Update: Climate Emergency, the Masterplan final draft and continued threats to the unspoilt Southern Slopes

Dear all

Its been nearly 9 months since the last CFPS Blog – I hope in the meantime you have had a good spring and summer! After some wider context setting remarks, considering the  Climate Emergency situation, this Blog is primarily comprised of the feedback that I was invited to give in response to the campus Masterplan.

Why are you reading this now? I have waited to write this until news about the Masterplan which could usefully be shared had emerged. You may recall we were told that the final draft of the Masterplan was going to be finalised by the University authorities and signed off by Canterbury City Council in January/February. Instead, the final draft was not made available until April, and the content of one of the key supporting documents, relating to the crucial stakeholder meeting on the conferencing hotel in November 2018, was only settled last month (August 2019).

So where are we in terms of this tortuous process? At the moment it seems the final draft Masterplan and supporting documentation is considered to be provisionally ready but has not yet formally been submitted to Canterbury City Council. At the time of writing, despite repeated requests for clarification, we have not been told when the material will be considered to have actually been finalised from the perspective of the University authorities, and when it will thereafter be submitted. Nor has the nature of the review process that will then be undertaken by Canterbury City Council before the Masterplan is agreed (and linked with the CCC District Plan, the key document for planning purposes up until 2031) been made known. This opacity about the process is  confusing and disappointing.

However, at the same time, there is a very positive side effect to the failure to deliver the plans within the promised timeline. This is because of the (belated but welcome) declaration of the Climate Emergency by Canterbury City Council, in July 2019, which dramatically alters the entire policy context, and must require all stakeholders to re-consider any pending plans in their entirety before they can be credibly fully finalised. So what can we expect? Presumably the University authorities will themselves soon recognise the Climate Emergency (it is surprising this has not yet happened) and thereafter they will have to revisit the Masterplan with Climate Emergency considerations in mind. If they do not do this, any forthcoming statement regarding the Climate Emergency will appear empty and tokenistic. For its part, Canterbury City Council, now committed by a number of decisions made in July to review all relevant policies against this frame of reference, on receiving the submitted Masterplan, will need to scrutinise it with great care and precision. Again, not to do so would make a mockery of their publicly stated Climate Emergency position. The CCC review may be expected to include environmental factors  which extent well beyond those which the University itself may be willing to voluntarily embrace, and it will be important that the University and CCC work in meaningful partnership  together to achieve the relevant environmental public policy goals accordingly. .

Climate Emergency issues of this type relate to the entire campus plan. However, the rest of the Blog focusses primarily on the unspoilt Southern Slopes and its wider setting (dubbed “University Rise” in the final draft Masterplan), looking at some very specific ‘devils in the detail’ which have only crystallised  at the final stage, and are now to be found in the final draft. These important issues were not considered properly in the ‘soft focus’ consultation of summer 2018, as will be shown below, and so need to be highlighted here, and subjected to full debate and deliberation as part of the broader process outlined above. The threats that stand out above all others can be identified here are as follows:

  • the development of a 150-space car park of wholly unproven value, undermining the green “wow” factor experienced on entering campus from Whitstable road, by sacrificing the currently green open space close to Chaucer College and the Innovation Centre. To pursue this development would be going backwards from the status quo ante in terms of ecological credibility, show imagination failure in terms of the opportunities for green heritage consolidation the landscape presents, and be an unmitigated disaster in terms of substantive environmental good practice.
  • the potential creation of a massively expanded commercial business zone north of University road and south of Keynes and Turing colleges, stretching from the Innovation Centre at the western end to a point close to the current location of Keynes bus stop (“Beverley court” in the new Masterplan language) to the East. The status of this landscape is presented very confusingly  in the Masterplan, as will be shown below. But the existence of such a zone would seem to be the de facto implication of treating “Beverley court” as the “point of arrival” for the conferencing hotel, for example, as is being suggested. It seems it is envisaged that Beverley farmhouse would be geared to function merely as an adjunct to this massively enlarged economic zone, showing contempt for the great historical and symbolic significance  – for the University, and for Canterbury –  represented by  this farmhouse and its setting.

Alternative, positive suggestions –  more in keeping with the pro-environmental aspects of the Masterplan already in place, and anticipating the sorts of issues likely to become salient as the Masterplan proposal are examined in the context of Climate Emergency  – by the University, and then by Canterbury City Council – are presented below. It is hoped it may contribute to the wider discussions which are set to unfold in the months ahead.

As is customary, the text is interwoven with images from the most recent annual Chaucer Fields Picnic Society picnic. this took place in July. This was a joint collaborative picnic with the usual partners – Greenpeace Canterbury and the Abbot’s Mill Project – but also involved Extinction Rebellion. Hopefully you will enjoy, and reflect upon, these images

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

RESPONSE TO UNIVERSITY OF KENT MASTERPLAN FINAL DRAFT

 

  1. General response: Lesson drawing opportunities and implications

The following developments represent major breakthroughs associated with the Masterplan process by comparison with the status quo ante.

  • The existence of the Masterplan due to its linkage with the CCC District Plan, at last will produce a legally enforceable and coherent frame of reference for policy and planning regarding campus development until 2031. Many have been arguing for such a plan to be put in place for some years, since without it, the development of the campus has demonstrably been haphazard, ad hoc, piecemeal and at times chaotic
  • The Masterplan includes, at long last, systematic recognition that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes have exceptionally high value to both the local and university communities, for environmental, heritage, social and cultural reasons, and should be respected and treasured accordingly. It is highly regrettable that the University authorities, between 2010 and the end of 2018, devoted so much effort and expended millions of pounds of University funds in seeking to pursue an agenda of building development here. Many opportunities for substantial, progressive financial commitments in other areas of university life have been lost as a result. Moreover, the University authorities only stepped back from such proposals at the very last part of the final stage of Masterplan consultation under great pressure from the university community, from the local host community, and from a range of expert groups
  • There has, however been an upside to the 8-9 year collective struggle to protect this space. Tremendous energies have been unleashed and commitments revealed by the processes of group interaction, solidaristic community building, and awareness raising cutting across the local and university communities associated with these efforts. The legacy of knowledge and capacities embodied in these groups should now be used to provide input, resources and guidance to inform how the space can be protected and nurture in the years ahead.

Hence, lessons must be learnt from this experience. There must be no further attempts to unilaterally force through campus development against overwhelming bodies of compelling evidence and argument in similar situations. Obviously, the Masterplan itself has a key role here, but we need to recognise that this is time limited.  After 2031, the current Masterplan and District Plan will need to be replaced, and there is therefore the potential danger of reversion to earlier dysfunctional and counterproductive practices. Accordingly:

  • Protection in perpetuity: In the case of the unspoilt Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes, it is now imperative that the University authorities voluntarily underscore its new found recognition of the value of this space. It should be accorded special protected, legally mandated status from the current time until beyond 2031: that is, in perpetuity. The University should work with Canterbury City Council, legal and planning experts, and the groups which have fought for many years to secure recognition of its value, to devise a scheme whereby the land is rendered secure with full legal protections against all future development. Land to the north west (above Chaucer College) should also be incorporated to extend and enhance the protected area, since the claims that  “University Avenue car parks” are needed cannot be justified (see section 2.3 – 2.6 below).  This land should be afforded protections at least equivalent to those traditionally associated with village green status.
  • Climate Emergency More generally, the content of the Masterplan has been developed over several years. Its parameters were set prior to the crystallisation, by 2019, of a consensus within relevant policy communities that we are now experiencing a full blown Climate Emergency requiring a response in many areas of local policy and practice. This has now been recognised by the relevant planning authority in law, CCC, and should frame its approach to planning matters, including decision making in relation to the interpretation of the District Plan and the Masterplan. Accordingly, the University authorities, working alongside relevant civil society and expert groups from the university and local host communities, should work with CCC to ensure full “Climate Emergency compatibility” is built into the Masterplan, most obviously in the light of CCC’s recent commitment to embed such an orientation within its own overarching policy approach (as set out in CCC decisions in July 2019). The frameworks agreed to facilitate this process at the design stage (that is, ongoing Masterplan finalisation) should be accorded a durable institutional structure and help enable, constrain and constitute the implementation of all campus development between 2019 and 2031. The ability of this collaborative framework to achieve appropriate  Climate Emergency responses should be kept under review during this period as part of such a partnership, and its agenda and modus operandi should be adapted as necessary from 2032 onwards.

 

  1. Particularities of the Masterplan “final draft” (April 2019) : “University Rise”
  • This section focusses on the material in the Masterplan relating to “University rise”. However, in passing I would suggest there is one anomaly in the earlier more general material: on p. 17 it is suggested that the first of 12 “overall purposes” of the Masterplan is to “harness the role of the University as an economic driver…” It seems bizarre to situate the achievement of economic advantage at the top of this list. The University, the city and the region of course have an important economic dimension to their functions and activities. But in both cases, legally, ethically and constitutionally, economic development is a means to wider public interest ends, and not a primary purpose in itself. Obviously, in the case of the University, these public facing objects and mission relate to education and research, with an increasing emphasis on the civic dimension. Commercial economic activities must always be subordinated to these goals, and this needs to be reflected in the way the Masterplan is ‘scoped’ at the onset to ensure coherence is achieved in the document. Accordingly, I suggest this point is modified, expressing economic processes as valuable and supportive activities rather than intrinsic ‘purposes’; and that the point is resituated much further down the list of priorities specified in this paragraph.
  • The decision to re-situate the proposed conference hotel from south of University Road within the unspoilt Chaucer fields/Southern Slopes to north of University Road, in proximity to Turing college (and posited in this draft as an option from 2022 onwards) is welcomed. It is broadly in line with the evidence and arguments presented by CPRE (Protect Kent), the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society, the Save Chaucer Fields group, the Canterbury Society, the Canterbury City Council councillor in attendance, and relevant local residents’ groups at the special meeting convened to discuss this issue on 7th November 2018. However, the proposals re “Beverley Court”, linked to the positioning of the hotel north of University Road, were never properly tabled or discussed during the consultation process. (This is because the version of the Masterplan made available for consultation in summer 2018 assumed the conference hotel would be situated on Chaucer fields, and any references to “Beverley Court” made at that time were vague) This lacuna is discussed at paragraphs 2.7 and 2.8 below.
  • A key proposed development at “University Rise” is for a 150-vehicle “University Avenues car park”, spanning University road, in close proximity to the Innovation Centre and Chaucer College. In this case, during the consultation process, a great deal of confusion was generated by the circulation/posting of different versions of plans and maps, some which included these car parks, and others which did not do so. This seemed to be partly because there were different versions of the Masterplan at different points in time, and partly because the maps highlighting “development” over and above existing parking and building failed to categorise parking as “development”. It is crucial to emphasise, therefore, that the summer 2018 consultation process cannot be seem to have been clear with consultees about the nature of the car park proposals, and indeed, as auggested in section one, a better use of this part of campus would be to use it to further extend and enhance the unspoilt landscape of Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes to the South/East.
  • It is not clear from the Masterplan how the overall level of ‘need’ for car parking space has been determined. A sensible first step would have been to make available to consultees during the summer 2018 consultation process the planning and modelling assumptions regarding car parking space, presumably linked closely to projections about staff numbers, current and expected levels of car utilisation amongst staff, and the needs of other users. Because of levels of uncertainty on this point, it would be a sensible step to model a range of scenarios, embodying different assumptions and modelling approaches, and subject these to critical scrutiny. Different projections would be reflected in different patterns of ‘need’, and this might allow a more environmentally sensitive, lower level of car parking capacity to be build into the core plan. Alternatively, a range of scenarios could be retained and kept under review, providing flexibility in terms of options for the future as levels of “need” evolve. Presenting a singular, determinate plan in relation to this aspect of activity seems to be excessively rigid and fails to recognise the degree of uncertainty associated with vehicular use between 2019 and 2031.
  • Even assuming, however, that a review of car park planning and modelling approaches, supported by appropriate consultation processes, were to lead to a projection of overall campus-level ‘need’ of a similar order of magnitude to the quantifications contained in the Masterplan final draft, there is no clear coherent case made for a “University Avenues car park”.
  • The proposed screening at these car parks (p. 201) is missing the point that this land which currently functions as valuable undeveloped open space at a key moment of entry onto the campus. This would be destroyed as screened car parks are developments, and they necessarily remove green open space. The obvious, positive alternative would be to retain the land in unspoilt open form but actively enhance the liberating sense of framed green open space it facilitates by careful planting and nurturing. This is fully in keeping with the ideas expressed in the Masterplan concerning how entry to campus should be experienced (p. 131). Indeed, an opportunity is being missed here to go further. Sympathetic connectivity could here be readily be achieved with the environment enhancing landscape measures the Masterplan envisages regarding Chaucer Fields/ the Southern Slopes to the south. Hence, the plan should encourage unspoilt space expansion from below, fostering the northwards reach of orchards, hedgerows, and field structure, and strengthening the impact of the historical legacy of the past associated with that precious landscape.

This would not only avoid destruction, but actively create an immediate, positive impression in terms of tranquillity and semi-natural beauty. (To use the language favoured by marketing consultants at the 7th November meeting, an enhanced green ‘wow’ factor, but now actively extending ‘upwards’ the legacy of Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes to shape visitors’ first impressions to good effect)

  • The two claims (p. 136) made in support of this location do not stand critical scrutiny. First, it is stated that ‘the strategic location will ensure that car users in future leave their cars close to the perimeter of campus’, yet the conferencing hotel car park, Giles Lane and central campus car park will contradict this suggestion. (That is, the issue of car park centrality or otherwise is a judgement call involving the striking of a reasonable balance, not an absolute commitment. It seems especially incongruous that the proposed conferencing hotel car park available for commercial users would be exempt from this ‘principle’!). Second, it is stated that ‘the short journey into the campus heart will quite easily be undertaken by public transport, walking or cycling’. This claim of convenience does not accord with existing patterns of use evident on campus, wherein staff reveal by their behaviour a strong preference for parking with greater proximity to their particular places of work within campus. All in all, if car park peripherality is to be retained as a consideration – which sounds reasonable if interpreted pragmatically – it would best be fostered by removing the plan for a “University Avenues car park”, and instead strengthening the balance in favour of other ‘peripheral’ car parks, in combination with measures to constrain and limit car use as much as possible more generally.
  • However, even if such campus parking spaces are proven to be ‘needed’ (assuming the overall level of car parking ‘need’ expressed in the Masterplan has been shown to be robust) – then these could be allocated elsewhere. It would be possible:
    • To make incremental increases to existing and new car parks situated in other places on campus, to generate up to 150 spaces elsewhere. Adjustments at the margin to the  capacities of  other car parks would  not involve the same opportunity costs as those associated with the “University Avenue car park”, since they tend  not to involve the loss of high environmental and heritage value landscape, nor do they benefit from proximity to unspoilt landscape, and involve the same ‘strategic’ role in relation to campus entry. They also do not have equivalent weaknesses in terms of viability and practicality associated with it. The relevant map (pp. 196 – 197) suggests space is available in proximity to these other car parks; and the text of the Masterplan (p. 202) implies this would be topographically feasible.
    • To introduce elements of ‘sharing’ to any car parks which it seems are currently envisaged as being off limits for university staff /their visitors. Most obviously, assuming that the proposed conferencing hotel were not fully booked throughout the year, the associated car parking would have capacity. These surplus spaces could be used for staff/other visitor parking purposes (this is also in the spirit of the ways in which ‘synergies’ and envisaged in relation to the use of buildings). If this ‘sharing’ approach were done competently, it would not impinge of the use of the car park by hotel attendees. Such a ‘joint use’ scheme could also potentially operate in relation to the existing Chaucer College car park (just as there are precedents for University use of Chaucer College’s accommodation and internal facilities), although excessive peripherality would be an issue.

 

  • In relation to Beverley Court, once again, there was a lack of clarity during the summer 2018 consultation exercise concerning the intentions in relation to this space. It would be hard to claim that there has been sufficient engagement on this proposal, as it was poorly defined at the time. It appeared on maps fuzzily, with different colourations on alternative maps and representations, and ambiguously in relation to the extent to which it would involve development or otherwise. This opacity concerning its character even recurs within the current Masterplan document. On some maps, it is presented in such a way as to imply the ‘court’ would also involve buildings and associated structures; while on others its contours are indeterminate.
  • The text in relation to this structure says that it would serve to ‘symbolise visitor arrival at the new conferencing hotel…. as well as [offering] a new viewing platform created to provide a view of Canterbury and the Cathedral’ (pp. 136 – 137). This does not make sense, since at this point on University Road, the visitor will not have arrived at the hotel! The hotel is envisioned as being contained with an area of land further to the west, and the motorist would still have some distance to travel before arrival. At this point in their journey, they are still on the main university campus. A more appropriate system of signification would involve understated but clear signage guiding the motorist towards where the hotel is in reality located; and the location of indicators of ‘arrival’ when they have actually reached their destination. The current proposal would create considerable confusion as to the relationship between land appropriately used for core University purposes, and land demarcated for subsidiary commercial or quasi-commercial use (the hotel’s business activity). It seems to imply the existence of a massive business zone here, below Keynes and Turing colleges,  stretching potentially from new car parks to the west, to the current location of Keynes bus stop to the east. With regards to the proposal of a ‘viewing platform’, this is simply unnecessary. There is no need for a ‘platform’ to see the cityscape and setting, because the topography of the landscape allows the viewer to see it unassisted to excellent effect. Accordingly, it would be more sensible to ensure the site proposed for the Beverley Court junction is simply not developed at all, but retained as an integral undeveloped part of the associated landscape which stretches, unspoilt, up to the southern edge of University Road.

 

  • The Amphitheatre proposal, in the clay-pit next to Eliot pathway, has been discussed intermittently over several years, has been retained in the Masterplan. I believe that there are mixed views about the viability and desirability of this proposal, but as far as I am aware, those who do support it in the local community seem to do so under rather specific conditions. In particular, the belief is that any such structure as could be considered in keeping with the setting and legitimate only if it involves a seasonal, temporary structure, similar to that used at English Heritage properties for outdoor performances. The statement in the Masterplan (p. 136) that it would be used ‘as meeting/teaching space …outside the summer months’ is hard or impossible to reconcile with such an English Heritage style approach, and so there will need  be a clarification/ a rethink on how this site could be appropriately used.   

 

  • The proposals in relation to Beverley Farmhouse are deeply problematic, especially in the context of the Masterplan’s more general recognition of its importance for the landscape prior to the foundation of the University – a legacy which the Masterplan to its credit seems to seek upon in its overarching narrative of continuity with the past. On p. 184 it is suggested that “the introduction of a hotel and conference centre nearby …will provide an opportunity for Beverley Farm house to develop its existing overnight accommodation into a boutique adjunct to the hotel and perhaps also a restaurant in this unique historic environment” (see also p. 136). It continued to serve academic purposes for some time. So, the logic in the Masterplan final draft is perverse. If continuity and connectivity with the past is really sought, the most obvious connections with what is most distinctive, interesting and valuable about its historical origins and contributions relate to entirely different activities.
  • The relevant historical links are (a) its role as a farmhouse supporting and servicing an unspoilt semi-natural landscape and setting; and (b) its pioneering role in the early years of the University. In his history From Vision to Reality, Graham Martin points out that the farm “served as the nerve-centre for the embryonic university (1990, p. 78). It went on to be used for academic purposes for many years. To acknowledge and respect this legacy, it would be important to utilise the building for the purposes of education and learning, in ways which connect sympathetically and deeply with the setting of the still-unspoilt landscape below it (to the south).
  • Obvious ways to achieve this connectivity would include deploying Beverley Farmhouse as a ‘hub’  for both internal and community facing education and research purposes. This could be historically oriented, but also forward looking. It would be looking to the past with an agenda relating to historical environment development, heritage, landscape and horticulture (and multi-disciplinary Kentish studies more generally); looking to the present, by providing information and support in relation to the many leisure, sport, musical and creative activities that are continually taking place on the landscape below, involving both the university and local communities;  and looking to the future by connecting with the ideas in the Masterplan for actively strengthening the  valued characteristics of this landscape. In the context of the current Climate Emergency agenda, it could be linked to the wide range of educational and research activities now emerging on campus which relate to this issue.
  • Furthermore, in terms of structuring and punctuating the visitor’s experience of entering the campus from the western side, the presence of such a locally and internationally oriented beacon of education & learning activity would help to balance out the impression that the University’s focus will have become narrowly reduced to the pursuit of commercial goals. Under the existing plans, the traveller would observe first the Innovation Centre, geared towards economic development; Beverley Farmhouse functioning as an accommodation and catering enterprise; and then the hotel, operating along the same lines but on a much larger scale. This pattern of use would tend to suggest to any such traveller that that the University will have become excessively focussed upon the pursuit of financial gain. Visibly and proudly protecting Beverley Farm for the pursuit of education and learning purposes would counter this sense of tedious subordination to business goals, highlight the University’s fundamental objects and mission, and suggest a healthy diversity in activities at this key point of entry to the campus (the moment when the visitors’ important first impressions are shaped). As such, this revised pattern and use would also be in line with the Masterplan’s own ‘design guideline’ that ‘building uses should vary and enrich the existing pattern of uses’ (p. 137) but now applying it imaginatively to the buildings themselves, and their spatial context southward.

  • The suggestion that University Road, as “University Avenue”, should be tree-lined is interesting, and has real appeal. But once again it should be noted that this idea was not really presented systematically and coherently as part of the proposals in the 2018 consultations. One of the obvious difficulties with the proposals here are that they do not account for the actual patterns of vehicular use. There is apparently no acknowledgement in the document that road users compromise not only cars and bicycles but also public transport specifically in the form of double decker buses. Many double decker users (and their numbers will increase as the shift towards public transport is encouraged) specifically choose to travel on the top deck of buses in order to command the most comprehensive view over Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes while travelling. It would therefore be important to establish whether it is feasible to ‘tree line’ this route in such a way that these passengers’ views are not obscured, just as it will be important to ensure that ground level road users’ views are also not constrained by any such introduction of trees to this route.

  • In relation to Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes south of University road, the positive approach to environmental and heritage considerations in the Masterplanise to be welcomed. They go with the grain of a great deal of sentiments expressed, and arguments made, by the local and university communities alike over many years. However, alongside the general value of extending this approach to the north west (instead of “University Avenues car parks”, see above), two further specific suggestions can be made:
  • To encourage a discursive sense of connectivity with the past, and signify recognition of the enduring significance of this land’s historic role for Canterbury, the historical terms used to identify relevant fields and places should be actively revived. Most obviously, research involuntarily funded by the University in 2010/11 (because required as part of the original planning application at the time) revealed evocative historic names. For example, the intended development site had been known as Dover Down field in the eighteenth century. This and other relevant historic terms, should be actively brought back into play in (re)naming the landscape. enhancing its ‘legibility’ while at the same time avoiding the imposition of terminology ‘top down’, insensitive to the locality’s past.

  • To foster a practical connection with earlier decades, the legacy of resonant activities should also be actively built into the Masterplan:

 

  • The native hedgerow student project developed under DICE guidance at the start of the millenium, should be identified, nurtured and extended, now combining student with local community involvement. This would be in line with the more general proposals for hedgerow development, but now linked creatively to involvement, learning and community building, rather than seeing as only a matter for professional staff.
  • An important activity undertaken on this and proximate land in the first part of the twentieth century (prior to both the University’s foundation and the building of residential accommodation north of 40 Acres Road) was the horticultural work at Mounts Nursery. It would be interesting to discuss the establishment of a rose garden, or some such similar essentially open space, to connect with the legacy of rose growing here. “Roselands “, it seems, was an important part of the Nursery in the 1930s.[1]

[1]See https://blogs.canterbury.ac.uk/cafa/mount-sons-nursery/;  https://vimeo.com/283205600  This footage shows greenhouses were used extensively here too, but it is not suggested that these be reinstated, as they would compromise the open space value of the landscape.

 

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2017: one step forward, two steps back

Festive greetings!

It is once again time to offer seasonal greetings to readers of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! As has become customary, we use the evocative image of “Balloons over Canterbury” to communicate the idea that our fields are a fundamental  part of our city’s aesthetic, social and environmental heritage, treasured by the local and University communities alike. With its wartime provenance, the image emphasises not only the deep historical roots of this widely shared and valued commitment – stretching back to before the University was established –  but also the extent to which recognition of such a wonderful legacy is especially important at times of threat, discord and uncertainty

balloons-over-canterbury

It would have been great to have been positioned to kick off the Blog with a picture more suggestive of harmony and tranquillity. Readers will have noticed that in recent months, there have been some signs that the University authorities were at last beginning to register the significance of this place as an unspoilt shared green space to its own community, and of course way beyond that. However, sadly the most recent Statement to be released, last month, shows that a major opportunity has been missed by the University authorities to catch up with the thinking of the host community, expert knowledge, and the perspectives of their own people (staff and students), by unconditionally ruling out development on the fields in perpetuity.

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So, the fight must continue. This is because the latest Statement explicitly tries to keep development of the fields on the agenda: as we shall see, it  seeks to leave the University authorities an entry point to pursue development here in the future (an implied ‘window’ from the late 2020s onwards, a possibility discussed in the previous Blog). This is really a form of  denial in two senses: it involves the persistence of a dismissive attitude to the evidence on the Southern Slopes’ value as unspoilt shared green space; and it exhibits indifference to the extent to which development here would undermine the entire coherence and logic of the emerging campus Master Plan.  In this sense, 2017 has been a year of confusion and inconsistency on the part of the University authorities,  and as a result, we find ourselves in the “one step forward, two steps back” situation which gives the current Blog its title.

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In the rest of this Blog, we first explain how a step has been taken forward with the latest stages in the ongoing “incremental” Masterplan development process. But we then have to point out how the latest document to be released “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” embodies the extent to which the University authorities are, in spite of this, ultimately still failing to make a break with the troubled recent past regarding Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (or, to use Masterplan language, “Parklands”).  The Blog is interspersed with some recent images of the fields in the usual way.

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Stepping Forwards…

Credit where credit’s due. As part of the latest consultation exercise initiated in the summer, working through its external consultants (CMA Planning and John Leatherland limited), and facilitated by its own central Corporate Communications Directorate, the University first of all provided opportunities for relevant external expert input into the development of a “Spatial Vision” via a Workshop (see previous Blog for more details). Significantly, this led to a major gain in transparency with the August publication of the Workshop Report which clearly demonstrates the durability of the long held commitment amongst stakeholders to preserving Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space by explicitly ruling out any development there.  As the previous Blog showed, this report demonstrated unambiguous affirmation of the collective view that no buildings should ever be located here.  Such key stakeholders as representatives of Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council, local civil society organisations, and the President of Kent Union (the union for University of Kent students) all affirmed this position.

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Second, apparently in response to the incredulity expressed at the time that the process has not involved the University’s own staff, an additional, internal, event was  convened the following month. At the request of staff participants, this was also then openly published as the “Staff Focus Group” report , representing a positive move in terms of communication and freedom of information.  The Focus Group ranged over a number of issues relating to the Master Plan, but for brevity’s sake, we will focus here only on the directly relevant material. Below, for ease of reference, we reproduce in full the passage relating specifically to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes.

“there should be no development on the Southern Slopes – to do so would be inconsistent with notions of consolidation and intensification of the Campus heart [a core principle of the Masterplan]; it would also be seen as provocative and misguided by local residents as well as staff, students, local public authorities and relevant charities and societies, who evidently value the enviromental/heritage character of the landscape and the wide range of activities it permits in its unspoilt form. It would be deeply counter-productive to ongoing efforts to foster strong ties between the University and these constituencies to continue to threaten it with development” (Staff Focus Group, p. 5)

The statement captures the staff group’s shared commitment towards the unspoilt fields and slopes, and demonstrates an awareness of how the issue has become a high stakes one, deeply interwoven with the University’s reputation and image. It is also important to register here that this statement exhibits common cause from attendees coming from across a diverse set of University’s departments, with participants included academic staff as well as senior non-academic staff members. As such it goes beyond the motion in favour of protecting the fields agreed over 5 years ago in a vote of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), because the latter is primarily an organisation for academic staff (see this CFPS Blog from spring 2012 for more details)

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This affirmative material from both the external expert working group and the internal staff focus group has now  been reproduced in the “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” published last month. This report also strengthens further the case for the protection of Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes via the incorporation of additional written comments, over and above those put forward at the august and september events. Unsurprisingly, there is “strong endorsement” for “not building on Parklands” from the St Michael’s Road Residents’ Association (p. 18), representing many residents who live closest to the fields. But there is also amplification here of the point by Kent Wildlife Trust, expressing  their “concern that development does not appear to be ruled out for the area of Chaucer Fields, semi-natural grassland of high cultural value to the local residents and not without nature conservation interest. There is no mention of the Ancient Woodland on the site or the Local Wildlife Site, both requiring protection within the planning system” (op cit., p. 31; emphases added).  This is important because KWT is a  highly regarded charity which operates at the county level,  and this feedback builds on concerns it had already expressed at earlier consultations.

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…then stepping backwards again!

However, unfortunately, these advances are then effectively negated by the way in which the University authorities choose to respond to these views within the same Consultation Statement report. In this document, the Expert Workshop’s recognition of the high value of the unspoilt fields/slopes are greeted with vague, non-committal language – the words “noted” and “acknowledged” recurring at various points in the tables which juxtapose community comments and University authority responses. This is weak and uninformative, showing that while the articulated views have been logged, there is no sense of learning from the process in terms of reflecting on the significance of these commitments, or showing any willingness to express the consequences in actual policies and practices . An opportunity to respect the views put forward, and rule out development on the fields, has been squandered.

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More worrying still, the dismissive nature of the University authorities’ response to the analysis expressed in the Staff Focus group, as quoted above, goes even further. Here, the response does not merely avoiding saying anything with meaning and substance. It actively confirms, in no uncertain terms,  that old habits of thought  – and potentially action –  are still driving the process. The key passage here is as follows:

“Some development of the Southern Slopes may be necessary, including providing funding for landscape enhancements. to be explored in the Options” (op cit, p. 26, response bullet point 2)

The chosen tone and form of words in this response is deeply disappointing. Not only does it fail to rule out development on the Southern Slopes, but it actively confirms that it could be carried through as a possibility into the next stage of Masterplan development, presumably in keeping with the idea of a ‘window’ for building projects here emerging from the late 2020s onwards (see the previous Blog). Second, not even a cursory attempt is made to provide a rationale for this potential decision, in the context of the Masterplan’s philosophy and proposed principles, or indeed at any level (in contrast to the “responses” offered in relation to much of the other feedback elsewhere in the Step 1 Consultation Statement). This undermines the credibility of the wider process, because it seems to show that that the University authorities either unable or unwilling to take their own Masterplan’ s principles and processes seriously.

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Third, in the turn of phrase “may be necessary”  – with no attempt at explanation –  we see the authors of the University authorities’ response retreating symbolically from any meaningful notion of collaborative engagement at all.  It suggests the University authorities are, even now, trying to unilaterally take a superordinate position in relation to other stakeholders, including in relation to Canterbury City Council. This is damaging because it is at the level of this elected local authority were the planning process vests  statutory responsibility for determining matters of need and necessity, as embodied through the District Plan process. In this way, we sadly seem to see the University authorities’ old, pre-Masterplan, top down and paternalistic  “sense of entitlement”  reappearing.  Fourth, the use of the phrase “landscape enhancements”, as discussed in an earlier Blog, seems to be discursive cover for the construction of buildings: it is obfuscatory, and is ultimately just development expressed in more fuzzy language, to give the University authorities a potential licence to build as they please.

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It is important to remember that it is this arcane style of making policy, mixing up ambiguity and evasiveness,  which led to the chaotic ad hoc pattern of campus development in the past. It is a throwback formulation which exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of how things can and must change under the new planning framework. It entirely misses the  point of the Masterplan process in seeking to move towards a clearer, properly meaningful and responsive style of engagement, and to avoid arbitrary, ad hoc and unaccountable decision making.  This is, then, potential repeating of the mistakes of the past is the very situation which the Staff Focus Group warned the University it should make every effort to avoid, if it is to develop a more constructive relationship with the host community and its own staff and students in relation to campus development in the future (see “Staff Focus Group report”, p. 3, comment 3)

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A final note: timing and prospects

Where does all this leave us? If we look at the overall process plans as presented at recent events, we have a series of further delays in getting beyond stage 1: by now, we were expecting to have seen not just a Stage 1 Consultation Statement, but also the publication of a range of Stage 2 “Option Studies”, and for a consultation on these “Options” to be have already been completed! These next steps were originally timed to allow a draft, single Framework Masterplan to be in place for further consultation from January 2018, leading to further consultation,  finalisation and publication in late spring/summer, and adoption by Canterbury City Council  – and linkage to the all important District Plan – in September 2018.  Presumably the slippage in moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 means that this none of this will be achieved on time.

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Yet however the timelines is revised, the year ahead will be an crucial period for the fields. It is during 2018 that we will see whether the University authorities continue to operate in denial, pushing blindly for potential development, as they see fit, of the Southern Slopes; or whether they finally show themselves capable of recognising the damage that is being done by keeping this option in play. for there is still a chance to rule out development here. If it were to do this, it would bring the approach properly back  into line with the Masterplan’s own philosophy and principles; and demonstrate recognition of  the commitments and values of the University community, the host community, and  local public authorities. It is upon whose goodwill and trust of all these stakeholders, after all, that the University’s future ultimately depends.

Stay vigilant! Watch this space! Happy christmas and new year to all!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Picnic time approaching… plus Consultation, District Plan Green Gap status and Signage update

This Blog has been “rested” for a while, buts its time to rejoin! There are three reasons for this. First, after several months of unexplained delay, the Consultation Report on the Conceptual Master Plan, covering the consultation of summer 2016, was finally published a few weeks ago. So, there’s some news to report on that. And also further news concerning  the proposed “Green Gap” status (updating the details in the last Blog.)

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Second, regular users of the fields may have noticed the change in wording on the signage which demarcates this land, words that are also reproduced on the signs used at other points on the edge of the campus. What little is known about this is worth sharing.  Third, it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to picnics, including on these fields, to take advantage of the sunshine and good weather in this extraordinarily beautiful, currently unspoilt shared green space. As evidence presented in various contexts by many local people and groups over the past few years has shown –  in responding to planning applications, earlier consultations, and when compiling the vast body of material needed to make the case for village green status –  this is a customary form of leisure and recreation here which goes back for decades. It reflects deep community attachment and commitment to this unspoilt green space. Indeed, given the  historical record of using this place as a spot to view, linger and appreciate the Cathedral and cityscape – a practice  long pre-dating the University’s founding –  we can speak of this as a truly time honoured  tradition (see the “History Matters” CFPS Blog).

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So, once again I am delighted to confirm the annual collaborative picnic which symbolises this precious legacy, organised jointly with Greenpeace Canterbuy and the Abbot’s Mill Project, and supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blog Roll on the right of this text for further details). More information on what happens at the picnics come at the end of the Blog! You could skip straight to that, if you would rather find out about the latest news at the picnic itself. But please do consider reading the detailed updates on the Conceptual Master Plan Consultation, Green Gap status, and signage change issues, presented in what follows first, if you have a little time. As ever, images are interspersed to make it more digestible. This time, they are photographs taken on a short walk yesterday.

Campus Conceptual Master Plan Consultation Report

This report, published by the University’s Corporate Communications Directorate, can  be found here. It is not a particularly attractive read, but it seems reasonable for the University to claim that the process of developing the Master Plan and undertaking a consultation has been “welcomed”. This is  formally true, and reflects civility on the part of those consulted. On the other hand, of course, it could be pointed out that the University is not really positioned to claim any credit for this: it has been expressly specified as a requirement  by Canterbury City Council (CCC) –  the relevant local planning authority –  and it is hard to see on what grounds it could be resisted by the University authorities.  And especially because developments on campus in recent years have been haphazard and at times even appeared chaotic and shambolic, there has  been a steady build up of public pressure to take this obvious step –  and to take it transparently.   Ad hoc and piecemeal ‘business as usual’ is simply no longer acceptable.

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What do we learn? The report demonstrates a mixture of  reactions from consultees, and publishes the full set of responses in its voluminous appendices. This transparency is certainly a point in its favour. So, for example, there are 16 pages covering responses from “local groups” (Appendix 5A, pp. 61 – 76).  We can see the opposition to building south of University Road on the Southern Slopes clearly stated by local residents’ associations, one of which even supplied evocative photographs of the fields. But these are not the only relevant concerns from organisations. We also see explicit recognition from the influential Canterbury Society (see Blogroll) that this sentiment is much more widely shared: ‘people in the City feel like the Chaucer Fields should be kept undeveloped and not built upon’. At the same time, two highly respected local charities, orientating themselves towards the overall style and process of the consultation, highlight major concerns. The Kent Wildlife Trust and Council for the Protection of Rural England both use robust language in respectively challenging the University authorities on their failure to attend to the biodiversity dimension in developing the Conceptual Masterplan;  and highlighting apparent incompetence, mistakes and oversights in the way the University undertook the consultation process.

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Appendix 5B then  reports written feedback from individual people – over 81 pages (pp 77 – 158). Once again, it is striking to see how many such consultees have felt moved to write expressing their strong and implacable opposition to the potential loss of the Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes green gap. Large numbers of respondents point out that if the building of a “Parklands” conferencing hotel and other units were  to proceed there, as posited in the Conceptual Master Plan,  unspoilt shared green space, with extraordinary heritage, social, aesthetic and environment value, would be lost forever to both the local and university communities.

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These sentiments are perhaps predictable, reacting as to they do conferencing hotel proposals which have essentially been carried over from earlier in the decade,  cosmetically reframed now within a Conceptual Master Plan with comforting imagery, the soft focus, fuzzy language of  “enhanced landscape” and narratives deploying the vocabulary of “green assets”. So is this consultation document just telling us what we already know, that there is little or no support for the ‘development’ of the fields from either the university or local communities? In a sense, yes. But it can also be read positively by those who value the fields as generating  new evidence in support of the durability of this sentiment, sorely tested by already being expressed on multiple occasions for several years. In other words, it reaffirms and underlines the enduring strength of these values, and the level of attachment and commitment to this landscape and place amongst local and university people. It is remarkable that many people still had the energy to raise this issue for the umpteenth time, having repeatedly done so already, year after year, on a massive scale in relation to earlier versions of ‘development’ proposals. This is a tribute to the resilience of the local and university communities in the face of consultation fatigue. 

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Indeed, the resistance to Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields despoilment emerges as  amongst the most vehemently expressed views in the entire document, as acknowledged in the main body of the document (Table 5, pp. 20 -21, Main Report): The other major issue emerging here is confirmation of the extent of opposition to ‘developing’ agricultural land purchased by the University to the North of the core campus, proximate to Blean and the Crab & Winkle Way (“Northern Land Holdings”) by situating car parks, sports facilities/buildings and a range of permanent strutures and units  (again, often using soft language – this time, ‘hubs’ – to downplay the extent to which land use would no longer be essentially agricultural in character, and involve significant and irreversible development)

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It is also worth emphasising another finding revealed by this process not in writing, but in relation to the face to face feedback witnessed at the various  events convened as part of the process. Table 2 (pp. 12 – 14, Main Report) lists a number of ‘presentations’ and ‘exhibitions’ conducted. Most of these events were not well attended, perhaps relating to a lack of effective communication about them (see the remarks above, as per the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s response).  However, at the  events that were best attended – for University Staff on campus, and in Blean village hall –  audiences once again reasserted their resistance and opposition, and sometimes with real anger.  The narratives adopted by the University authority representatives and architectural consultants were greeted with marked incredulity by many attendees at these events.  Why?  There were probably three main reasons for this reaction.

  • the narratives demonstrated a lack of basic familiarity with,  and understanding of, the character and topography of the relevant local landscapes
  • they showed a lack of awareness of the sheer strength and evidence base for pro-unspoilt space community sentiment, and
  • the narratives also suggested that the  ‘landscape enhancements’  in question (in practice, of course, nothing but development –  since we are referring to hotel buildings, other built units, car parks, facilities of various forms  etc) were something audiences didn’t need to be so concerned about, because they weren’t envisaged to take place in the immediate timeframe of the existing Estates Plan (the University Council, in signing off the Estates Plan 2015-2025, has nowhere  endorsed, or indicated funding for, the proposed hotel or other developments).

 

This third feature of the narrative  was experienced as patronising , because it appears to assume that, while the University authorities ‘think ahead’, the university and local communities are characterised by either transience or short sightedness, an unwillingness or inability to think more than 8 years ahead (a lack of concern for developments after 2025).   This disregard for forward thinking public concern is not only directly at odds with the notion that there should be a long term District Plan at all (in lie with national policy expectations,the timeframe for the ’emerging’ CCC District Plan runs to 2031, 6 years after the current Estates Plan expires). In relation to chaucer fields/the southern slopes, the revealed assumption of myopia or transience is also out of line with one of the  core findings of the village green enquiry –  that meaningful local residential communities, with durable, collective shared practices, commitments and beliefs – and therefore, capable of taking the long view –  do exist in relation to this place.

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The next steps in the process are referred to in the documentation. It is suggested the University will work ‘collaboratively’ with CCC over a period of several months to move towards the substantive Master Plan. In relation to Chaucer Fields, we know that CCC already responded to the overwhelming nature of local (and university) community sentiment in favour of protecting the fields with the “Green Gap status” proposal. Even if this particular protection cannot be included in the new District Plan for technical reasons, we can and should expect CCC to take a strong and clear position on this issue in these upcoming discussions: the key point is that the principle of protection and respect for this space has been publicly affirmed and agreed by CCC, even if “Green gap status” proposal fell on a technicality. This is a point the following section will now consider.

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“Green Gap status” not permitted as District Plan moves towards adoption

In the last Blog, it was reported that the proposal supported by CCC, that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes be given “green gap” status in the District Plan, was, in response to claims-making by the University authorities’ hired legal consultants,  being challenged by the Planning Inspectorate on technical-procedural grounds (not substantive grounds, as reported in the local press). As expected, further to this initial response, this proposed “green gap” provision has now been removed, as part of the latest step in moving towards District Plan adoption. This is a technocratic “modification” needed to ensure the Plan will be ‘sound and legally compliant’.  Full details can be found here at CCC’s official update on the Plan.

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On the face of it, this seems like a setback for those who wish to see the unspoilt fields protected and respected. However, it is important to stress two considerations to make clear that it also has advantages. First, the very process of CCC even considering this status, and then taking the enormous step of proposing it be built into the District Plan, shows that the political will is there at local Council level to commit to the unspoilt fields. Even if ultimately overturned on a technicality, this does not reverse the fact that CCC have boldy come forward and defended the values of the community on this issue, or alter the motivation that lay behind this proposed protection. Second, in order to deflect the “need” for this protection, the University legal advisers who argued for its removal had to build their case, in part, on the claim that existing protections as expressed in CCC documents (including internal papers and documents relating to CCC meetings) were already shown to be so extensive in relation to this landscape that additional policies, such as the “green gap”, were not “needed.”  The University is thus potentially “locked in” to recognition of the value of the unspoilt landscape by its own legal consultants’ position taking in relation to this issue in the future. It has itself been forced to chart and acknowledge in its submissions to the Planning Inspectorate the high salience and significance of existing protections, already in place, and additional to any “green gap” status. It would be incoherent, inconsistent, and create an impression of disregard for due process to claim at a future date that such existing protections can be readily dispensed with.

Signage update

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Observant users of the fields may have noticed early last month that the form of words used on the demarcation signs has now changed: the image above shows the new language, where the one below shows the older formulation.

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This can be read in a number of ways. Is it a strengthening of the role of the relevant elected public authorities (in this case, Kent County Council) over the University, insisting on greater clarity on the publics’ right to use ‘rights of way’ crossing the land in our county? On the other hand, it could be seen as clearing the ground  in the longer term for a situation in which access here and in other places where the University owns land will be more strictly circumscribed, driving a strict wedge between allowable and forbidden use.  A world of narrow pathways and functional ‘desire lines’ to and from workplaces in the context of a looming hotel complex,  a range of other buildings and facilities, and car parks, all  erected on a previously unspoilt landscape where roaming had previously been the norm. In other words, this is a scenario in which the free sharing of  land around the University, for recreation and leisure by the university and local communities, is over time constrained and then ultimately brought to a halt in the name of ‘development’ (or, ‘enhanced landscape’).

The University authorities have indicated they have taken this initiative as a result of ‘legal advice’, but it is not in the public domain what form that advice took, or the nature of the agenda in asking for it. The most benign and optimistic explanation, more in line with the first reading, is that it is a response to the fact the cyclists, walkers and others, particularly those trying to ‘find their way’ onto the Crab & Winkle route, had often found the older signage confusing, and this is a way to rectify this. However, only time will tell whether a more controlling intention to restrict non-public right-based of way activities into the future is  part of the thinking too.

 

Upcoming Picnic – Sunday 16th July midday onwards   

And so to the picnic – this will be the sixth collaborative one since the CFPS was formed in 2011.  The event is always great fun, with every one is slightly different from its predecessors. However, certain key features always endure – sharing food and drink in a truly beautiful setting, appreciating both the nature surroundings and the proximate cityscape; play for families, ranging from impromptu tree climbing, hide and seek to more organised activities, such as football, kite flying, rounders and dodgeball; conversation and socialising, finding out about people, places and gossip, crossing the boundaries between the local and university communities; and last but not least, music, ranging from a small stage with amplification for those inclined, to more casual jamming and swopping of tunes and musical ideas.

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This year, we are delighted to highlight two special features of the event, each linking back to the support base for the fields as it has been nurtured and grown over the years. First, Richard Navarro will be playing once more! A regular at earlier picnics, and someone who did a lot to raise awareness of the cause with his Joni Mitchell inspired Concrete Lung , touring and other commitments meant Richard was missed at recent gatherings. However, he will join us this time, fresh from a recent highly successful tour of Ireland.

Second, we will take the chance of the gathering to convene a group to informally talk about ways forward in protecting, respecting and enhancing the local landscape (the demarcated campus, and any adjacent/other land now acquired by the University). This will be in the light of what we have now learned about the University authorities’ agenda and intentions thus far (through the Master Plan process). This will be led by Dr William Rowlandson, green representative at the University of Kent for the University and Colleges Union. (See William’s response to the Conceptual Master Plan consultation here.) UCU has already been an important actor in confirming University staff’s commitment to protecting the fields (facilitating the motion leading to a strong vote in favour of protecting the fields as undeveloped green space shared with the local community in 2012), and there is potential for it in the context of this new initiative to take an wider role regarding the local environmental agenda too.

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We look forward to welcoming you to the picnic on sunday – 12.00 midday onwards! (Facebook users, see the event information from the Abbot’s Mill Project here).

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society