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

 

 

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

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #3

This is the third of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department, which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. 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, these Blogs hope 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 was put forward by Professor Christopher Rootes, a leading international expert on the political and social aspects of environmental issues, and a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images relate to musical  picnics ad events which have unfolded on the fields over recent years.

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Beginning of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

I welcome the proposals in the CMP to preserve the landscape values of the campus, and to establish design principles to guide the design qualities of new / replacement buildings. Thus the plan promises to preserve the strongest positive appeal of the estate (its green landscapes and views over the city) and to mitigate the weakest (the poor design quality and functionality of most existing buildings). In particular, I applaud the statement (p.59): ‘Whilst advocating the enhancement of the University’s relationship with the City, special care should be taken to preserve the character of the University as satellite of the City, and to nurture the views of historic Canterbury, which are one of the most delightful features of the Campus.’ That said, the specific proposals too often show little appreciation of the qualities of the existing campus and would impose a ‘rationalisation’ that is in many respects subversive of those qualities.

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The CMP recognises that ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting. Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury.’ These, surely, are invaluable assets that should be preserved. The ‘spaces to be considered for development’ include almost all the remaining woodland remnants in and around the central campus. Yet it is these that most enhance the central campus and give relief from the unattractive buildings that neighbour / surround them. The woodland fringe to the north of Giles Lane and along Parkwood Road, and the copse between Jarman and Keynes are a few examples – ‘rationalising’ these spaces, or building on them, would greatly diminish the visual appeal of those parts of the campus, and the sense of well-being that they presently impart. Likewise, further development in the green space to the south of the Library (between Eliot and Rutherford) would compromise one of the iconic views of the cathedral from the campus.

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I find it very odd that existing green spaces are considered ‘too homogenous’, yet the plan is to give the university greater ‘identity’ by ‘rationalising’ it. In fact, there is a considerable variety of green spaces on the campus, and it is mostly the relatively recently planted ones that could be said to be ‘too homogenous’. Preserving diversity is important, but it could be enhanced by better landscaping of some of the recently planted areas rather than wholesale redevelopment. The correlation between ‘quality of place’ and ‘university performance’ as presented in the draft is almost certainly spurious. The main driver of ‘performance’ (measured here by rank order in a league table) is academic performance in teaching and research, and in student recruitment; Kent’s lower ranking than its peer group mainly reflects early decisions about subject mix and subsequent investment in academic development. Moreover, giving the lie to the claimed correlation, the university has been rising in the rankings without any notable improvement in ‘quality of place’. The idea that the hideously over-developed urban space of Lancaster gives it greater ‘quality of place’ than Kent now is, to me, laughable. Kent has, as the CMP’s remarks about its greenness and landscape setting make clear, unique advantages that make such comparisons meaningless.

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I really do not understand the enthusiasm in the CMP for Jarman Square (existing or enlarged) and a new ‘Darwin Square’. The existing hard-landscaped space around Jarman is, to me, one of the least attractive places on the campus, and I struggle to see it as either very useful or even potentially attractive, especially in Kent’s term-time weather. Squares were, historically, parade grounds and, unless someone is envisaging an improbable revival of revolutionary student activity, such spaces really do not deserve a place on a modern university campus. Better by far to develop new, smaller, more intimate spaces to which students and staff might develop attachment and which they might actually use.  I really do not see the need for ‘formal, ceremonial spaces’.

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The idea that the Darwin Square will be associated with a ‘new eastern pedestrian entrance to the campus’ is mystifying, particularly because the narrowness and steepness of, and heavy traffic on, St Stephen’s Hill make this a very unsuitable point for a new principal entrance. I am also sceptical of the value of a central street fronted by shops and cafes. Universities are not shopping centres and do not seem likely to become so, and cafes and restaurants (notably poor at Kent) are better located in quieter and more ‘defensible’ nooks in various places on the campus.

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The ambition ‘to build a reputation ‘The Best Garden Campus in the U.K.’’ is familiar – it was tried some 25 years ago and was responsible for much of the poor / mediocre landscaping and planting from which the campus now suffers. It would be much better to preserve and enhance the woodlands, to make Kent the UK’s best woodland campus. Now, that could be truly magnificent.

jamming musicians Jeremy photoThe thing I find most disturbing in the CMP is the proposals for the ‘Parklands’. The landscape value of the historic buildings is admitted, but the significance of their historic status and their relationship to the historic relationship between the site and the city and Cathedral is not. The area between Beverley Farmhouse and the city is especially sensitive in this respect, sited as it is as the northern end of what remains of the ancient trackway from the Cathedral to Blean Woods. For this reason, I am opposed to any suggestion that ‘the Parklands will also provide a location for the continued development of new buildings and other facilities as and when appropriate.’ Such development simply cannot be compatible with the preservation of the key landscape and cultural values of the site. I would be very skeptical that ‘Such buildings will be designed as ‘landscape buildings’ or ‘pavilions in the landscape’; that might work in formal gardens, but on a hilly, partly wooded site such as thus where views over the city are of such value, it would be much better, surely, to preserve these sites and to lightly manage to improve their existing landscape value. The area formerly referred to as ‘the Southern slopes’ also has clear value as a green buffer between the city and the university, and is highly prized as a local green space in a part of the city that is otherwise relatively deprived in that respect. The preservation and enhancement of such unimproved green space should be a high priority for the university and the city.

Concrete Lung (Navarro & Power) live on site!

The hugely popular song “Concrete Lung” (See BlogRoll) performed live on site by locally renowned musician Richard Navarro and BBC Folk award winner Brendan Power

One disappointing aspect of the CMP is its lack of clear proposal for cross-campus cycle routes. Even within the core campus, it is difficult to get from one end to the other in the time between lectures and seminars, and for those of us who are dependent on bicycles, this is an obvious area for urgent improvement.

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I have refrained from commenting on the CMP’s proposals for the ‘Northern lands’, partly because I know this presently undeveloped area less well, but also because the proposals appear to be so contrary to a variety of planning guidelines – e.g., those against ribbon development (as development along the Tyler Hill Link Road would be); those protecting existing footpaths and cycleways (of which the Crab and Winkle Way is a nationally important example); those protecting the landscape setting of historic buildings (sucha s the church of St Cosmus and St Damien in the Blean). I would be surprised if planners would permit any such development on or accessed via the Tyler Hill Link Road. Developments on the existing fields closer to and accessible from Parkwood Road would seem much more likely to gain planning permission.

End of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #2

This is the second of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD), which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. 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 make available. 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, these Blogs hope 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 was put forward by Dr William Rowlandson, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, who has acted on green/environmental issues for the main staff trade union, the University & College Union (UCU).  Dr Rowlandson is a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images from the fields are of Butterflies,  all taken on the fields over the past five years. In the light of today’s landmark report from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology that we are facing ongoing, accelerating problems of decline, it is an obvious and apposite step to highlight the unspoilt fields’ value and beauty in this  sense. This is  just one of many of its advantages for wildlife, witnessed and cherished  daily by members of the University and local communities.

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Beginning of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

 I applaud the plans for the Campus Heart. The need for development of this central area is well articulated: a central thoroughfare, a more identifiable entrance, replacing or refurbishment of existing buildings. All, to me, seems fine. The plans for The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings are based upon some misdirected apprehensions, and are very concerning. The university is ‘blessed with an abundance of green spaces’ (37). ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting’ 39). It is heartening to see that recognised. However, ‘the green spaces within the campus are rather homogenous and repetitious, and this lack of variety means that the university under-achieves in terms of its campus character and personality’ (37). This is troublesome. Surely the value of green spaces is that they are, precisely, green spaces. There is mention of vulnerability to inclement weather. Well trees are a perfect cover for bad weather. It would seem ludicrous to remove the woodland.

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‘Access to green space is available but their use is not encouraged’ (37). There are excellent paths through all the woodland. If people like to walk in the woodland then they need no encouragement. That these wooded spaces ‘lack animation or passive surveillance’ and ‘are not perceived as safe’ (37) is again precisely because they are woodland. That is their charm. One cannot set up security cameras in dense wood.

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Here we move to the very troublesome bit: ‘Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury. These have an as yet unfulfilled potential to become great assets for the University and the surrounding communities’ (39). The woodland and field system are already great assets. Adaptation of their central feature as woodland and field system is not improvement. It is adaptation. It is development. A woodland is not improved by cutting back trees. A field is not improved by building in it. They cease to be what they are and become something different.

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‘Currently many of the existing areas of green landscape are ‘organic’ in nature, and are ill-defined and under-used whilst lacking variety. Much of this landscape is protected as woodland from development or adaptation’ (56). It is revealing that the fields and woods are seen as unfulfilled potential. This is a dangerous ideological position akin to seeing untapped oil reserves in the arctic as unfulfilled potential or shale gas as crying out for fracking. Have any of the architects or the university planners sat quietly alone in the woods in the Northern Land Holdings? If so they may well perceive a very dynamic environment that beautifully reflects seasonal changes and demonstrates great biodiversity. I also refute the notion that competitor universities have an edge over Kent because of exploitation of their natural land. If anything, I think that Kent can raise its profile as a green university by developing the Campus Heart whilst leaving the wilder aspects of the campus wild.

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If the university is keen, as stated, to preserve good relations with the city and the community, then the plans to build on the treasured so-called ‘Chaucer Fields’ betray a very different ambition. It suggests effectively trampling on many years of local opposition to the planned development in the valuable southern slopes. My conclusion is that the plans for the Campus Heart are good. I find the tone of the narrative with regard The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings very troubling, and indicative of a ruthless and ill-sighted desire for financial return over environmental and ecological concerns.

End of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

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Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #1

Since the last CFPS Blog, when our fields were at the height of their midsummer splendour, with uncut grass, buzzing insects, and trees and hedgerows brimming with natural life and energy, things have moved on.  As we now move away from summer, the trees are just beginning to feel autumnal, and the atmosphere has gradually adopted a lower key.

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Meanwhile, a very different feel characterises the time horizons of policy and planning at the level of the University institutions and the world they inhabit. Things are slowly hotting up! The deadline for consultation over the “Conceptual Master Plan” proposed earlier in the summer (see previous Blogs) –  announced belatedly towards the end of august –  has now passed. And we are  entering a period during which the University authorities will need to decide how to respond to the feedback they have received. How will they learn from this evidence and argument? Which of the  “concepts” will they retain, and which will they jettison in the light of this information? This is, of course, just the latest round of feedback concerning the views of the local and University communities concerning the future of the fields in particular: both communities have, repeatedly  over the past five years, made clear that they are committed to the retention of this land as unspoilt shared green space,  a “green gap” or “green lung” for the enjoyment and appreciation of all. Crucially, this is also a  commitment recognised by  elected local representatives , at Canterbury City Council, in the draft District Plan.

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The current Master Plan process, however, looks at the campus as a whole. It is interesting to see that this agenda  has already provided momentum for the formation of a new, Blean-based group, seeking to situate both the University of Kent’s Canterbury master plan and that of Canterbury Christ Church in a broader political context, both locally and nationally. Readers of this Blog are encouraged to visit their “University Challenged” site, reflect on its implications and relevance to them, and potentially contribute to the debate as it takes shape there. It should be underlined that what is in focus here is the entirely of the University’s Canterbury land holdings, extending hundreds of acres far to the North (beyond Park Wood, sports pitches, and Brotherhood Wood ) and over to the East (fields and woods beyond St Stephen’s hill/Canterbury Hill). This is way beyond  the familiar blue-sign demarcated area (which the casual observer might reasonably assume constituted the relevant area.) This follows from the University authorities’ decision to quietly but systematically acquire vast swathes of  agricultural land in recent years.

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So, a new climate of questioning and challenge may be emerging. This must be a healthy , and indeed rather overdue development. Powerful institutions of all types, whether Universities, corporations or national media conglomerates will, after all, tend to resist learning from their mistakes, become self-referential and pursue narrow institutional interests, unless exposed to critical scrutiny and held to account for their plans and actions. Commentary and critique emerging  from affected local people  can and should be integral to that  process, alongside the role of the local media, and in our case, Canterbury’s extraordinary concentration of associations, charities and NGOs with relevant expertise (for example, the specialist knowledge of the Canterbury Society, and the front line everyday experience of  myriad community and environmental groups – see CFPS Blogroll examples).

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Against this backdrop, this Blog  – and further Blogs which will soon follow – will give a flavour of just a segment of the feedback submitted to the University’s Corporate Communications department  over the past couple of months. It will present comments from some respondents from  the local / University communities who are committed to the retention of the fields as unspoilt shared green space. Of course, such respondents also hold  views about other aspects of the Conceptual Master Plan too. The contributions will be presented here uncut, exactly as they were directly expressed to the University authorities, so covering feedback on the entire Conceptual Master Plan. Material relating directly to the fields, however, will be highlighted in bold for ease of navigation.

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In terms of the overall picture that will emerge in the weeks ahead, it is worth noting that attempts are currently being made by residents associations working with the University authorities  to ensure that the  the aggregate results of the exercise, when collated, can be shared, and presented in a fair and balanced way. Let us hope that the University authorities agree to communicate openly, transparently and in a spirit of real collaboration.  In the meantime, the perspectives offered in this series of Blogs may give a preliminary sense of the flavour of some of the issues which will be at stake.

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Rather than the usual seasonal, close-to-real time photos, the images from the fields interspersed with this text for these Blogs will be thematic, drawing together material gathered over the past 5 or so years by the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society.  As you may have already noticed, the joy of tree climbing is the theme for this Blog, but the ones to follow will focus on other aspects of life on the unspoilt fields. All will be revealed!

best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Beginning of Feedback Example #1

The Conceptual Master Plan contains some sensible and welcome ideas, especially  where the University’s willingness to follow the consultant’s recommended design principles is manifested in the ideational proposals: so, concentrating development in the centre of campus, enhancing a sense of place through better signage and structure, recognising the green asset value of the campus, and protecting the views from campus of the Cathedral and cityscape are all sound ideas. However, there are six major problems too.

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First, central campus’s potential to better meet conferencing needs is not considered, but it is arbitrarily assumed that ‘parklands’ is an appropriate site. This undermines the whole logic of the conceptual plan (see sixth point below). Second, the proposals in relation to the Crab & Winkle seem to exhibit a lack of understanding of the landscape, and are apparently disconnected from the reality of how this route is used in practice, and how it is valued and enjoyed in everyday use (without the need for costly hands on ‘development’) in its current form.

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Third, the fuzzy representations of building possibilities on some parts of campus implies the loss of significant swathes of woodland, and alarmingly when presenting the proposals the consultants admitted in this context that they were not sufficiently familiar with the campus to be aware of these consequences (University officials remained silent on this point). Fourth, there is bizarrely little consideration of the situation regarding already-developed Park Wood, where there is scope for heightened meeting of accommodation need (hence relieving pressure on other sites) by efficient replacement of existing delapidated and poorly designed stock.

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Fifth, the plans are weak on the issue of parking. The opportunity for imaginative thinking here, including underground options for parking zones, is left unrealised. (To anticipate the routine response that the costs of this are prohibitive: why is this a standard option for meeting parking needs in many other situations where space pressure is intense? Also note that underground parking goes with the logic of the plan in relation to consolidation of a quasi-urban core).

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Sixth, the plan’s contemplation of the idea of situating development (a “conferencing hotel” and two other structures) on chaucer fields and the southern slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”) is a disastrous misjudgement. There are several reasons for this. It undermines the integrity of the conceptual plan, because it demonstrably violates that plan’s own design principles in relation to strategic views, spatial concentration of development, and green asset recognition and protection  – priorities that give the plan coherence. It therefore makes the exercise look cynical, ad hoc and inconsistent – fundamental historical problems which the whole notion of the Master Plan was meant to address. Furthermore, the “Parklands” element directly contradicts the priorities and values of the local (geographical) community, the University community, and expert opinion made known to the University authorities on several occasions over the past 5 years across a range of consultative, legal and planning arenas. In addition, it also contradicts the democratically mandated designation of this space as a green gap in the draft District Plan – a designation which has made clear that preservation of this place as unspoilt shared green space is a priority not just for immediate residents and the university community, but for the District as a whole.

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It must be concluded that to carry this element of the proposals forward into the substantive Master Plan would be inconsistent with the basic function of that Plan; spectacularly undermine any claims University authorities might wish to make as to their good stewardship of one of the most attractive of English university campuses; and damage profoundly the University authorities’ relationship with each of the aforementioned geographical, workplace and expert communities.

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End of Feedback Example #1