Campus Master Plan and Picnic News

stodmarshmainly 123

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

13221493_561974070630684_5298691676133018138_n

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

13245319_561973250630766_1750564548144599765_n

University Campus “Conceptual Masterplan” presentations

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

stodmarshmainly 062.jpg

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

chaucerfieldsandallot 069

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

stodmarshmainly 085

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

stodmarshmainly 195

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

13226906_561974427297315_1691092731798510709_n

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

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

13237641_561973073964117_3477567041674067478_n

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

stodmarshmainly 233

 

Picnic News

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

stodmarshmainly 096

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

stodmarshmainly 003

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

Dear all

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

CF&holidayprep 148

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

 

VILLAGE GREEN PUBLIC INQUIRY: SCF GUEST BLOG – APRIL 2015

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

CF&holidayprep 052

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

CF&holidayprep 081

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

CF&holidayprep 463

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

CF&holidayprep 180

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

CF&holidayprep 030

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

History Really Matters

balloons over canterbury

Source: courtesy of Max Apps, see bottom of Blog for further details

Crunch Times Approach

Since the last Blog, the recent fundraising musical event for the fields was a great success. I’ll come back to say more about that – and further plans for musical follow up collaborations between CFPS, SCF and others – in a Blog to follow. But for now, prompted by the discovery of the Christmas Post Card above, I wanted to take the opportunity afforded by this more relaxed time of year to look more deeply at fundamentals, and try to grasp some aspects of the ‘bigger picture’ of place and history that affect us. We need to be ready to think clearly about what we are doing from this longer term perspective as the discussion escalates.

Why do I say ‘escalates’? That’s because it is possible this could be the penultimate Christmas for Chaucer Fields as unspoilt shared green space, wiping out hundreds of years of historical continuity. You’ll recall from an earlier Blog (18 September, see archive) that the intention of those supporting the ‘development’ was that the process of replacing this unspoilt part of the Southern Slopes with concrete and tarmac would begin in the autumn of 2014. Even though the  planning application for this ‘development’ is still to materialise, this construction timetable is in theory still readily achievable, it seems to me, if  three conditions hold in the year ahead. First, if the planning application is granted by Canterbury City Council, or won on appeal. Second, if the Village Green Application to Kent County Council is not successful. (We now know that the public inquiry into this will take place week beginning 18 March 2013.) Third, if the promoters of the scheme inside the University succeed in their efforts to trivialise, deflect and disregard not only the mass of opposition to it in the city and beyond, but also what is the dominant oppositional view within the University itself.

jay 1

Jays like this have been very visible on Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes this winter. Image courtesy of the Woodland Trust/Kent Wildlife Trust

The fact that the fulfillment of each of these conditions is far from a foregone conclusion, and that development can only proceed if all of them are met, must give defenders of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes some grounds for optimism. At least, its all to play for at this stage. What will decide the result? Most of the debates in 2013 have already been prefigured this year. They are to do with how people and institutions use and value the land; the feasibility and desirability of alternative sites and approaches;  the extent to which compelling environmental and economic arguments can be made against or in favour of situating the ‘development’ here; and the  willingness of those with authority and power to listen to and learn from people with knowledge of, and attachment to, the places they live and work.

The Need for a Long Term Historical Perspective

So far, so incontrovertible. These sorts of considerations would presumably be in play anywhere in England when a highly contested ‘development’, evidently out of line with local norms and policies, is proposed by an enormously powerful bureaucratic landowner  – whether they be in the public, private for-profit, or nonprofit sector (the University is legally in the last of these). However, I believe that understanding the issues in this way doesn’t really capture what is really at stake with this proposal. Why? Because no account is being taken of the historical dimension. Yet this is fundamental to the discussion. The ‘specialness’ and extent to which people and community’s cherish and value their surroundings is deeply bound up with their history. Indeed we need to start by recognising that in Canterbury, its surroundings and the District, history is especially important. Our area is characterised by a remarkably rich sense of cultural and environmental heritage. Those of us who live here feel privileged to share such a fascinating place, and are proud to bear witness to its combination of natural and man made beauty with visiting relatives, friends or work associates.

Beverley farmhouse viewed from its setting in Chaucer Fields

Beverley farmhouse viewed from the East from within Chaucer Fields, summer 2012

But why is heritage so relevant in this specific  case? Well, the more I have looked into this, the more I have understood that the unspoilt  ‘Chaucer Fields’ and the Southern Slopes really have a central part to play in that wonderful historical legacy of ours. When the Blog started 9 months ago, drawing on the archival research into texts and maps conducted by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust. I stressed the ancient origins of this inheritance: How Beverley Farm, closely tied to the Slopes and Fields for hundreds of years, had originally been built in the late fifteenth century. I reflected on how those who built  the core of this farmhouse, still in place today, would have had the chance to pause on the slopes, gaze south, and witness the erection of the Cathedral’s Bell Harry Tower in 1498. I tried to draw attention to the beauty of the mediaeval field structure, and the 300 year old precursors of the numerous paths that circumvent and criss cross the land to this day.

I also stressed how amongst those associated with this place were some of of the key figures of the city’s history, such as the Roper family. And I noted the way in which, while some features are recognisably hundreds of years old, others gently reflect the more recent imprint of modern man’s activities, involving remnants of mixed agriculture, orchards, market gardening and latterly park land planting. No evidence of hop gardens, unfortunately! But other than that, how could it be more classically Kentish in character?

Beverley farm 1899

Beverley farm viewed from the west in 1899. Source: Reproduced with permission from Paul Crampton’s Canterbury: Suburbs & Surroundings, History Press, 2010, p. 24

Canterbury Under Threat

But I now know that there is even more to it than this. And this is where the Post Card image at the top of the Blog comes in. 70 years ago, Canterbury people chose to gather on Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes at an existential moment in our history. This was 1942, long before Chaucer College (from which the current term ‘Chaucer Fields’ probably originates), the University road, or indeed the University existed.Then, they would have simply talked of meeting in Beverley farm’s fields – perhaps having made their way up Beverley road, or having paused for refreshment in Ye Olde Beverlie public house, further down the Slopes.Why chose to meet there? They were heading up the Slopes to safely get a panoramic perspective of their city and its surroundings as it was bombed, and suffered great damage, in the midst of World War Two, as local writer Janet Cameron has discussed (see her short Suite 101 2010 article from 2010 on Canterbury and the Blitz).

A year after the worst of the bombing was over, this was evidently still a favourite spot from which everyone could freely share views of the city and its surroundings. The city was now protected by barrage balloons, and the place had apparently become so well known as a place for appreciating the city and the nature surrounding it that a special Christmas post card was even created to capture the iconic view: hence the image with which this Blog  began.

Normal  University and Canterbury relations: Shared Fields agenda 1965 – 2008

You might think that the arrival of the University some 22 years later was the moment at which the status of these fields as iconic viewpoint and safe haven would be threatened. Not so. For most of the rest of the twentieth century, the establishment of the University on the hill was not seen as precluding the conservation of this special place at all. Indeed, the presumption that it was worthy of protection was actively build into policies and practices from the very beginning. The land here had been made available by statutory authorities to the University on extremely generous terms (see Graham Martin’s  From Vision to Reality: the Making of the University of Kent, University of Kent at Canterbury, 1990). But there were conditions. One was that it remained, in essence, open space, ensuring that those views and and the wonderful landscape would continue to be available for the people of Canterbury and of the new University alike.

Some ‘development’ was to take place at the margins of this part of campus space in the ensuing 4 decades. The foundation of Chaucer College in 1990 clearly involved bricks and mortar. But the overall spirit of the beautiful landscape as experienced south of University road remained gloriously in evidence, and was explicitly undergirded by planning decisions and policies. Canterbury City Council records from 1990 show that the Planning Committee permitted Chaucer College to be built at all only because its low level, elegant buildings could be concealed due to the natural shape of the land. Such a development was possible  and only in this particular topographical conjuncture. Uniquely on this particular plot of land, low level buildings could be erected without violating the ‘spirit’ of the wonderful Southern Slopes landscape at any time of year. Moreover, the importance of the Southern Slopes landscape south of University Road was to go on to be actively reinforced in planning policy. Landscape value provisions to this effect were to be found in the District Plans developed over the next two decades, and still to be found there in the current plan.

So, we need to remember that for most of the time since it was founded, the University was duly recognising and respecting the importance of the unspoilt landscape here: its preservation was seen as an important obligation which had to be honoured. Of symbolic importance at the time, a bench was situated by an earlier generation of University leaders at a particularly well chosen point overlooking the fields. It was located  just south of University road, below Beverley Farm. And reflecting the Council’s recognition of the well chosen nature of this decision,  the importance of this particular spot for unspoilt viewing of Canterbury’s magical mixture of historic buildings and natural beauty was to  be explicitly affirmed as a Canterbury City Council conservation priority:  the preciousness of the view from here was highlighted as capturing one of the very best vistas freely available to all in the whole District (see below)

Viewpoint Conservation Policy

Source: Canterbury Conservation Area Appraisal, Adopted 12 October 2010, p. 33

The University: The current ‘development’ proposals (2009 – ) as Anomaly

Thus, policies and practices embodied a long established and reciprocal tradition of respect for, and commitment to this place, as unspoilt, shared  open green land until very recently. The unexpected, shocking, unilateral abandonment of this commitment by elements in the University in the very recent past, with the launch of the ‘development’ proposals, must demonstrably be seen as an aberration from this historical perspective.

But I hope that you will agree with me that this situation is entirely reversible. As awareness of the longer, positive  legacy of co-operation grows, we must  hope that 2013 will be the year in which respect for our heritage is reasserted. The University’s 50th birthday is approaching. So it is time to think about this issue in a historically sensitive and responsible way once again. A voluntarily initiative by  the University, through a withdrawal  of the Chaucer Conferencer Centre proposals next year, and an intelligent rethink of its development options, is the way to go. This is needed to ensure that the University is working with, rather than against, both the local community that hosts it, and the overwhelming majority of its own people.

balloons over canterbury  text.only JPG

Text  of  the late Terry Hougham accompanying the Post Card at the top of this Blog. It was published in his 1992 collection Canterbury in Old Picture Postcards, European Library-Zaltbommel/Netherlands. I am a grateful to Max Apps, Terry’s grandson, for permission to reproduce this here

Best wishes and Happy Christmas,

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

.