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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 And you can indicate your interest in this ‘event’ , see

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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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Picnic date – saturday 6th june – plus Village Green application update

Dear all

CF&holidayprep 124Spring has come to the fields, as this Blog’s photos try to reflect. With the summer in mind too, there’s one date for your diary:  PM SATURDAY 6TH JUNE we will hold the latest in our series of  collaborative picnics. Like last year, this will be a joint effort involving CFPS, the Abbot’s Mill Project and Greenpeace, with  the support of the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blogroll, top right). We will again include some of the features that made this so successful last time, including the portable stage for live music posting numerous acts, and various fun activities specifically organised for children. Do try to come along if you can. Also let me know if you would like to contribute some music, or help organise games.

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Beyond asking you to save this date, this is a ‘guest Blog’, which reproduces below the most recent Newletter from the SCF group, which is a succinct summary regarding the Village Green Public Inquiry situation, and also comments in support of  the “Green Gap” status proposed for the fields in the draft Canterbury City Council District  Plan. We should all be grateful for  the SCF group’s remarkable tenacity and commitment in seeking to secure an unspoilt future for Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes. Please read their analysis carefully. 



The long-delayed Public Inquiry for our Village Green Application to protect ‘Chaucer Fields’ started on 23rd February and concluded on Thursday 19th March.

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We won’t know the outcome for a long time yet, and it’s impossible to predict. Most of the Inquiry was taken up with the giving of evidence, first from our witnesses who were cross-examined by the University’s barristers, and then from the University’s witnesses cross-examined by our barrister. What was striking was how widely people’s memories varied, especially on whether there were permissive signs on the fields, where they were, and when, and whether they were legible. The one thing which was clearly established, and not questioned by the University’s legal team, was that the fields have been extensively used for recreation by local people for many years. Just to have this on record will be very valuable for us, whatever the final decision on the application.

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The final day of the Inquiry was taken up with closing submission by the two barristers, Jonathan Karas QC for the University and Ned Westaway on our behalf. It was remarkable how the two lawyers were able to present entirely plausible but totally opposite conclusions from the same evidence. The Inspector will now prepare her report and recommendation to KCC whether or not to designate Chaucer Fields as a Village Green, and this could take several months.

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In the meantime, we hope that the draft Local Plan prepared by Canterbury City Council, which includes a proposal to designate the whole of the ‘Southern Slopes’ below the university campus as a Green Gap, will be approved by the Government Planning Inspector and subsequently adopted by The Council.

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We are extremely grateful to our Barrister, Mr. Ned Westaway, for his total dedication to our campaign, and for his extraordinary efforts in helping us in trying to win our case. Throughout the campaigning process and the Public Inquiry, despite our differences about the VGA, we have always maintained respect for the University’s management and legal team and this has been reciprocated.

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A very sincere thank you to all who have supported our campaign, by the giving of financial assistance, by providing witness statements and giving evidence, and to all those who have given us moral support.

We remain dedicated to saving ‘Chaucer Fields’ as a much valued open space for everyone to enjoy, and regardless of the outcome of the Village Green Public Inquiry, we will continue to make the University aware of our determination to succeed in our campaign.cropped-blissett-photo-opp.jpg

Eclipse and Save Chaucer Fields – Fundraising and Appeal

Dear all

A  short Blog: Chaucer Fields/The Southern Slopes were an obvious place for people, young and old, from the local and university communities, to congregate to attempt to view the partial solar eclipse today…..

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Unfortunately, the weather was against us, a completely leaden overcast sky and poor visibility. But I thought I detected a darkening at around 9.30 nevertheless…. some photos interspersed here, with the actual eclipse conspicuous by its absence!

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Also: please do now make a contribution to the SCF Fighting Fund if you possibly can. £6,000 is needed to cover the legal costs incurred in the Village Green Application, whose public inquiry hearing element was completed this week.

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The level of funds being sought has been absolutely minimised –  thanks to the extensive, sustained pro bono contributions  of SCF’s brilliant barrister, Ned Westaway, and the volunteer support provided to him by the SCF committee. (In contrast, the University seems to have fielded not only their lead barrister, but also a supporting team of presumably fully paid professionals.)

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The community have begun to give. But as SCF’s Facebook site reports, the amount raised to date is still well short of the target. And there are now only two days left for  you to make your mark on this fundraising effort. Please give now if you possibly can!

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How? Here is the link to follow. Its really easy, and will only take a couple of minutes:

With thanks, and all best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society