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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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. 

 

VILLAGE GREEN PUBLIC INQUIRY: SCF GUEST BLOG – APRIL 2015

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:

www.justgiving.com/yimby/savechaucerfields

With thanks, and all best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

Imminent: Key event: Public Inquiry re Chaucer Fields Village Green App

Note re photographs in this Blog: The most exciting  pictures are courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust – please see the last section of the Blog for more details. There are also some images of the Cathedral seen from the fields after dark, swathed in natural night time darkness and relatively unpolluted by artificial light. 

Village Green Application: Public Inquiry Process about to begin

A key purpose of this 44th Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog is to act as a reminder that a key moment in the Village Green Application (VGA) – which, if successful, would protect the fields from despoilation for the forseeable future – is now imminent. As mentioned in November’s Blog, the Public Inquiry begins this coming Monday 23rd February, and will last for 5 days.If needed, a further week has been reserved for evidence gathering next month (week beginning 16th march).

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Late Bronze Age pottery from water hole, Keynes III/Turing dig (see below). Reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

This Kent County Council (KCC) Inquiry will be conducted in Canterbury’s newly refurbished Westgate Hall and begins at 10.00am. This is an excellent and resonant choice of venue – resonant, because, like the fields, this has in recent years  been a much loved public space under threat of destruction. But as a result of an enormous community effort spearheaded energetically and with great skill by the Westgate Community Trust, that threat was challenged and successfully deflected. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits the fields.  Here, there is also a great breadth of support, and those wanting “development” find themselves isolated and way out on a limb. After all, let’s recall the obvious and almost ubiquitous support throughout the local geographical community – to which Canterbury City Council has commendably responded by proposing ‘green gap’ status for the fields in the draft District Plan (see First CFPS Blog of 2014).  But also let’s not forget the views articulated from within the university community itself: recall the decisive votes taken in favour of protecting the fields by both the staff union, the UCU, and the students’ union, Kent Union, earlier this decade.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

While not everything depends upon a successful VGA, it would be an especially robust form of protection. So all who wish to see the natural beauty, breathtaking views, and wonderful health, leisure and social benefits associated with the existence of the unspoilt Southern Slopes safeguarded will want to follow the Public Inquiry process and its eventual outcome. It would be especially valuable if supporters who live locally and have the opportunity to attend the Inquiry express their commitment by coming along to some or all of the proceedings at Westgate Hall next week.

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Iron age charcoal pit used to produce charcoal & possibly used for culinary smoking purposes on a large scale.  Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

SCF Facebook and Fundraising Quiz Night 7th March

For more  information and details on the Inquiry, please do follow the Save Chaucer Fields group’s Facebook page. You’ll also find there details of an important social event taking place between the two weeks of the Inquiry: there will be a Fundraising Quiz Night at the hall of St Dunstan’s church, Canterbury on Saturday 7th March from 7pm onwards. Again, please do come along to this too if you possibly can. These nights are always great fun, and allow supporters the chance to catch up socially, as well as hear the latest news about the campaign. But they also generate much needed financial resources for the SCF group, which relies on fundraising in order to cover legal costs and other expenses, which are high because of the complexity and depth of the Inquiry.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

League Tables – mixed results for environmental issues:  a time for reflection

The University of Kent is rightly proud of the impressive record in research and teaching of its its academic staff.  A sense of the achievements, albeit somewhat mechanistically gauged, is communicated by its repeatedly strong showing in national “league tables”, and these results are reasonably used in efforts to persuade potential students, staff, funders and other stakeholders of the University’s significance. In recent years, such metrics have begun to be applied to other areas of higher educational life. The environmental dimension is an important one here. And although there is no equivalent to the routinised Government measures of performance in teaching and research, comparative yardsticks do seem to be beginning to come through.

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Late Iron Age Belgic slater. Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Accordingly, the University has recently been keen to point to an evaluative exercise suggesting this is also an area where has also done well, referring in various media to how its ‘green credentials‘ have been underscored by a study by the University of Singapore. However, is the picture quite this straightforward? The answer is no. Unlike the case of research and teaching, where all the evidence tends to point in the same direction (towards remarkably high achievement) this is in fact not the case in relation to environmental policy and practice when these results are put in context. In particular, an apparently longer established and much more wide ranging exercise, conducted annually by the highly reputable and locally rooted environmental charity People & Planet, has consistently found the University of Kent  stubbornly languishing with only a mediocre track record for some years- including the latest results released last month

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

People & Planet’s findings  do not seem to have received a great deal of attention, at least in the public domain, from University authorities as yet. But it will be important to scrutinise both sets of results in the months ahead to ascertain why these results are so dramatically different. It likely partly reflects differences in methodology and focus, including the apparently wider evaluative horizons of the People & Planet studies. But are there other considerations?  Presumably, both studies have strengths – but also weaknesses and flaws?  Whatever the situation, it would  surely be sensible to pause before rushing to celebratory conclusions. It would be healthy from the perspective of balanced communication, and working in the interests of transparency, for the University to engage with the results emerging from both exercises. so let us hope that the full range of evidence will be explicitly acknowledged and considered and debated in the months ahead.

Keynes III/Turing College – archaeological results

Finally, to add colour and interest to this Blog, with kind permission I have included images of late Bronze Age and Iron age artefacts found during Canterbury Archaelogical Trust’s  excavations of the land just north of Chaucer Fields (above Beverley Farm and the western segment of University Road). That’s because I know many of you are keenly interested not only in the visible aesthetic and environmental and recreational value of our cherished local landscape, but also how the land connects with our heritage: the historical and pre-historical patterns that  contribute to its sense of ‘specialness’.  For substantive details, I would like to refer you to the excellent interim report prepared by Ross Lane Some of you heard Ross speak about the findings during the ‘open day’ on the site for the dig last summer, as reported in a CFPS Blog in summer 2013.

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Loom weights, probably early Iron Age.Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Ross, whose modesty veils a remarkable level of expertise  especially on this period of our history,  has kindly offered to  talk at one of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society events we will be holding this summer. I would be very grateful if you would let me know if you would be interested in hearing Ross share his knowledge in this area? Please email me at: chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to attend an informal talk at one of our picnics, and I’ll have a better sense of the basis for proceeding.

That’s it for now. I hope to see you at Westgate Hall for the Inquiry and at St Dunstan’s church hall for the quiz!

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer  Fields Picnic Society