of the requirement of demonstrating the Plan’s  overall ‘soundness’.

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The further time needed to respond to this suggestion in relation to the District Plan as a whole has then, in turn, had knock on effects for the ‘Green Gap’ draft policy for the fields. That is because the latter can only be examined and confirmed as appropriate as part of the overall  policy package: that is, once the situation regarding the Plan’s overall soundness at District level has been further clarified.

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Accordingly, meetings initially scheduled for september/october this year to examine the Green Gap aspects of the Plan (and related other aspects) have had to be postponed. It is as yet unclear when these examinations will be rescheduled, but when timing is clearer,  this Blog will provide an update.

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3. University of Kent Estates Plan – a delayed release of the Master Plan 

Finally, the University has itself also been developing its Estates Plan, a document which is meant to embody the University’s intentions for the development of its campuses, including Canterbury, over the period 2015-2025.  Despite the fact that the content of this plan will make a major impact on the quality of life for the university community and the local community, little is publicly known about its focus and priorities. In contrast to the democratically visible processes referred to above, the University has chosen to treat this as a strictly internal matter. Despite the enormous level of public interest, no material of any form has been made available at community levels concerning this plan.

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The Plan was initially intended for public release last month, but the draft under internal discussion over the summer period appears to have been assessed as in need of revision. The latest estimate of when this Plan will be made public is now early November.

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Because the Estates Plan’s content is being treated as a strictly internal matter, at the time of writing it is still not clear whether this revision and consequent delay in public release is related to uncertainties created by the shifting position regarding the District Plan or otherwise.

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All manner of speculation is possible about if and how these developments are linked and related. But ultimately the relationship between them  will only become  clear when the University’s campus development plans are made transparent,and finally subjected to public scrutiny for the first time, later this year.

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Picnic season

Dear all

A short Blog to remind you that the next CFPS picnic will happen soon! This informal, low key and relaxed gathering will take place on saturday 6th June, from 1pm onwards, at Dover Down field, chaucer fields. In what follows, you’ll find a reminder of what this is about, and some recent pictures from the fields.

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Its worth emphasising that the fields are always particularly brimming with natural life at this time of year. But this year it is especially  exciting to be able to include images of a new bird of prey who has been frequenting the fields in recent weeks –  an elegant Kestrel, pictured here on one of the Bushy Acres oaks. This means that anyone who frequents the field might now be lucky enough to catch sight of, or hear, three birds of prey: this kestrel; a sparrowhawk; or (at night) a tawny owl.

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So, back to the picnic.  This is, once again, a collaboration between the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society, the Abbots Mill Project and Canterbury Greenpeace, and is supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group  (see Blogroll, top right).

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If you are a Facebook sort of person, go to https://www.facebook.com/AbbotsMillProject. And you can indicate your interest in this ‘event’ , see https://www.facebook.com/events/857699287634474/

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Of course, many people use the fields for picnics at this time of year. But what this particular one aims to do is bring people together who otherwise might not sit down together  in common celebration of the unspoilt fields; offer some activities for the younger ones; give a chance to catch up on the latest developments about the fields’ situation, and what the future may hold; and provide some acoustic music for all.

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So, in this  spirit there’ll be games and activities for children (although few new much encouragement to create their own fun in this environment!); a storyteller is expected; and as in previous years; a stage for local musicians to play and jam; and a chance to catch up on all the gossip and news about chaucer fields and the unspoilt southern slopes.

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To finish, a few thoughts for the uninitiated:

  • the grass is long, and is not expected to be cut before the picnic! So do bring a blanket, camping chairs  etc to make yourselves comfortable
  • there’s always sharing of food and drink as well as the stories – so if you feel like do that, bring something interesting to eat of drink!
  • anyone can bring an instrument and play, or sing

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  • for the children, many activities don’t require any organisation or props at all , such as tree climbing, hide and seek and ‘it’.
  • …but why not bring some things along?  The long grass will make rounders and football etc impossible –  but some obvious alternative ideas are frisbees and kites.

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Hoping to see you there!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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