Chaucer fields – entry for Woodland Trust competition

Dear all

I hope you have had a good summer. There’s no major news to report –  one reason why this Blog hasn’t been active for a while. But do look at the Save Chaucer Field’s  group’s summary of the state of play from a couple of month’s back if you want to get up to speed. Its  here or go to their home page via the Blogroll, top right hand corner of this Blog.

July-August batch 086BLUE BUTTER

Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

This lack of important news in recent weeks –  really since Canterbury City Council announced that the draft District Plan include green gap status for the fields –  doesn’t mean public interest has faded, however. Quite the opposite. For example, I am regularly asked where things stand, and a few days ago this website passed the 10,000 hits mark, with a readership which is not only local, as well as increasingly national and international.

July-August batch 020NOT TREE BLUE FLY

Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

One idea which might, however, be worth mentioning is that  this month I am putting forward one of our oak trees for national recognition! This is via  the Woodland Trust’s English Tree of the Year competition . (See also the Blogroll link for more information on the trust.)

camera various august-october 061

 

may 2014 batch incl picnic 101

The excellent Woodland Trust, like many other national and local  green groups, has long been supportive of our cause, and this seemed like a natural thing to do. Many of you will instantly recognise the tree in question as the young to middle aged Oak tree in the southern section of  Dover Down field, close to Roper’s twitchell,next to one of the many pathways that criss cross the Southern Slopes, and often chosen by picnickers.

camera various august-october 188

camera march14 031

I am sure it will not be an ancient, knarled, or historically significant as some other trees entered for this event! But I think we’ve got a case. Its exceptional character stems from its surroundings and the way it is appreciated by so very many people, all the time.

lateapr later batch 2014 049

The tree is striking, somewhat set part from other  around the field, and visible from many angles across the fields. Viewed from the north east  over Dover down field it foregrounds some of the best views of Canterbury Cathedral and its world heritage site. From the north west, in Bushy Acres,  it sits between Roper’s Twitchell (the double hedge) in front, with St Dunstan’s church behind.  And situated in what is now being  recognised  as the Southern Slopes ‘green buffer’, it is close enough to large numbers of people – students and staff on the University campus, and those living in the residential area to the south – to be enjoyed by the many who walk, run or ride past it every single day.

camera march14 029

lateapr later batch 2014 177

And its not an oak everyone just passes by! It has acted as a social focal point  for organising picnics, providing shade in hot weather and cover when wet. It has clearly witnessed many a story and many a song!

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Students and friends at June picnic

may 2014 batch incl picnic 072

But most importantly to my mind, is its use by local children – not to mention adults – as convenient and accessible for climbing. The branches are positioned just right for any tentative 4 year old trying to get the hang of it, while more adventorous older people can and do climb 20 or even 30 feet up to gain excellent views across the landscape!

Lad in tree.1

may 2014 batch incl picnic 099

Long may it continue – to use the cliche, for generations to come.  And I will let you know how we get on in this year’s competition!

July-August batch 112

lateapr later batch 2014 062 All best

Chaucer Fielder

 

Photographic summertime 2014 Blog

Mistle Thrush

Resident Mistle thrush, late may 2014, later nested successfully,

chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner.

 

may-june 2014 batch incl picnic 212

“Cuckoo Spit” caused by froghopper nymphs, june 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

 

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 069

Blackbird, june 2014, Beverley Boughs, chaucer fields

 

 

July batch 056

Unidentified fruit, July 2014, Jack Cade’s carvet, chaucer fields

 

July batch 007

Oak foreground Cathedral background, June 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife cropped butterfly

Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Linnaeus, 1758], June 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 086

Walkers, june 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 026

Jay, June 2014, Beverley Boughs, chaucer fields

 

July batch 012

Honey bee, July 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 074

Ancient path from Blean church to Cathedral, June 2014, Dover Down field,            chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 084

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina [Linnaeus, 1758], June 2014, Jack Cade’s carvet,    chaucer fields

July batch 030

An otherwise irritating sign put to good use by a house sparrow, July 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

 

Whitethroat

Whitethroat , late may 2014, thought to be in transit,

chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner

 

First Blog of 2014 – important Local Plan news and upcoming picnic

Dear all

Profusion of hawthorn ('may') across hedges

Profusion of hawthorn (‘may’) in Roper’s twitchell & Jack Cade’s carvet,  april 2014

This is undoubtedly one of the best times  of year to enjoy the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes. The grass is lush and verdant, the deciduous trees are visibly  springing to life with new foliage, and the hedgerows are full of blossom, most dramatically hawthorn (see above). Perhaps the best time of day to appreciate the fields is when this visual display is joined with the sound of birdsong, as day breaks. In a future Blog, I intend to upload recordings of the spring dawn chorus. But for now I’ll intersperse the Blog in the usual way with photographs which try to capture some  of the beauty of the Slopes in April, and show in simple ways how they can be enjoyed by children.

lateapr later batch 2014 191

scooter riding inside Roper’s twitchell, Cathedral in distance, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Its been a while since the last Blog appeared. A key reason for this has simply been a lack of major news to report. Of course the unspoilt fields  continued to be used by local residents, visitors and the university community; but in policy terms, the first few months of 2014 have continued the ‘waiting game’ described in earlier Blogs as having characterised much of  2013. But as we move towards the summer, important local policy news is now beginning to emerge. I’ll first of all summarise the situation  on that, and then report an informal happening which will take place on the fields next month – the latest in our series of musical picnics.

lateapr later batch 2014 house sparrow

house sparrow, jack cade’s carvet, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

1. Policy development – draft District Plan submission finalised

As you will recall from earlier Blogs, Canterbury City Council’s emerging new Local Plan is fundamentally important for everyone who is concerned about the balance between ‘development’ and other priorities. That’s because the Plan’s content and specific policies will be the  key reference point in determining where and how building is to be encouraged or permitted, and where it is to be discouraged or prohibited for decades to come. It is crucial to recognise that the future of those parts of our landscape which are currently unspoilt and valued as such by local people for heritage, recreational and environmental reasons is at stake here: policy commitments to protect and respect such special places made in this document are going to be absolutely crucial in the years ahead.

lateapr later batch 2014 tree climbers 2

Climbing an oak tree in Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

As expected, in recent months  the remarkably high value attached by communities to the Southern Slopes  as unspoilt shared green space emerged strongly from the local consultation process. Numerous submissions stressing the importance of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as a whole were forthcoming  from individuals and knowledgeable local groups.

midapr 22014 194

Westgate towers viewed from Dover Down field,  Chaucer Fields, april 2014

The good news is that the mass of  evidence and argument put forward in this way  has now  been taken seriously by Canterbury City Council in specifying the content of the District Plan. Drawing on both lay submissions and advice from planning and landscape experts, earlier this month CCC officials initially suggested that Councillors needed to consider incorporating specific protections for the Slopes.

midapr 22014 167

The recently restored bench at the north of Chaucer Fields, just south of Beverley Farm (close to University road) – one of the best used viewpoints

And this is precisely what has happened as the Plan has proceeded through the relevant decision making committees. It has been amended to explicitly recognise the value of the fields. And it has been good to witness that the issue has been treated as an entirely non-partisan one, uniting all strands of political opinion. First the CCC Overview Committee recommended the adoption of ‘open space’ protection for the Slopes; then the CCC Executive Committee followed, although reframing the proposed protections as a matter of  ‘green gap’ policy (because the land is technically outside the ‘urban envelope’, these policies are the more appropriate ones);and finally on 24th april, the full Council endorsed  this ‘green gap’ status for the Southern Slopes as part of its general approval of the Plan as a whole.This has taken shape despite a late formal objection to these protections being made by University management, as reported at the final  Council meeting  (although the substantive grounds for this objection are not currently known).

midapr 22014 137

Bluebells in the  Southern Slopes wooded area east of Chaucer Fields (nr. Elliot path), april 2014 . Both woods & fields would be protected under the draft  CCC  ‘green gap’  policy

The idea of a ‘green gap’ here resonates well with strongly held local sentiment that the fields should be suitably protected as a highly significant ‘green buffer’, ‘green belt’  or ‘green lung’ benefitting both local residents and the University community at large. More specifically and formally, this status (Policy OS5) would mean that any ‘development’ which “significantly affect[s] the open character of the Green Gap, or lead to coalescence between existing settlements”; or which would  result in “new isolated and obtrusive development within the Green Gap” would be explicitly prohibited.

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

This is all very encouraging news. However,  it is important to stress that the draft Local Plan incorporating these green gap protections for the Southern Slopes is not yet legally adopted policy. There are several further steps to be completed. Most importantly, these include  a 6 week period during which interested parties are  entitled to make representations concerning the Plan’s legality and “soundness” . The Plan also then needs to be scrutinised and signed off at national level by the  Planning Inspectorate (an executive  agency of the Department for Communites & Local Government). The Inspectorate will undertake a detailed and thorough review of the CCC Plan, supporting policies, and the representations received during the recent and upcoming consultations.

midapr 22014 230

Peacock butterfly, Inachis Io, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

 2. Collaborative Musical Picnic – 3.30pm onwards 11th May

On a less “heavy” note I am pleased to announce that plans for our next picnic  are now well advanced! This informal happening is jointly facilitated by CFPS and the Abbots Mill Project  (see Blogroll, top right). It is being actively supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group, Greenpeace Canterbury, and by environmental representatives from the UCU (the University of Kent’s main staff union) and from Kent Union (the student’s union).  We hope you’ll come if you live locally: 3.30pm onwards, sunday 11th may.

lateapr later batch 2014 tree climber 3

Tree climbing with attitude, Bushy Acres,Chaucer Fields, april 2014

Tips include:

  • bring a rug etc, as the grass is rather long and can be damp in places
  • bring your own refreshments (and bags to take away rubbish)
  • bring props for games: popular in the past have been frisbees, kites, football, rounders and cricket (on those parts of the fields where the grass has been cut)
  • bring musical instruments if you feel inclined to play
Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Of course, many of the popular play activities undertaken on the fields at picnics and other times don’t require you to bring anything: including tree climbing, “it” and other tag games, hide & seek and  exploratory games – for children, but also anyone who is young at heart.

lateapr later batch 2014 170

Runner, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Alongside these ‘do it  yourself’ activities, there’ll be the chance to:

  • learn about local environmental issues from the groups mentioned above;
  • listen to local acoustic musicians, including Richard Navarro, Jules Madjar (Canterbury Buskers Collective)Ivan Thompson (Hullabaloo etc), Katy Windsor, Frances Knight, and some musicians and singers from Roystercatchers;
  • join a procession involving  Dead Horse Morris’s “Jack in the Green”, the “incredible walking ivy bush” making a (reincarnated) return appearance after a couple of years;
  • hear Mark Lawson’s fabulous tales – another return visit, back by popular demand.
Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action, Chaucer Fields picnic May 2012

The Jack will have already welcomed the rising sun on mayday, and paraded the streets of Whitstable during may day celebrations earlier in the week. The Jack is made of ivy gathered from various parts of the District, including ivy gathered from the Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields. His constitution and  participation symbolises how respect for green space is a shared priority for local people from across the local area

Jack in the Green (walking ivy bush!)

Jack (walking ivy bush!) amazes local children, Chaucer Fields picnic, may 2012

Let’s hope the weather is good to us!

Hope to see you at the picnic

Sadly some fine trees were felled by winter storms. However, even logs provide  play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

Sadly some fine trees were lost or damaged during the winter storms in December 2013 and January 2014. However, in some places new viewing vistas of the Canterbury cityscape have opened up; and even logs provide play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

CFPS – 2013 in review courtesy of WordPress

Dear all

First of all, some archive pictures of wildlife and children from the fields at  sunnier times of year to brighten things up a bit!

wicken etc 093

Blackcap, bottom of Bushy Acres , Eastern part of Chaucer Fields, June 2013

And I thought you might be interested to learn that the CFPS Blog seems to have been quite effective during 2013 in raising awareness and spreading the word about our fields:

fordwich canoe coach & horses faversham cycle 023

Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Lennaeus, 1758], “Beverley Boughs”, North western part of Chaucer Fields, early July 2013

Please see the  report below by clicking on the link from WordPress, who are the organisation providing the Blog template etc .

Drumming on Chaucer Fields - Oaks children

Drumming on Chaucer Fields – Oaks nursery children, summer 2011

Adding the stats from 2013 to the previous periods (for which stats are available) now gives a grand total of over 9,000 visits by viewers from 70 countries since the Blog was initiated.

hawker

Southern Hawker basking in the sun, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Happy New Year – and stay involved: 2014 will be a crunch time for our fields!

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields 2011

************************************************************************************************

[EXCERPT AND LINK FOR WORDPRESS REPORT]

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Waiting games …. hawks, hawkers, conkers, and roystercatchers

Dear all

camera various august-october 221

Looking north over fields & hedges from bottom of Dover Down field, october 2013

The fields have been incomparably enchanting on several days this month. The combination of ample rain and periods of warm unbroken sunshine, as summer turns to autumn, have produced a spectacular combination of active wildlife, luxuriously verdant grass, and infinite gradations of green, yellow and orange in foliage. Especially earlier in the mornings and as dusk approaches, the light has been spectacular, and it has been a privilege and pleasure to walk, cycle or run amidst the meadows and  hedgerows.

camera various august-october 244

Dewy morning, Bushy Acres, october 2013

I’ve got some recent photos interspersed in this blog in the usual way, although doubtless they can’t even begin to do justice to the scenery – you have to be there to experience the extraordinary semi-natural beauty of the landscape, and to witness all that it offers for people and wildlife. On the latter front – its great to know that dragonflies have been in abundance well into late october, and the fields have been frequented by a bird of prey, apparently breeding on the Eastern part of the Slopes in summer. I’ve been guided by Mark Kilner, the local wildlife photographer and expert, in identifying the types of dragonfly (they’re hawkers) and confirming the persistent presence of the sparrowhawk on the fields (we don’t yet have photos of these particular birds, but in the meantime see some of Mark’s sparrowhawk images from other places on his flickr site here)

camera various august-october 188

Cathedral backdrop and oak tree, Dover Down field, october 2013

This blog will also provide an update on the timing some of the key local government decision processes which are going to be critical in determining the future of this place in the years ahead. It looks like early 2014-early 2015 will be the time period  during which the destiny of the fields will begin to come clearer. I’ll finish with a further foraging note and  draw your attention to a new musical tribute to the fields which will be going public next month for the first time!

camera various august-october 101

Brown hawker sunbathing on Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Waiting Games: Village Green Application and Local District Plan

We have been experiencing  ‘waiting  games’ for some months in relation to the pending decisions by Kent County Council (KCC) and Canterbury City Council (CCC) regarding how the fields will be treated in the future in local public policy terms. And we know the University has been publicly silent on the issue for some months. This now seems set to continue: It therefore seems very unlikely that the University would choose to submit any further Chaucer Fields planning application over the next few months (for example, along the lines of the proposed “Chaucer Conference” hotel complex and accommodation blocks presented at their ‘consultation’ in 2012 – see the CFPS Blog of a year ago).

camera various august-october 144

St Dunstan’s church tower seen from Bushy Acres, october 2013

In relation to KCC, the Village Green Application – which, if successful, would protect the fields from predatory ‘development’ in perpetuity – has now been subjected to a further delay. As reported by  the Save Chaucer Fields Group (SCF), a preliminary report on the  scope of legitimate evidence – needed by KCC’s  regulation committee as a prior step to conducting a public inquiry – is to be published later than originally hoped. And this is still at the ground clearing stage, meaning that  the public inquiry itself is unlikely to begin until March or April 2014.

camera various august-october 170

Looking towards Beverley boughs from the bottom of Roper’s twitchell, october  2013

SCF also report that they are seeking to recruit further witnesses to strengthen the already powerful pro-protection case, and are seeking further donations, especially to cover legal costs relating to the inquiry. Please refer to their locally distributed Newletters or access the SCF Facebook page for fuller details, and offer as much support as you can.

hawker

Southern Hawker basking in the sun, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

The other local government policy decisions – or more accurately, set of decisions – which  will be crucial to the future of the fields is the ongoing process of determining the contents of the CCC Local (District) Plan. This could, if policy makers choose,  potentially protect this place  for decades ahead, whatever the result of the Village Green Application. That’ll be the case if the final version ends up retaining or strengthening some of the proposed priorities  in the existing consultation draft. Amongst the relevant considerations are:

  • the draft LDP requirements emphasing  respect for the Stour Valley landscape of which the unspoilt Southern Slopes are an integral part (in its own right, and because of its topographical ecological connectivity with that wider landscape)
  • the LDP draft’s emphasis on Open Space, environmental sensitivity and account taking of  biodiversity and heritage. At the moment  the sorts of general sentiments being expressed in the draft  seem to be in line with at least implicit recognition of  the unspoilt Southern Slopes as a remarkable historical and green community asset.  (However, the policy commitment would be laudably strengthened if these considerations were made much more explicit and the Slopes were to be given fully protected special green community space status, capitalising on the value of the land as revealed by Canterbury Archeological trust and the work of various environmental consultancy firms for CCC in recent years ); and
  • the draft LDP’s explicit proposed requirement that the University of Kent recognise  its responsibility to  develop its Estate in a way that demonstably respects its own campus and the wider host community setting by producing a publicly defensible Master Plan. This implies a  decisive moved away from the outmoded, disjointed and fragmented approach taken by the Estates Department of the University to campus development in recent years. This has evidently damaged the University’s environmental and social reputation, and undermined the efforts of the University as a whole to strengthen its community relations.

As mentioned above, these are still draft policy proposals, although encouragingly, recognising the relevance of the the first two sets of priorities is in line with CCC’s provisional decision to reject the University’s application for the Southern Slopes to be considered as a site for mass residential housing development.. We don’t yet know  whether these commitments will be carried over into the final adopted policy framework or not. Each could in theory potentially be strengthened, weakened, or remain unchanged as the plan is finalised (and presumably, a range of vested interests have been, and will continue, to lobby vigorously to have any such constraints on a ‘development’ free-for-all diluted or abandoned).

camera various august-october 208

Top of Roper’s twitchell, Bell Harry tower in background

What’s the timetable here? Like the Village Green at KCC level, 2014 will potentially be a key year. CCC have confirmed this in specifing a timeline earlier in the summer in their document  Canterbury District Local Development  Scheme  which sets out the transition from draft LDP status to adopted LDP. December 2014 is specified there as the formal target date for LDP adoption, but in correspondence this month, the Planning Department have clarified there may be some slippage: There seems to be some uncertainty, although not nearly as much as in the Village Green Application process.  They have indicated that they  are currently working through all the comments received in the latest consultation round  which closed at the end of August. The actual timeline next year  partly depends on the national Planning Inspectorate itself (which must sign off all LDPs as appropriate and robust before they can be adopted). So it could be that early 2015, rather than december 2014, is the moment when the content of the final adopted LDP is actually settled.

camera various august-october 126

Detail of sunbathing Southern Hawker, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Foraging Update: chestnut time

chaucer fields photos new camera august 2012 582 (36)

Sweet chestnuts, Dover Down field, october 2012

Meanwhile,  life goes on at the fields. The opportunities for members of the host and university community to harvest blackberries and apples from the unspoilt Southern Slopes have now passed, but others have come round. As thoughts turn to cold winter nights, for people relying on open fires or stoves for heating at home, plenty of kindling can be had from the wooded sections of the slopes. The two other obviously traditional ways in which nature’s bounty is still just about at a productive moment is in relation to chestnuts. Chaucer Fields and the broader Southern Slopes include some fine examples of both sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts.

camera various august-october 302

Sweet chestnuts waiting to be foraged, october 2012

Sweet chestnuts can be simply roasted in said fires, or cooked using other methods as part of recipes. Personally, I have used them for beef casseroles in the past, although haven’t yet got round to that this year! Drop me an email if you’d like the recipe! By contrast, the horse chestnut provide us with conkers, used by generations of  children for conker fights. As this game may be quite specific to the UK and Ireland, and this Blog now has a growing following of overseas readers, I thought I had better give a bit more information about this.

camera various august-october 167

Horse chestnut tree, Bushy Acres, October 2013

In “Conkers” a hole is drilled in a large, hard horse chestnut  – “conker” –  using a nail, gimletor small screwdriver. A piece of string is threaded through it about 25 cm (10 inches) long and large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker.

  • The game is played between two people, each with a conker. They take turns hitting each other’s conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits.
  • Scoring: The conker eventually breaking the other’s conker gains a point. This may be either the attacking conker or (more often) the defending one. A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet. If a none-er breaks another none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc.
  • In some regions the winning conker assimilates the previous score of the losing conker, as well as gaining the score from that particular game.Source: Adapted from Wikipedia  entry “Conkers”
camera various august-october 165

Horse chestnut with conker potential, Bushy Acres 2013

So, warmth, food and fun can currently all be had by taking advantage of what the Slopes currently have to offer…

And finally…. musical endnote

Music has long been an integral part of  the efforts to raise awareness about the  beauty and value of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as  unspoilt shared green space. Informal playing and jamming have been an important feature of many picnics; Richard Navarro and Brendan Power’s version of “Big Yellow Taxi” focussing on the fields received attention in the local  media, and a huge hit rate on youtube; and at the end of last year local acoustic group Roystercatchers helped raise funds for SCF  by running a ceilidh

Roystercatchers are now running their own regular ceilidhs in Whitstable and Canterbury (click here to see one of the dances). I mention this here because the next one – at 7pm, saturday 23rd November, St Stephens church hall, Hales Drive, Canterbury – potentially may feature the first even public performance of a  “Southern Slopes Song”. This has been written to pay homage to the beauty of the fields, and seeks to raise awareness of its threatened status.  If  you would like more information, to hear the song, and to join the ceilidh (no traditional dance experience required), simply email roystercatchers@gmail.com. They’ll be pleased to answer your questions, and tickets (£6 each) can be reserved for you in advance (the capacity of the hall is modest, this is advised to avoid disappointment). If the song isn’t ready for this particular event, it’ll be performed at another roystercatchers event in the near future instead.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Next picnic date (21 Sept), District Plan deadline (30 Aug) & CAT Open Day

Dear all

I hope you are having  a good august. As you’ll have seen first hand, or may have picked up from the SCF Facebook site, the grass has now been cut, and the hay has been made!  So the fields are very much in late summer mode – for example, see image of Dover Down field below. This Blog will pick  up some of the threads of the last one, and is interspersed with some recent snaps from the fields:

august to september chaucer fields 004

Southern part of Dover Down field looking north, Chaucer Fields, late August 2013

Draft District Plan consultation deadline looms

A reminder:  The deadline for sending in your responses to Canterbury City Council (CCC) in relation to the proposed local plan, which has enormous implications for the character of our landscape and environment for years to come, is the end this month (5pm Friday 30 August). In an earlier Blog I included a link to the relevant website. However, it is clear that some people have found understanding and navigating the specific route for responding presented via this portal to be  opaque and excessively complicated.

school plus turing dig 076

Cathedral framed by Cade’s carvet hedge, southwards view from recently restored bench close to Innovation centre bus stop, august 2013

I was pleased to learn earlier this week that local community groups are sensibly suggesting that people  can respond in a much simpler and less time consuming way:  CCC should still take your feedback into account to the same extent as if you had followed the tortuous portal approach.

august to september chaucer fields 025

Unspoilt  Southern Slopes, between Bushy Acres and Eliot pathway, August 2013

What is this simpler approach? In what follows I have drawn upon and supplemented the guidance of one of the leading community groups the material relating most obviously to the situation regarding chaucer fields, the unspoilt southern slopes and the University. They rightly emphasise you shouldn’t feel the need  to make a detailed or complicated response: a simple snail mail  letter or e-mail will do. But it’s a good idea to say which particular enumerated and named policies you’re referring to, where this is possible:

  • ·         Write to or email CCC if you agree with the proposal that the University of Kent should be required to produce a Masterplan for its campus, which maintains its campus character, respects the setting of the site in the wider countryside, and includes a landscape strategy, write to say that you support policy EMP7.
  • ·        Write to or email CCC If you agree with the proposals to protect the environment, including views across the city from the University slopes, and protecting open spaces, write to say that you support policies HE2, LB2 and OS8
  •        Write to or email CCC if you welcome  the provisional decision not to consider the Southern Slopes as a potential site for housing development (200-300 houses) because this would dramatically violate Sustainability Objectives (Evidence base:  the  SHLAA-sites-Analysis conducted by AMEC for CCC in 2012)

 You can send your comments by post to Planning Policy Team, Planning and Regeneration, Canterbury City Council, Military Road, Canterbury, CT11YW; or by e-mailing planning.policy@canterbury.gov.uk

august to september chaucer fields 068

A juvenile jay foraging in apple tree dating back to Mount’s nursery days, southern part of Bushy Acres, august 2013

CAT Open Day, archaeological excavations

school plus turing dig 134

Ross from CAT discusses evidence of burial at the Keynes III/Turing excavation

I attended this fascinating event in the morning. Expert CAT staff were on hand to share their wealth of knowledge about how what is being found on the Keynes III/Turing college site adds to our understanding of how our ancestors were living 2-3 millenia ago. A highly informative guided tour of the site was provided.  Amongst the highlights for me on the day were:

  • learning that the place was a local centre for our ancestors throughout the entire iron age, although there was also modest evidence of settlement as early as the bronze age. It would have been a hive of activity  at the same time that Bigbury camp, just a few miles away near Harbledown (well known internationally as the place for a key military struggle between local people and the invading forces of emperor Claudius in 54 AD) was also famously flourishing
  • finding out that the site hosted differentiated areas for habitation (evidenced, for example, by pottery and charcoal from fire pits) and working life (including textiles: in particular numerous loom weights have been found). There is also ample evidence of burial and material relating to  funeral pyres, suggesting  that sacramental ceremonies would also have been performed here
  • confirming that the people who inhabited the site were involved in trade and transactions with others from outside the area, and even beyond England. Kent has long been proud of its role as a vanguard of civilisation in the British Isles from before the common era, a status documented by contemporary Roman writers. A beautiful horse-design coin originating from the North West of continental Europe, then part of the Roman empire (perhaps from what is now Belgium or France), probably about two thousand years old,has been unearthed  on the Keynes III/Turing site (see image).  Our iron age ancestors in this place were apparently systematically engaging in monetized commerce with our continental neighbours when other parts of the country were still relatively insular and isolated!
school plus turing dig 156

Pre-Roman invasion coin from continental Europe found at Keynes III/Turing excavation

Please see the CAT project site for more on this project in general. At the time of writing information on the success of  the open day has not yet been posted, but  hopefully an update will appear soon.

Next CFPS Picnic: Date confirmed

CF 27 aygust 017

Meadow Brown  basks in mid day sunshine, Bushy Acres, August 2013

I am delighted to announce that discussions on the timing of the collaborative picnic involving CFPS with local civil society groups has progressed, and we have now agreed a date: PM SATURDAY 21st September. Please put the date in your diaries now. I’ll report more detail on the plans in a future blog in terms of timing and content, but it’ll include all the usual CFPS activities (socialising, formal  games, informal play, musical  entertainment etc) and more besides.

Enjoy the rest  of your week!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

July CFPS Blog – from prehistoric ancestors to UKC alumni

Dear all

Midsummer time

fordwich canoe coach & horses faversham cycle 091

Bushy Acres Field midsummer view, July 2013

I hope you are  enjoying the summer. Chaucer Fields and the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are now in midsummer mode, albeit looking a bit parched. Luxurious long grass playing host to numerous bees, damselflies and butterflies.

fordwich canoe coach & horses faversham cycle 023

Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Lennaeus, 1758],  “Beverley Boughs”, early July 2013

The butterfly population has included the ‘usual suspects’ – such as  Dusky Meadow Browns, Small Coppers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells, but interesting to come  across a new one (to me) recently – the Speckled Wood (see photo above). This butterfly thrives in unpolluted and unspoilt wooded glades and tranquil settings. So finding plenty of then in ‘Beverley Boughs’ (see map below) shouldn’t  have come  as a surprise!

Chaucer Fields draft heritage map

CFPS Heritage map from 2012: especially good place to see butterflies is ‘Beverley Boughs’

CAT Open Day, Keynes III site

The main purpose of this Blog is to remind you of the upcoming open day at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) dig currently underway just north of the fields – above University Road and Beverley Farm. You may recall that the University has been required to facilitate the dig as a condition for  obtaining planning permission to proceed with the Keynes III development. This  development is now being referred to as the ‘Turing college’ development although the rationale for this has not been discussed or debated as far as I know. Anyway, please see the map below.

CAT dig in southern slopes context

Source: Adapted from Canterbury Archaeological Trust official map to show site proximity to unspoilt Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)

As mentioned in the last Blog, the open day will take place this thursday 25th July. It’s a great  opportunity to find out about the fascinating evidence for a middle iron age settlement (that means dating from the period 300 – 150 years BC) established here. This builds on what had already emerged in recent work at the St Edmund’s school campus close by.  Presumably this extraordinary site will have been flourishing alongside Bigbury Camp just a few miles away (near to Harbledown). This was a settlement which seems to have been more significant than Canterbury itself, long prior to the Roman invasion, only after which that city became the dominant population centre locally. The event will be opened by the Lord Mayor at 10.30am, although the gates will open to visitors at 9.30am and the event will continue until 4pm. There will be regular site tours and displays of finds. CAT say all are welcome to attend. For more hints on what is being discovered, please refer to the relevant CAT project site here

Turing08

source: Image provided by CAT. Note roof of Beverley farmhouse in middle distance in front of Cathedral

Other notes

A couple of  other reminders and information points:

  • Please recall that the Canterbury City Council District Plan consultation period is currently ongoing. We (as individuals, voluntary groups, or other organisations) have until the end of August to respond. Please refer back to the previous Blog for more information.
  • Following the enormously successful May event on Chaucer  Fields – combining a picnic with the ‘Beating the Bounds’ by local church parishioners – another picnic is currently being planned for later next month, or early september, with local environmental and social groups. This  will be another exciting collaboration. Please watch this space for more details of date, time and the arrangements for participation!
bounds beaters, st stephens level crossing 1910

The parochial bounds-beaters who met with Chaucer Fields picnickers in may 2013 were following an ancient local tradition. This image shows St Stephens parish bounds beaters from a century ago at the St Stephen’s level crossing. The tradition was already several centuries  old then. They  will have also walked through Chaucer Fields if they did their job thoroughly!  Source: “Canterbury in Old Picture Postcards” by the late Terry Hougham, European Library, reproduced with kind permission of his grandson Max Apps

To finish: more on UKC alumni Ed Quast’s photographs

Finally, you may notice that after a couple of years, it seemed to right to ‘refresh’ the Header image used for the Blog. It occurred to me that it is crucial that the images we use communicate the  point that the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are a fabulous asset for all local communities and all ages: the local geographical community that hosts the university campus; the university community itself, including current staff and students, as well as alumni; and people of all ages, with whichever communities they associate.

Wednesday 20/04/2011 - Chaucer Fields - Edwin Quast

Ed Quast’s prize -winning iconic Chaucer Fields photograph from 2011

The new CFPS Header Image is provided courtesy of Ed Quast, a former  UKC student with whom I’ve kept  in touch. His evocative photo of the fields from 2011 caught the imagination of local people and was voted one of the most popular of all local photographs that year (see above). Another previously unpublished photo from Ed appears below!

Quast  further image 2

Hope to see you on thursday!

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

From Bulldozers, bees and bounds….to pre-history,presidents and picnics

One White Sugar University Road view

source: One White Sugar, Faversham (see Blog text below )

This Blog is admittedly something of a rag-bag of information and observations. If it is the chaucer fields ‘picnic’ aspect that you are here to find out about, Sunday 5th May is the key date for your diary. Please scroll down to the end of the Blog. But I hope there are other points of interest in what follows.

No news: expected Chaucer Conference Centre planning application

The nearest thing to news here is what  hasn’t happened. The University’s Chaucer Conference Centre planning application, expected to have materialised by now (on the basis of what University authorities chose to tell us last year), has not done so. Unfortunately, no news is not necessarily good news in this case. Although there are ongoing and imminent changes of personnel at the most senior level at the University which we might hope could lead to fresh thinking on this matter, there is as yet no evidence of policy change. So we’ve no obvious reason to believe the University has abandoned its plans to replace fields, trees and beautiful vistas with tarmac, multi-storey buildings and high rise blocks. It seems most likely that delays beyond its control, or deliberate stalling, explain this latest episode of policy drift.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1049

One of the  favourite oak trees amongst climbers, with the cathedral and marlowe theatre in the background. Southern part of Dover down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

Unspoilt Southern  Slopes Imagery 

Happily, spring in with us in earnest at last. The unspoilt Southern Slopes, including chaucer fields, are now coming to life with verdant fresh foliage, the hum of bees and other insects, and resonant birdsong. This includes the melodious singing of robins, wrens, blackbirds and thrushes; the chirping of house sparrows and dunnocks; the cackling of the several members of the crow family that frequent the fields; the repetitive calls of chiff-chaffs, tits and  finches; and the drumming and characteristic laugh-like cries of great spotted and green woodpeckers.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1406

Honey bee, Bushy Acres field, middle part of chaucer fields, April 2013

No new photos from Mark Kilner this time, I’m afraid (see previous Blog and Blogroll, right). But I did stumble across the image at the top of  the Blog. This is a striking artistic representation from Nigel Wallace, founder of the Faversham business White One Sugar, which specialise in posters and cards capturing iconic Kentish and national scenes. The style is inspired by mid twentieth century railway advertising posters. They have developed a number of Canterbury images. You’ll notice the one here captures the Cathedral framed by the unspoilt landscape. This is famously  part of the remarkable panoramic views whose integrity would  be undermined forever if building south of University  road and east of Chaucer College were to proceed. Nigel tells me that this is  one of their best selling representations of Canterbury.

A Pesticide Free Zone

In what follows, I’ll revert to interweaving some more of my own amateur photographic efforts into the  text this time round. I have paid  some attention this time to life which is able to flourish by virtue of the fact that this land has never been subjected  to pesticides, chemical sprays or other contaminants over the years, unlike much other proximate land. This is a topical international issue at the moment, with the ongoing debate on whether or not to control much more tightly at European level the use of the pesticides with wildlife in mind  – especially  in the light  of the dramatic decline in bee numbers in recent years.

XXX Dover Down Field, late may

Small Copper,  Dover Down Field, late may 2012

To underscore the value  of the fields in their  unspoilt state from this perspective, I’ve included photos from the last few days,and last summer, of the commonest types of  bees and  the butterflies which are in evidence here at these  times of year.  A less well know manifestation of the fields’ spray-free past is  the existence of a wide range of fungi. A friend of mine who was studying botany some years ago, told me that in a single morning of mycology field work, he catalogued at least 35 varieties of fungi on the Southern Slopes. The combination of trees and uncontaminated open space on the slopes is especially conducive to their flourishing.   

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1003

small tortoiseshell, south western part of Dover Down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

CAT excavations beginning: Keynes III site north of unspoilt Southern Slopes

Anyone expecting to experience the wonderful tranquillity which has been a signature feature of the fields for so many years will have been struck by the uncharacteristic temporary intrusion of noise during the day time this month. As people who venture to the northern part of the fields, or University Road users will have witnessed, the reason is that the diggers and bull dozers have been active to the north and east of Beverley Farm. They are clearing the ground in historic Saw Pett field for the ‘Keynes  III development’ student accommodation blocks. As a condition of giving planning permission, Canterbury City Council required that Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) conduct excavations on the site.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 149

Initial trench at Keynes III site, east of Beverley farm and north of University Road,            4 april 2013

Seeing the fields close to Beverley Farmhouse being dug up in this way is a troubling sight – in my opinion, especially sad in the context of the University never having demonstrated convincingly that other, alternative sites –  including Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking) –  could not have been developed. However, unlike land further south, this part of campus was already earmarked for commercial development several years ago.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1271

Digger for Keynes III site close to Beverley Farm, april 2013

Moreover, encountering this ‘development’  so close by will, for sure, harden the resolve of the many people already committed to preserving the unspoilt  fields further south, below University road, to do everything possible to ensure this can never happen there. Witnessing the digging will also surely raise awareness of the threatened status of the proximate area amongst regular and routine University road  users who, up until now, may not have given the issue much attention.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1287

Working on the Keynes III site, mid April 2013

There’s also something positive to report on how the process will unfold. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware how important CAT’s work has already been in drawing on historical documentary evidence on the heritage value of the setting of Beverley Farm – both north and south. But the ongoing archeological work seems set to systematically evidence, for the first time, that the significance of this place for human settlement  long pre-dates the medieval origins of the farmhouse over half a millenium ago. As expected given the ancient impact of man on the shape of the land and character of the place, CAT have advised me that some Pre-Historic finds are already in evidence.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1387

Honey bee, Dover Down field, mid april 2013

This  is hardly surprising, since in very local terms the Beverley Farm setting  is obviously nearby to  the iron age centres of Canterbury and Bigbury Camp. Indeed from a county-wide perspective, this part of Kent is especially rich in prehistoric settlements (see Alan Ward’s chapter ‘Overall Distribution of Prehistoric Settlement sites’ in Lawson and Killinggray’s Historical Atlas of Kent, Phillimore, 2004). Perhaps this will remind University authorities that the campus’s presence here accounts for just a fleeting moment of historical time: It should be approaching its land stewardship responsibilities with great care and humility.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1253

Male chaffinch, southern part of Chaucer Fields, mid april 2013

Indeed, I think this is a good chance for people from both communities to work together for a common heritage interest, and the dig is going to be ongoing for several months. So please watch do continue to watch this space for .

  • updates on finds as the excavation unfolds; and
  • opportunities for the local and university communities to get actively involved as volunteers in the process of revealing our past.
temp all phots to 21 april 13 1309

Buds on one of the apple trees presumably dating back to Mount’s nursery days earlier in the 20th century. Central southern part of  chaucer fields, april 2013

Kent Union election for sabbatical officers 2013/14

I have written to congratulate the President-elect of Kent Union, Chelsea Moore, on her electoral success last month. She’ll take up the sabbatical position as head of the University of Kent’s students’ union, covering the academic year 2013/14, in the autumn. What has this got to do with the fields? For now, Kent Union’s adoption of a policy to ‘campaign to save chaucer fields’ in response to the all student vote (ASV) last year has not really generated any visible results under the current leadership, despite suggestions  reported in an earlier Blog that these might be pending. But we can I suppose assume that it has helped shaped the approach taken in handling the issue in behind-the-scenes discussions with the University authorities. And there is of course still ample time for the existing leadership to take a more publicly apparent contribution.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1312

Spring growth inside one of  Chaucer Fields’ many hedges, april 2013

But looking further into the future let’s hope that Kent Union’s approach will become bolder and more transparent. In a pre election statement, Chelsea chose to emphasise how “Research highlighted that students feel there is a lack of social areas on campus where they are not prompted to spend money. I would lobby the University for more communal areas on campus for people to relax and socialise in comfort.” ( see About Chelsea Moore).

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1376

Blue tit glimpsed through Jack Cade’s carvet, central part of chaucer fields, april 2013

Protection of the currently unspoilt Southern Slopes clearly goes hand in hand with this aspiration: it is indeed precisely a communal area which allows for relaxation (as well as much else besides, of course). Combining this with the policy commitment she will inherit from the 2012 ASV, we can hope that the protection of chaucer fields  will be an important priority for Kent Union in 2013/14

Bee, Dover Down field

Honey Bee, Dover Down field, end of may 2012

5th May: Beating the Bounds… and a picnicking invitation

The historical fascination of Beverley Farmhouse and  the Southern Slopes are not just to do with pre-history or the medieval period. One of the most fascinating documents to be turned up by CAT in their 2011 research was an early eighteenth century map. (See Hill’s map, with the proposed 2011 ‘development’ plan boundary incongruously superimposed. This is a bit confusing to the modern observer, because north and south are inverted!)   The resonant historical field names on this 1706 map (which I have resurrected and used in this Blog over the past year) are striking. But one thing also in evidence is that the cartographer is unable to give a clear parochial boundary! This is because the land close to where the double hedge (“Roper’s twitchell”) is now prominent was then clearly not part of either St Stephens or St Dunstans parish. The issue was only resolved by magistrates, with the parish boundary unambiguously defined in law some years later.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 135

Bell Harry tower and Bushy Acres field trees, Chaucer fields, April 2013

Against  this backdrop, the continuation of the ‘beating the bounds‘ tradition, to demarcate where the St Stephens-St Dunstans boundary was finally situated, is especially interesting. Two years ago, Reverend Justin Lewis-Anthony led his parishioners over these fields as part of the process of beating the bounds of St Stephens. This year on sunday 5 May Reverend Mark Ball will be doing the same for neighbouring St Dunstans, including walking through Chaucer Fields. By so doing, he will also be drawing attention to the importance attached by the church to land with which it is historically deeply associated, and which is currently highly valued and widely used by the local community.  If  you are free on that day , please come to witness this tradition.

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan's church, June 2012

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan’s church from close to University road, from June 2012

We will be holding a  picnic which aims to coincide with the presence of the St Dunstans parishioners on the field. It will involve the usual combination of music, recreation, relaxation and socialising. It will almost certainly be in the afternoon, but more details will be circulated by email, texts, tweets and on the Save Chaucer Fields Facebook page closer to the time.  Hope to see you there!

Beating bounds from Foxworthy

Source: Customs in Kent, Tony Foxworthy, 2008, Country books, reproduced with permission

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Breaking news – Chaucer Fields

Dear all

Essential (long) September and beyond

What I suggested could be called  “Essential September” in an earlier Blog has been and gone! We can talk of “Essential long September” perhaps, because the first few days of october have also witnessed important decisions (see below). Real progress has been in evidence in certain respects – although, as we’ll discuss below, in some respects the threat to Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes has actually intensified.

Please bear with the length of this Blog. But I feel  the issues are so important now that a more  extensive discussion is needed. We are at an important moment in the  decision making cycle. The University Council meets this friday, and a report on Chaucer Fields and associated  developments is on the agenda. And as you’ll see below,  important statutory planning processes will be beginning to unfold from later this month onwards.

A greater spotted woodpecker like this one has been frequenting Dover Down Field in recent weeks. Image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust/TheWoodland Trust

I think on balance we can say that ‘long September’ has been a positive month for those who treasure the Southern Slopes as shared, unspoilt green space for two main reasons

  • We learned that the Village Green Application is proceeding to a non statutory public inquiry. (See the record of the Minutes of 11th September KCC Meeting, although at p. 32 the number of attendees seems to be inaccurate; there were at least 80 people at the meeting). While the VGA had been dismissed as highly unlikely to succeed by the University, the outcome must not be pre-judged. There’s a real, fighting chance we’ll be able to protect forever 43 acres of the Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)  as unspoilt green space. This should lift our spirits, and is a step forward for future generations of local residents and their families, University staff, and University students. It is also good news for our many visitors from all over the world who often instantly recognise the beauty of this remarkable place, and have expressed disbelief that it is even being considered for ‘development’ .
  • The revised University ‘development’ plans, presented at recent ‘preview’ and  ‘consultation’ events, show that the University Estates Department has now U-turned on key elements of its proposals from 2011. It is frustrating for those of us who believe in transparent governance that this shift in thinking has been shrouded in secrecy for more than a year. And as we’ll see below, the changes are also double edged, with disturbing backward as well as forward steps. But at least we now know that there is, in principle, a willingness on the part of the University to begin the process of taking into account the views and values of the host community, and indeed the wider University community itself.

KCC Regulation Committee members &  interested parties on the site visit to Chaucer Fields prior to the meeting launching a public inquiry, morning of 11th September

The U-turn on Student Accommodation: a new ball game emerges

What form has this shift taken? As described in September’s CFPS Blogs, the “Keynes III” student accommodation blocks are now planned for north of University road (further extending the recent Keynes college building works). Here, they would be close to, but not actually built upon,  Chaucer Fields, in a place where they would seem to have much more limited negative consequences from environmental, landscape, social, and heritage perspectives. Yet at the same time, Professor Keith Mander, the champion of the ‘development’ plans, revealed at one of the recent University-led ‘consultation’ events that he still would have strongly preferred to persist with the original proposals.

Professor Mander’s continued strong preference for the original proposal while the University as a whole has changed its position is revealing. It can be inferred that the change of direction must either reflect an instrumental calculation that those earlier proposals were anticipated as likely to be rejected by Canterbury City Council’s Planning Management Committee; and/or, it could the welcome influence of more conciliatory voices from within the higher echelons of University infrastructure – the position the University itself, through its Corporate Communications Department, seems to be seeking to promote.

The changes involved in this re-think are really important, because of the principles they imply, and the extent to which they undermine the claims made by the Estates Department in 2011 about how cost, logistics, and deliverability constrain the options available. There are two key dimensions to this. The change indicates  (1)  the acceptance by the University that there is no overwhelming justification for a 10 acre megasite, involving co-location of student accommodation blocks and the hotel/conference facilities in the same place; and  (2) the implicit  abandonment of assertions from 18 months ago about  the feasibility of site options elsewhere on campus. In particular, claims made in 2011 about how cost considerations, complexity, capacity constraints, the use of land for sports, and  “logistics and deliverability” factors prohibited the college extension option, and the development of land north of University road have all been quietly abandoned (see Site selection appendix extract.  for the assertions made in the original application).

Hawthorn berries, dark red and ripe, late september, Jack Cade’s Carvet

Assuming the University wishes to develop plans which are demonstrably rational and publicly defensible this completely changes the context for decision making about ‘development’ on campus. It is logically now time to re-visit the other rejected sites where the Estates Department similarly claimed  – without evidence  – that cost, complexity, capacity constraints, logistics and deliverability criteria ruled out development. The other site options which come back on to the agenda include most obviously (i) other land behind Innovation Centre north of University road; (ii) extensions to other colleges (iii) part of Giles Lane Car Park (providing underground parking is incorporated to ensure retention of parking space); (iv) a part of the land currently occupied by sports fields near Park Wood road (as long as replaced with equivalent or better alternatives elsewhere); and (v) land within, immediately adjacent to, and/or north of, already-developed Park Woods (but still well south of village population centres in Blean and Tyler Hill to preserve a green buffer and local green space for people there on that part of the campus too).

The Continued threat to Chaucer Fields: an Enlarged hotel/conference centre

As  reported before, however, this policy shift on student accommodation was not the whole story. Far from it.  The threat to Chaucer Fields has in some respects actually intensified because of other aspects of the modified proposals. That’s because the University has failed to take the opportunity to also rethink its flawed analysis in relation to the location of the hotel/conference centre element. Not only do its revised proposals leave  hotel/conference centre multi-storey blocks at the heart of Chaucer Fields, despoiling the historic Dover Down Field. But  the number of proposed blocks and rooms has actually increased, with the number of rooms from 150 to more than 300. Why? This enlargement apparently follows the recommendations of  the consultancy group  ‘Hotel Solutions’ in a marketing report conducted last year.

That report, it must be noted, narrowly focussed on financial considerations, with no account of the relevance of other factors a charitable, nonprofit organisation like a University with stakeholders other than shareholders would normally be expected to consider. Accordingly, the extensive environmental, social and landscape harms the proposal would inflict on the host community and the University itself were not acknowledged, let alone given weight in the analysis. Nor were the detrimental effects of the development on the local economy – the negative effects on local independent small and medium sized businesses, as power is concentrated in the hands of the University bureaucracy –  seriously considered.  (You can read the UNIVERSITY OF KENT RESIDENTIAL CONFERENCE RESEARCH – FINAL REPORT redacted here, courtesy of the University Council secretariat).

Cutting the grass on Dover Down Field, early october

The Process in the Months Ahead

Finally, at the start of this month, more information on how the process will unfold has come on stream – and the University has indicated another shift in its original position, even since a few weeks ago. Instead of submitting its applications for planning permission across the sites together, it will handle the process with two distinct and seperate planning applications at different times. (Thanks to Canterbury City Council for advising me of this development, which is not explicit in the University’s ‘consultation’ materials). So:

  • The planning application for “Keynes III” will still follow the schedule presented last month, going in at the end of this month (late october); whereas
  • the “Chaucer Conference Centre” proposal will not now follow this schedule. It will instead be submitted later – although in true Estates Department style, the specific timing remains a mystery! However, it should be noted that, as long as this delay is for weeks or months rather than years, if the application were successful, it would still theoretically allow the process of concreting over the fields to begin in late 2014 (with a reduced amount of time between the planning application and the commencement of the building works).

Yellowing English Oak leaves, Dover Down Field, early October

Some thoughts on the proposals, and the community reaction on Keynes III to date

It won’t surprise you to know, given my observations on how earlier assumptions have been jettisoned, that I  personally believe that there is still a great deal of work to be done to convince University people, the host community and Canterbury City Council that  “Keynes III” is necessarily a step forward. At the risk of stating the obvious, the main reason for this follows from the lack of evidence presented in the alternative site analysis to date. We have been presented with unsubstantiated assertions, not evidence-based analysis

How could the alternative sites support a different approach? I am  sure there are several, if a bit of imagination and creativity were bought to bear on the problem, and a number of ideas were floated from local and University-based attendees at the ‘consultation’ events last month. This applies to both the location of the hotel/conference facilities, and the student accommodation blocks. Many argue that the claims about the ‘synergetic’ gains coming from situating the conference centre close to the Innovation Centre and business or “science” park have never developed beyond vague conjecture at best, and are simply loose talk and meaningless waffle at worst. Accordingly, on this view, the conference facilities and the student accommodation could readily both be sited well away from this part of campus in a relatively unconstrained way using an intelligent combination of the sorts of sites mentioned above.

However, suppose, despite the bluster to date, there really were yet-to-be-made-public compelling reasons for still having the Hotel/Conference Centre close to the Innovation Centre and business park.  Does this necessitate ‘developing’  Chaucer Fields? Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is clearly no. Some of the land north of University road behind the innovation centre could instead be used to host any conference facilities which are truly needed (with the student accommodation on the other sites mentioned).

(Personally I would guess that  downscaled conference facility development  – on a modest scale,  rather smaller than the 2011 proposals, and in keeping with the Innovation Centre in terms of height and visibility  –  is likely to be the best option here once all relevant factors begin to be responsibly considered. This would allow the University to better fulfill its educational mission and achieve some balanced diversification of income. At the same time on this scale it would avoid distortionary and dysfunctional concentration of economic power in relation to the local economy; it would impose relatively limited environmental and landscape damage; and it would minimise the problems of aggravation of traffic, noise and light pollution which are already beginning to adversely affect campus life, and would be escalated by an enormous hotel complex).

However, I should acknowledge that my scepticism about  the wisdom of “Keynes III” is not necessarily shared widely. Some within the University and community at large  seem incredibly anxious to ensure more student accommodation is in place quickly (with a year having been wasted with the flawed initial Planning Application),and are therefore more positive. They may well be willing to accept ‘”Keynes III”  even without a comprehensive review of the alternatives.  Indeed, in Press Release following the September ‘consultations’, released last week, the University is already seeking to draw attention to the existence of a significant pro-Keynes III strand of opinion.

A troupe of long-tailed tits like this have been flitting through the hedges in Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres in recent weeks

Of course, how Canterbury City Council responds is another matter. It must always think long term, and  look at the bigger picture. It has already stressed the need for the University to present exhaustive alternative site analysis, and presumably would not be satisfied by “Keynes III” unless a convincing body of new evidence is brought to bear by the University to rule out other options. In addition, we still don’t really know about the wider patterns of local public opinion. These decisions will directly effect many thousands of people, and many more indirectly – we don’t yet know what they really think.  And it must be pointed at that the numbers who attended the ‘consultation’ events upon which the Press Office have reported seemed to be very much smaller than the equivalent ones (via the ‘Local Dialogue’ group) in 2011

The reason for this is simple. Last time round, people took a great deal of time and trouble to attend and respond, diligently filling out forms and arguing convincingly for the retention of Chaucer Fields as unspoilt space. They were rewarded with the 2011 Planning Application and now the revised proposals –  which completely misunderstand their values and concerns in relation to the historic fields as a crucial green buffer shared by the University and host community. Many have evidently reasoned, based on this earlier experience, that there would be little point in engaging with another University-led consultation: better to wait for the democratically mandated Planning Application process, where at least they can expect their substantive concerns to  be given some weight. So, we’ll have to wait until the Planning Application is submitted to  see whether the supportive attitudes towards ‘Keynes III’ reported by the University Press Office really do prefigure an endorsement of this part of the plans from the people of the District more broadly

The Community Reaction: The Chaucer Conference Proposals

In its Press Release relating to the “consultations”,  the University Press Office was conspicously silent about  how the “Chaucer Conference Centre” element of the proposals were received. What do we actually know about this?  Local media reportage  give a good sense of the amount of anger at, and resistance to, the retention of the aspiration to ‘develop’  Chaucer Fields expressed by members of the “Save Chaucer Fields” (SCF) group (the coalition of  residents associations representing people who live close by). My personal impression from attending some of the events  was that this sentiment was shared more generally, and was not just associated with SCF activists. I witnessed  several people with no connection at all to SCF argue passionately against the development of Chaucer Fields .

Why? It strikes me there are perhaps three main sets of reasons for the wholesale rejection of the Chaucer Fields plans from SCF but many others too. Forgive  me at this point if I begin to sound like a stuck record, but unless these simple points are repeatedly articulated, there is a danger they will be disregarded once again! First, if the University Estates Department had bothered to properly read and digest the feedback it received in 2011 via the Local Dialogue consultation, and then people’s responses to the Planning Application, it should have already shelved the plans to develop the Southern Slopes in their entirety. Persisting with such proposals in the face of such  remarkably well articulated community sentiment, expressing the enormous value attached to these fields as shared local green space, appears rigid, gratuitous and even aggressive.

Second, and emphasising once again the location issue, there is widely felt indignation that the Estates Department’s had, by last month, still apparently not bothered to pull together and present a serious analysis of the alternative site options. This has been despite having had 18 months to do so since the last Planning Application, when the Canterbury City Council Planning Officer plainly and explicitly said in her report that  this was essential (and was a key reason for the plan’s deferment).  It it widely seen as simply irresponsible to risk squandering  the much loved green buffer between the University and the city , and allowing sprawl to proceed, when the alternative options have not been fully and exhaustively considered.

Third, there is the character of the actual new proposals themselves.  Those who attended September’s events were offered the image below as the best representation that could be mustered: these were indicative images only available in sketchy form and reportedly subject to tweaking in the light of feedback, but we can already see key characteristics.

Sketch of Chaucer Conference Centre proposals, as per september 2012 events

At the parts of the events  I attended, I was unable to find anyone at all who was positive about this aspect of the  plans. Why? The following nine considerations draw upon discussions  I had then, and subsequently, and I hope will resonate with the reader who is familiar with this setting

  • The landscape would be irreversibly damaged and there would be a highly significant loss of shared open green space. Rich opportunities for the appreciation of nature, and extensively used for play, recreation, and a range of individual and collectively organised leisure pursuits would be lost
  • The scale of the buildings would be utterly out of keeping with the landscape and proximate buildings, including Chaucer College and the Innovation Centre (where the latter already pushes the boundaries of acceptability). The proposed conference buildings are of a wholly disproportionate scale, and dramatically violate both the letter and spirit of  local Landscale and Open Space policy. The sketch shows them to be  of a completely new order of magnitude compared to existing building: massive, towering 4-5 storey blocks, which would impose massive damage.
  • the  Countryside and Parkland views from within the unspoilt site itself, and from the East,  South, and North within the broader Southern Slopes, would be lost forever. These are currently enjoyed by  cyclists, runners and walkers. Obviously, views from within  the site would be obliterated; those from land adjacent to the site would be  completely ruined
  • the Views from University road would also necessarily be adversely affected, despite the Estates Department’s emerging claims to the contrary. This is simply because  the topography of the landscape – unlike the adjacent Chaucer College case – simply does not allow for elegant concealment of buildings, car parks and cars (and this would hold even if they were scaled down in line with Chaucer  College’s low level  structures)
  • Additionally, the Attempted Screening seems to involve deciduous trees not dense enough without leaves to systematically block visibility of the buildings, car parks and cars in the winter months. The sketch seems to also imply additional tree planting north east of the proposed annex blocks (hotel guest or postgraduate student overspill) to achieve screening. But this would take decades to mature, and would only naturally be approaching readiness in about 40 years, just as the expected life of  the blocks they are intended to  screen would be coming to an end!  Obviously, such a pattern would also undermine the open grassy slopes character of the setting prized in local landscape policy,  violating the long established medieval field structure
  • During the day, the current aural Tranquillity of the fields would be wiped out, replaced by the noise pollution associated with the sprawling development
  • At night, light pollution would destroy the ‘Dark Skies‘ value of the land for the high density population living nearby, depriving large numbers of people in the  community of the ability to stargaze and appreciate the majesty of the night sky
  • the Ancient Pathway from the Cathedral to Blean church, and then on to Whitstable, would be lost to car park tarmac, wiping out a 300 year old track of enormous cultural and symbolic integrative significance for the District
  • The environment for the Historic Hedges would be ruined. Multi-storey blocks would tower over them incongruously . And it is hard  to see how the biodiversity value of the retained hedges, could be realised in a meaningful way in the context of  this ‘development’. The hedges would be degraded by the loss of a sympathetic proximate natural environment, and would no longer be well positioned to flourish free of pollution, nor to host bird life and many other living creatures as they do now

A family stroll on Bushy Acres, headed towards Dover Down Field. If the proposed ‘development’ proceeded, looming in front of them  would be multi-storey blocks

A Final  Word

.I’ll keep you  posted in the months ahead about any further developments – and promise to try to keep  the CFPS less wordy in future! In the meantime, two dates for your diaries – one imminent, one  longer term. First this thursday evening, 6.30pm please try to attend the meeting of Canterbury City Council’s Executive Committee, in relation to Kingsmead Fields (more details at Kingsmead Fields Blogspot). Second please protect the evening of saturday 8th december in your diaries for a mystery event! The CFPS will be collaborating with the Save Chaucer Fields group and others in to organise an exciting and inclusive social and cultural happening. Watch this space!

Best wishes

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic  Society