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

 

 

Merry Christmas 2016

Here is our customary Festive Greeting visual message!

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Then another favourite historical picture  from the fields, before some wintry ones from earlier in the decade (its been a while since it snowed here!)

Textually, a quick update only. First, despite having indicated  that it would be moving from its”Conceptual Master Plan” consultation to a comparable  process in relation to the substantive Master Plan by now, the University authorities have been silent on the matter this month. The reason for the delay has not been made known.

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The view for earlier generations

Second, in relation to the proposed “Green Gap” status for the fields proposed in the draft District Plan, the Planning Inspectorate wrote to Canterbury City Council on 15th December to indicate that the policy has “not been justified” (read the letter here) It is important to clarify what this does and does not mean, since a misleading local press report last week carried the headline that the letter indicates the  fields “do not merit protected status” (Kent online 16th December).

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Sledging in the “Bomb crater” on the Southern Slopes

There are two reasons this is incorrect. First, the letter relates to the legal-procedural appropriateness of the methods used to underpin the claim for “green gap” status – what  processes Canterbury City Council has undergone from a technical point of view to “justify” this status. The Inspector is saying that CCC has not  followed expected due process in this narrow sense, and is not asserting that the fields do not deserve protection, as the headline, and to an extent the report itself, seem to suggest. Furthermore, and secondly, the letter explicitly acknowledges that there is already, in other legal provisions, protection for this land, as an area of High Landscape Value. (“Given the status of this area as part of an Area of High Landscape Value and the purposes of Green Gap policy, its designation as a Green Gap has not been justified”) and this vital contextual observation is not mentioned at all in the newspaper report.

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Sledging inside  Roper’s twitchell

In toto, it initially seems a little disappointing that the Master Plan process has apparently stalled, and that, at the moment, the Inspectorate’s position – subject to further consultation – is  that Green Gap status is not “needed”. But a temporary  “pause” by the University  authorities is perhaps not such a problem in the grand scheme of things, and could even signify a new found willingness to listen to the University and local communities. While an advantage of the Inspectorate’s letter, if read correctly and fully, is that it highlights the relevance of existing protections for the fields. .

 

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One of the many views from University road which would be destroyed if the 150 room “Conferencing hotel” proposed in the”Conceptual MasterPlan”of 2016 were to be built

 

 

 

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #4

This is the fourth of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. It is a Guest Blog presenting, unedited, the 4th response from a well positioned member of the local/University community, as submitted to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD, which is organising the CMP consultation process). The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers, ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may choose to provide. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, the series of  Blogs hopes to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below has been put forward by Richard Norman, formally a professor of moral philosophy, and a very longstanding member of  the local community too. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  Although quite long, please do take the trouble to read it, as it is extremely thoughtful, full of interesting observations and bursting with intriguing suggestions! The interprersed images relate to birdlife witnessed on the fields over recent years.

Beginning of Professor Norman’s Feedback

First, I greatly welcome the initiative to begin a conversation between the University and its neighbours about the future of the campus and the University’s estate.  The recognition of the need to “ensure we deliver long-term benefits for our local communities, and improve our intellectual, physical, economic and cultural connections with the city of Canterbury”, is the right starting-point for an on-going dialogue, and I hope very much to see that dialogue continue.  I attended a presentation to local residents’ associations, and the spirit in which that meeting was conducted, both amicable and honest, augurs well for a new relationship between the University and local residents. I also welcome the overall approach of the Master plan – an attempt to develop the estate as a coherent pattern of spaces and buildings, rather than simply a collection of buildings sited in whatever locations happened to be available at the time.

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The rough division of the estate into three main components – the built heart of the campus, the southern parkland, and the northern landholdings – is a useful starting-point for thinking about the plan.  I think it leaves out some important features, and I’ll come back to this, but I’d like first to offer some comments on those three components.

The campus heart

I strongly concur with the core idea of creating two new entrance squares and a connecting boulevard.  The availability of the land which was formerly the day nursery next to Keynes, the eminently disposable nature of the Tanglewood buildings, and the beginnings of a space beside the School of Arts building, provide the scope for a West Square as a new ‘front door’ to the University.  Most visitors to the University come via St Thomas’s Hill, and the drive up the University Road with its unfolding vista of the city and the Stour valley is a huge asset but at present leads to a terrible anti-climax.  Instead it needs to arrive at an impressive new ‘gateway’, which in turn should be, as envisaged, the fulcrum of a pedestrian boulevard running westwards to Keynes and Turing colleges, and eastwards past the central buildings to the Registry and Darwin.  Grouped around and along this, the central buildings and spaces could acquire a much-improved coherent overall shape and character.

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I would therefore support the suggestion that the “new gateway squares in the campus heart” would be the ideal “opportunity for early wins” (p.117).  The exact nature and location of the East Square would need to be thought through.  If it were to be located where it is proposed on the map, this would require the demolition of the existing main building of Darwin College in the near future.  There is a case for that, but there are other possibilities.  Rather than create a new entrance from St Stephen’s Hill, it might be easier to retain the existing entrance from Giles Lane and Darwin Road,  creating a new square which would incorporate the existing entrance to the Registry and the existing Visitor Reception.

 

The Southern “Parkland”

 This is of course the part of the estate of most immediate concern to neighbouring residents, and as such it offers the opportunity to move on from recent history.  The reiterated emphasis on retaining this area as parkland, and the recognition that the green setting is the University’s greatest asset, is greatly to be welcomed.  In this context it has to be said that the map showing a ‘conferencing hotel as a pavilion in the park’, located on the southern slopes, is needlessly provocative.  I appreciate that this is at present simply a ‘concept’ and that there are no immediate plans to proceed with such a development.  All the more reason, then, to leave it off the map.  I hope it will be recognised that the idea of building a conference centre on the southern slopes has come to epitomise an antagonistic relationship between the University and local residents.  If the new commitment to dialogue and cooperation is genuine – and I believe that it is – then by far the best way to foster that new relationship would be to drop talk of a conference centre in the fields.

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If there is still felt to be a need for a conference centre which could also cater to the need for short courses for a particular category of students, then I would suggest that the ideal place for it in the Parklands would be next to Beverley Farm.  The Design Principles on p.51 include a commitment to “reveal the historic narrative of the campus linking together its past, present and future”, and on p.94 it is noted that “very often the existing Parklands buildings are some of the most historic of all the campus buildings, such as Beverley Farmhouse…”.  It is an under-utilised asset.  There is great potential for linking it to a new conference centre on the northern side of University Road, imaginatively designed to blend in with the architecture of the historic farm building.

Another historical asset which was mentioned is the old Crab and Winkle railway line.  I am sceptical about this, not least because most of the line on the University estate is inaccessible in the tunnel.  There may be possibilities north of the tunnel, but the suggestions for using the railway embankment south of the tunnel are impractical (see below).  Better, I suggest, would be to enhance the Eliot footpath as the existing north-south axis.  The large pit to the right surrounded by trees at the start of the path, and the land immediately behind it, could be landscaped and improved.  The idea of an open air theatre in the so-called ‘bomb crater’ also has potential, though it would need to be a temporary facility as the pit becomes badly flooded in winter.

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There were, at the presentation, frequent references to ‘enhancing’ the parkland.  This would be good – but despite the allusions to Stowe and Capability Brown, building a conference centre is not the way to do it!  There are other and better ways.  There are references to “new green landscapes” which “might include… avenues of trees and fruit blossom” (p.56), and orchards are mentioned on p.61.  At the presentation one local resident suggested restoring the orchard in the south-east field on the southern slopes.  This, I think, is a great idea, and another example of the scope for drawing on the history of the area.  There are one or two old fruit trees still in that field, but mostly it has been replanted with other trees.  The oaks are flourishing but the horse chestnuts are in poor shape, badly affected by bleeding canker.  They could be removed and replaced by fruit trees in the central area of the field.  Recreating a traditional Kentish orchard, and designating it as a community orchard, would be an ideal way of forging the right sort of link with the local community, at the same time revealing the historical narrative of the campus.  Other enhancements could also be considered, such as some selective tree-planting (provided it doesn’t obstruct the view), and the improvement of the woodland at the top of the western field.  The important principle is that it should be enhanced as semi-natural parkland, not turned into something else.

 Wildflower meadows are proposed on pp.56 and 61, and these too would be an attractive enhancement of the parklands.  The field immediately below University Road on the southern slopes would make a wonderful wildflower meadow, further enhancing the already magnificent panorama.  Alternatively, wildflower borders on either side of University Road, from Beverly Farm to the West Gateway Square, would be a perfect approach to the new ‘front door’.  If projects such as an orchard and a wildflower meadow on the southern slopes were to be pursued, I believe that members of the local community would welcome an opportunity to be actively involved in promoting and achieving them.

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The Northern land holdings

I don’t have a great deal to say about these, but the basic idea of retaining the rural character of this part of the estate, and creating some judicially landscaped ‘rural business clusters’, sounds sensible.  Much will depend, however, on discussions with, and feedback from, Blean and Tyler Hill residents.

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Parkwood student accommodation

The Parkwood student accommdation doesn’t seem to fit into any of the three areas of the estate.  It is not part either of the central heart or the northern land holdings, and it needs to be considered in its own right.  Analogously to the central heart, it should be envisaged and developed as a student village with its own coherent village pattern, perhaps with an improved frontage looking onto the road and the sports fields.  Thought should also be given to the utilisation of Park Wood itself, the surviving woodland between the existing Parkwood accommodation and the Business School.  Additional student accommodation could be provided here in an attractive setting, consonant with the idea of a Garden Campus.

Car parks

It is suggested on p.57 that the car parks should be pushed to the edges of the estate instead of cluttering up the campus heart.  This point was briefly raised at the presentation, but after that it was scarcely mentioned.  I doubt whether that aim is achievable.  The brief reference to tunnelling into the hillside was implausible.  A better approach might be to accept that some at least of the existing car parks will remain in their present locations, and to look for ways of integrating them into the campus more successfully.  A possible approach might be to build on top of them, and hide them behind attractive frontages.  The aspiration to ‘tame’ the roads and make the campus more pedestrian-friendly is commendable, but it can be achieved in other ways.  The excellent bus services to the campus, especially to the bus stop and turning point near Keynes College, are a great success, and something to build on.  The fact is that University Road is and will continue to be the main vehicle access route to the campus, and it is best to plan around that.  If there is to be any new car parking it could perhaps be north of University Road near Turing College, keeping more cars out of the Campus Heart.

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Crab & Winkle Way and railway line

There are various references to making use of the Crab & Winkle cycle route between Canterbury and Whitstable which runs through the campus, and of the route of the old Crab & Winkle railway line.  These references are somewhat confusing and, in some respects, not properly thought through. It is suggested that the Crab & Winkle Way cycle path on the north side of the campus could be upgraded and widened from a pedestrian and cycle route to provide a route for vehicles from Tyler Hill Road (p.97).  This would be a bad idea.  It would blight the attractive route down the hill from Blean Church. There also appears to be a reference (though this is unclear) to making the disused railway line north of the tunnel into a new route between the central campus and Tyler Hill Road.  This certainly has potential.  The old track is extremely muddy and overgrown, and could be turned into a fine pedestrian and cycle route, but again making it a vehicle route would destroy the rural character of this land. There are also rather confusing references to the walking and cycling route between Canterbury and the University:

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Although it is a great asset, the Crab and Winkle Way follows a slightly circuitous route through existing residential streets which some residents find noisy and disruptive, especially when used by students late at night. The route utilises dimly lit alleyways and a tunnel which are not overlooked and which are intimidating after dark. In addition, the shared route is often quite narrow, and fast moving cyclists (downhill at least) are often a hazard to pedestrians.  (p.99)

I presume that this means the route along St Stephen’s Pathway, Hackington Place, Hackington Terrace, St Michael’s Road, and the Eliot pathway.  The recognition of the problem of night-time noise and disruption is welcome, but I am afraid that the suggested alternative, of acquiring the old railway embankment and turning it into a ‘tree-lined boulevard’ for a public transport system linking the campus to the north side of Canterbury West station, is a non-starter.  It would involve demolishing several houses in Beaconsfield Road and most of Hanover Place, and would in any case merely transfer the night-time noise from the front to the back of local houses.  Better to make the most of the existing pedestrian and cycle route, and tackle the problem of night-time noise in other ways which are already being explored.

Conclusion

I welcome the general approach of the Master Plan, the Design Principles on p.51, and the aspiration to create ‘the best garden campus in the UK’.  I hope that the further refinement of the Master Plan will fully take on board the feedback from the local community and will seek to enlist and harness the support of local people.

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End of Professor Norman’ Feedback

The conferencing hotel master flaw

Our fields, the trees and woods that connect with them, and  the hedges which interweave with and cut across them in such a wonderful mosaic, are now moving in full ‘midsummer mode’. This is the time of year when the fields are in many ways most alive with insect life, while the dawn and dusk choruses of its birds are still striking. As ever, it is great to be able to see all this natural energy being witnessed and experienced by large numbers of people,against the spectacular back drop of views of the Cathedral, and of the wider cityscape.

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Whether walking, running, cycling, playing or pursuing pastimes and hobbies, this is a shared green asset of extraordinary value in its current unspoilt condition.  And of course – picnics are much favoured too! Indeed in  the customary way, I have interspersed some photos here from the most recent collaborative picnic between the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society, the Abbot’s Mill Project, and Canterbury Greenpeace. This took place on Dover Down field earlier this month. Many thanks to musicians from across the Canterbury District but also from as far afield as Spain for their contributions, including the Native Oyster Band, Double Crossing,  Robert Rawson, and Elderberry Wine.

 

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Ongoing Consultation process: University master plans for Canterbury campus

This Blog is being written as the consultation process in relation to the University’s new “Conceptual Master Plan” (developed under contract to the University by the London-based architects Farrells)  proceeds. This is intended as an ideational stepping stone towards the substantive, more specific Master Plan which the University is required to submit as part of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan finalisation process. Since the last Blog, some information on the timing of this process has been provided:

  • The ongoing Conceptual Master Plan consultation process, although no deadline has been formally specified, is expected to continue until the end of this month, and possibly into August
  • There will then be “further technical and design work”, which means translating the Conceptual Master Plan into the substantive one required by Canterbury City Council for District Plan purposes. This will take place over the second part of the summer.
  • A (substantive) Master Plan draft will be presented for consultation in ‘the autumn’. (no date yet released)
  • In ‘spring 2017’, a final version will be submitted to Canterbury City Council (again, no actual date released).

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What is already known about the Conceptual Master Plan? Material can be found at https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/

You are urged to look at this for yourself. At a general level, there is much to be welcomed in these documents. For example, in terms of the suggestion that significant development activity can and should be concentrated on the central campus, which, it is argued, must be shaped to foster a more coherent and well structured sense of place.

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Crucially, an effort is also made by Farrells to develop publicly defensible “design principles” to ensure that this and other priorities can be followed through. These other values include recognition of the  overall contribution of the Canterbury campus as a green asset, and a heavily emphasis on the imperative of protecting the magnificent unspoilt vlews of the cityscape available from campus.  Interestingly, it is implied in the presentation of the materials that these “design principles”  are already adopted by the University authorities: at various points, ownership of them is stated on the University websites.

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In terms of more specific intentions, because it is at the conceptual stage, much is fuzzy and vague. Unfortunately, however, one aspect stands out a as a striking anomaly in the context of the aforementioned  “design principles”. This is the incorporation in the documents of the old idea of establishing a “Conferencing hotel” away from central campus  – in the heart of the currently unspoilt Chaucer Fields and wider Southern Slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”). There is also an additional building situated to the North East of the fields, in this case without any at all explanation (south west of Keynes bus stop).

 

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On what basis can we say the notion that a “Conferencing hotel..could be considered”  on the fields (the form of words used during presentations on the plans) is an anomaly? This will be painfully obvious to members of the local community and the University community at large, but for the avoidance of doubt, the following observations can be made:

  • the intention to keep alive  the idea of developing on these fields is inconsistent with the Conceptual Master Plan (CMPS)’s own design principles, including the idea that development should be focussed ‘at the heart’ of the campus, and that it is crucial to “safeguard existing views of historic Canterbury”
  • the CMP’s idea of potentiually locating development on these  fields directly contradicts Canterbury City Council’s proposal to give the the fields enhanced protection as expressed through the “Green Gap” status specified in the pending District Plan
  • the idea of developing  on the fields in this way is conspicuously out of line with a wide range of established indicators of local and university community (staff and students) priorities and values. As such, if pursued in practice, it would be a massive own-goal to the University authorities in terms of managing its public face, and its internal and external relations. It would undermine the credibility of any claims it might wish to make about its willingness to listen to, and work with, these  communities.

 

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If this seems overstated, it is important to remember that the University authorities have repeatedly been told – through wide ranging, strong reactions to the 2011 Planning Application, voting in University-based arenas for staff and students, and a further consultation (which ultimately led to the Turing college (Keynes III) development north of University road) – that both  the local and University communities are committed to retaining this land as unspoilt shared green space. What is more, the plan for “Green Gap” status, mentioned above, shows how this commitment has been recognised and embraced at the level of the democratic body representing Canterbury District as a whole. That is to say, Chaucer Fields as unspoilt shared green space is seen by elected local government as of high value not just for Canterbury, but for Whitstable, Herne Bay, and the surrounding villages – it is a priority for the District as a whole, and not just a matter for Canterbury.

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Morever, the Village Green Application completed earlier this year generated a vast body of evidence that these priorities go hand in hand with recognition of the fields  in their current form as exactly the sort of  high value “green asset” which needs to be protected. As unspoilt shared green space, the land has been shown to have been used for recreation, leisure and other pursuits for many decades in a way which would be compromised and undermined by any such development. Indeed, lawyers acting for the University were forced to concede  this pattern of land use within the VGA process: Even though the overall outcome was not to grant village green status, that process incidentally generated a mass of material demonstrating the high value of the land in its current unspoilt state, which the University authorities had to accept.

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Do you agree that this aspect of the Conceptual Master Plan is a mistaken, retrograde idea? Whether you do or not,  please consider expressing your  view, and  your overall reaction to the Conceptual Master Plan, in the ongoing consultation. You can do this by going to https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/contact.html or by emailing masterplan@kent.ac.uk

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To ensure that your view on the CMP will be  considered, it is probably wise to respond by the end of this month.
With best wishes
Chaucer Fielder
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

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

Dear all

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

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

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Dewy morning, Bushy Acres, october 2013

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

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

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

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

Waiting Games: Village Green Application and Local District Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foraging Update: chestnut time

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Sweet chestnuts, Dover Down field, october 2012

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

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Sweet chestnuts waiting to be foraged, october 2012

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

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Horse chestnut tree, Bushy Acres, October 2013

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

  • The game is played between two people, each with a conker. They take turns hitting each other’s conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits.
  • Scoring: The conker eventually breaking the other’s conker gains a point. This may be either the attacking conker or (more often) the defending one. A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet. If a none-er breaks another none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc.
  • In some regions the winning conker assimilates the previous score of the losing conker, as well as gaining the score from that particular game.Source: Adapted from Wikipedia  entry “Conkers”
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Horse chestnut with conker potential, Bushy Acres 2013

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

And finally…. musical endnote

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

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Late coming June 2013 CFPS Blog

Dear all

A CFPS Blog hasn’t been published for some time – nearly 2 months in fact! Sorry about that. I’ll focus on one main issue: the draft District Plan; but also at the bottom is an update on the opportunity to find out more about the archaeological dig now ongoing to prepare the ground for the Keynes III development. I’ll intersperse with some pictures mainly from the last picnic, beating of the bounds; but also how the fields have looked recently; and the repaired bench, where some of the best views over  the landscape can be had.  The weather has been a bit gloomy today, hopefully the images  will add a bit of brightness to a drab and grey day!

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May blossom on an old Southern Slopes apple tree, presumably dating from Mount’s Nursery days in the mid 20th century (long before the University existed)

Local (District) Plan: Consultation, University Master Plan draft policy, SHLAA sites

Today is the day on which the consultation over Canterbury City Council (CCC)’s District Plan and associated policy formally begins, please click on CCC Planning Consultation Page for more . Most readers will be aware that this is the most significant policy document in relation to planning, place, landscape and environment to emerge at local government for Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay, and all the villages for years, and will be the main frame of reference for decision making  for the next two decades. Accordingly, its substantive content and priorities are absolutely crucial for the quality of life and environment of local communities well into the future  (and long beyond the timeframe of local and national elections).It is good to know that local people and interested parties have a  relatively generous timeframe for responding to the plan – until the end of August. This seems proportionate, given the significance of the document.

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Picknickers on Dover Down field, Chaucer fields ,5th may 2013

This process of engagement  is very much needed. That’s because, in general, the Local Plan is highly controversial, not least because  the claims made within it about the scale of housing need are contested by many informed observers. It also provides an opportunity for anyone who believes the cases for concentrated house building on several key greenfield sites have not been sufficiently  made, and that the deleterious potential consequences of proceeding with them have not been recognised, to express their views (individually, and through local groups, including residents’ associations, and environmental and heritage groups).

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Richard Navarro and fellow musicians of all ages, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

I have my own provisional views on these general issues, and will submit a representation to the process in due course, But for now, I simply feel the need to be much better informed. If you are in the same boat, you may consider attending an upcoming event: the Canterbury Society is organising  a “Local Plan Open Meeting” at the United Reformed Church Hall in Watling Street at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 25 June. Attenders will have the chance to pose questions to both the political and delivery leadership of CCC (John Gilbey and Colin Carmichael). This is an open meeting, all are welcome. please do try  to come if  you can.

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Impromptu football game on Dover  Down field, Chaucer fields, at picnic, 5th may 2013

How are Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes treated in the draft Local Plan? In my opinion, there’s one very sensible but under-reported policy proposal in the Plan, which goes with the grain of a suggestion made on this Blog last year, in turn picking up on an idea long promoted by the Canterbury Society and other knowledgeable local groups. CCC is proposing that the University be required to develop and publicly present a Master Plan for campus development.(see draft policy EMP7 UKC masterplan. for the precise wording used at present ).

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Climbing an oak tree, Dover down field, picnic 5th may 2013

This is good news for both the host and university communities, because it would mean the piecemeal, ad hoc and disjointed approach taken in recent years, shying away from rational comparison of alternative options, and eschewing systematic critical scrutiny, would in future be considered unacceptable. Indeed, it is very difficult  to see how the original  2011 Chaucer Fields proposals, and arguably even the 2012 Keynes III proposals, could  have been countenanced if such a strategic framework document had existed. In my view, it is just a shame that it may take the strong arm of local government mandate, rather than the University’s  own responsible voluntary initiative, to ensure this level of transparency and accountability is set in place for the future (for the benefit of both communities).

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Bounds-beating St Dunstan’s parishioners, lead by Reverend Mark Ball,  trying to clarify location of ancient boundary with St Stephen’s parish , 5th may 2013

Various other aspects of the District Plan and the associated appraisals are clearly potentially relevant for the future of Southern Slopes too. But the single most obvious and direct implication is how CCC have responded to the University’s suggestion that the land could be used for extensive residential housing development, a proposal in the system from several years ago, even while the Chaucer Conference Centre etc proposals were also being mooted (this is confused and confusing; see CFPS discusson of  the SHLAA for an earlier attempt to clarify). Despite the University of Kent’s offer, for now at least it seems that CCCare intending to rule out this proposal.

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Young picnic enthusiast explaining significance of picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Why the provisional rejection?  This seems to be because CCC have affirmed their recognition, following a ‘technical’ analysis by AMEC consultants (see SHLAA-sites-Analysis), that the unspoilt land here is of real landscape and environmental  significance for the District (an analysis consistent also with the values implicit in the draft landscape appraisal documents accompanying the District Plan)

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English bagpipes, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may

This can be contrasted with the submission written by the heads of the University Estates department, and submitted to CCC last  year, as part of the earlier round of intelligence gathering to inform the District Plan. This bizarrely inward looking document (which was not considered or signed off by the University Council prior to submission) finds no room at all to account for landscape, environmental or social considerations. It is framed entirely as if the ‘business case’ of the University,  narrowly construed in reductionist terms, is all that matters (Click Submission to the CCC Local Plan 131112 REDACTED for the publicly available version of the Estates department’s submission, obtained  by Chaucer Fielder through a Freedom of Information request, ).

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Young picnic enthusiast still explaining picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Coming back to the AMECreport, personally I would have liked to see more recognition given  to the benefits of the unspoilt land here as local green open space with demonstrably very high amenity, recreational and leisure value for both the host and University communities. However,  the fact that CCC does give significant weight at least to landscape and environmental considerations in this context  is encouraging.

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Picnickers and St Dunstan’s bounds-beaters cross paths, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

Moreover, if these characteristics are considered important in deciding about whether development is permissible for residential housing proposals, they would also need to be recognised as important if any future planning application for a conference centre/hotel or student accommodation does materialise in the months ahead. (This is also hinted at in the material elsewhere in the draft Local Plan on tourism). Otherwise, the policy in relation to the character and value of this land could be characterised as inconsistent and incoherent.

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Buttercups, and may flower (hawthorn) in Jack Cade’s carvet, Bushy Acres, Chaucer fields, early June 2013

Indeed, it could be speculated that the expected planning application for a University conference centre/hotel etc has itself failed to materialise as forecast because of how the residential housing suggestion is dealt with in the draft Local Plan. That’s to say, perhaps we have seen no application because the pro-development group in the University has itself finally understood that decision making in this setting is now demonstrably not  just about their narrowly construed ‘the business case’, but must also factor in other, broader criteria which relate to the public interest. (Although it is the future rather than the current local plan which we are considering, it is relevant because it send a clear message about CCC’s general ‘direction of policy travel’ to both current and future developers).

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Cathedral view with Southern Slopes, prior to recent bench repair, early spring 2013

We could also expect that the situation could be evolving internally in terms of the balance of power between leading individual figures in the University’s power structures.The views of the main public champion of the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal and co-author of the aforementioned Estates Department submission, Professor Keith Mander, are becoming less relevant as he is soon to be replaced.

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Cathedral view and Southern Slopes, with new bench, later in  spring 2013 (with thanks to the front line staff of the Estates Department for the repair, and looking after the place)

However, for now this must all remain speculation. It is still quite possible that the University will still submit a planning application for  the Chaucer Conference Centre in the months ahead:its track record is not encouraging, after all.  Moreover, it is also still possible that the Southern Slopes, while rejected provisionally as a site for mass residential housing development at this stage, could come back onto the agenda in a later, revised version of the plan.

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Cathedral and Marlowe theatre viewed from Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

It needs to be remembered that this is still a draft, and further development sites could theoretically be added between now and the finalisation of the Plan. It may well be that a coalition of developer and pro-developer interests in the University could seek to  exert  pressure  on CCC to reconsider, even though it has already articulated clear reasons for rejecting the site for development. Those of us who wish to see the Southern Slopes continue to be respected and protected as unspoilt space,will need to be vigilant,continuing to monitor planning applications and the trajectory of the Local Plan as it moves from its current draft status towards the finalised version in the month ahead.

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Chilling and climbing trees, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields picnic 5th may 2013

Archaeological Developments at Keynes III: Date for your Diaries

In the last Blog, I alerted readers to the significance of the ongoing excavations of the  Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) on the Keynes III site, which seem likely to be running for a good deal of the summer period.  I am pleased to report that CAT are arranging for an open day on Thursday 25th July.  This will be an exciting opportunity to learn more about our local pre-history. There will be tours of the site, and a chance to look at the finds. CAT want as many people as possible to attend. Please do get in touch by emailing chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to participate.  .

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Blackcap at bottom of Bushy Acres field, southern part of Chaucer Fields, June 2013

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic society

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Favourite climbing oak in sea of buttercups, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

Postscript: Some of you attended and enjoyed the Roystercatcher’s ceilidh, raising funds for the Save Chaucer Fields group, last november. I am pleased to let you know there’ll be an informal Roystercatchers ceilidh this saturday 22 June, 7pm-9pm, St Dunstans church hall. Entry is only £3, and although not an SCF-CFPS fundraising event, it will be a chance to meet friends from the fields and catch up on news. Please find here a practice ceilidh poster june 2013. Please email roystercatchers@gmail.com  if you would like to come along.

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

One White Sugar University Road view

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

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

No news: expected Chaucer Conference Centre planning application

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

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

Unspoilt Southern  Slopes Imagery 

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

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

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

A Pesticide Free Zone

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

XXX Dover Down Field, late may

Small Copper,  Dover Down Field, late may 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working on the Keynes III site, mid April 2013

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

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Honey bee, Dover Down field, mid april 2013

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

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

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

  • updates on finds as the excavation unfolds; and
  • opportunities for the local and university communities to get actively involved as volunteers in the process of revealing our past.
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Buds on one of the apple trees presumably dating back to Mount’s nursery days earlier in the 20th century. Central southern part of  chaucer fields, april 2013

Kent Union election for sabbatical officers 2013/14

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

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

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

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

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

Bee, Dover Down field

Honey Bee, Dover Down field, end of may 2012

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

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

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

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

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan's church, June 2012

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

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

Beating bounds from Foxworthy

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society