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

Dear all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

RESPONSE TO UNIVERSITY OF KENT MASTERPLAN FINAL DRAFT

 

  1. General response: Lesson drawing opportunities and implications

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Stage 2 Framework Masterplan – submission example

Dear all

Many thanks to everyone who got involved with the latest consultation process, whether old hands or new enthusiasts! There has been powerful feedback submitted, and a great sense of shared commitment and determination in evidence from across the local and university communities.

This Blog presents one of the submissions made in defence of retaining the unspoilt fields as shared green space, and for not building a commercial hotel on Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (now called “University Rise” in the latest version of the plan).  It makes the case in terms of green heritage value and key policy parameters (the District Plan, the Masterplan, and the University’s own policy). It also points to the extraordinary lack of evidence  in terms of  the supposed case for the hotel proposal –  even as a narrowly understood economic proposition.

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The opportunity is also taken to brighten up the Blog once again with some recent pictures from parts of the unspoilt fields which would be most directly affected if the proposal proceeds. These are either from within the wooded site at the top of Dover Down field (mixed mature maples, oaks and yews) that the conferencing hotel would destroy; or perspectives taken from below or above this immediate site. It is very clear that situating the hotel here in incompatible with respecting these fields’ unique green heritage value,  would wreck the treasured beauty and tranquillity of this space, and would undermine irreversibly the integrity of the ‘green gap’. It would of course also set a precedent for further “development” in the years ahead (the so-called “thin edge of the wedge” argument.)

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SUBMISSION (SLIGHTLY EDITED) BEGINS

Like many others in the local residential and university communities, I have been shocked and appalled to see the resurrection of the proposal to situate [a conferencing hotel] south of University Road, on Chaucer Fields in the context of the Masterplan. Not only do these plans directly contradict the stated goals of the Masterplan itself, undermining its credibility and integrity overall (drawing attention from some otherwise sensible content within it). They are also self-evidently out of line with the expressed commitment to protect this place as an integral part of the ‘green gap’, ‘green belt’ or ‘green lung’ articulated on numerous occasions over the past seven years by the following groups:

  • University staff (expressed through support for a UCU motion to protect the fields in 2012, and re-affirmed in the staff expert focus group conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • University students (expressed through the all student vote in 2012, and reaffirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Experts from local government (affirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Experts from local civil society and voluntary groups (through representations made throughout the period from 2011 onwards, and most recently affirmed in the expert spatial workshop conducted at stage 1 of the Masterplan process in 2017)
  • Local residents groups, in close proximity to the proposed development site
  • Other local residents groups, from across the wider District
  • Individual people, who are neither current staff not students, nor members of residents’ associations, but a key part of the broader public from across the wider District and beyond, including alumni, former staff members, and other members of the community at large without direct University connections.
  • Canterbury City Council, which sought to heighten the protections already in place for this place as part of the District Plan finalisation process with its ‘green gap’ proposal.

 

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The commitments and values here are extremely well known and well documented, and reflect the irreplaceable status of the unspoilt Chaucer Fields resulting from a combination of this place’s exceptional value as a shared aesthetic, cultural, environmental, heritage and social (contributing to wellbeing and cohesion) resource, as recognised by the aforementioned “stakeholders”. Indeed, one of the most troubling aspects of the re-emergence of this proposal at the current time is that the University authorities can no longer claim that the evidence in support of these stakeholder perspectives in not utterly overwhelming. We now have literally hundreds of statements, representations, and testimonials to this effect, from lay people and experts alike, as a result of the reviews conducted over the past seven years. In the case of lay knowledge and experience, this includes (but is not limited to) the evidence tested through Kent County Council’s quasi-judicial village green application process, which affirmed that a meaningful ‘community’ can be identified with this place as a whole (including the land now proposed as the hotel site).  This quasi-judicial review also verified the extent to which the unspoilt green land here has been used for decades for beneficial recreational, amenity, and leisure pursuits.

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In the body of the [text] below I wish to emphasise three overarching sets of considerations: (a) heritage and cultural factors (b) the economic/business dimension; and (c) policy related matters.  (a) and (c) jointly reinforce one another and suggest that building a commercial Conferencing hotel and related facilities on Chaucer Fields  would be profoundly mistaken, and a violation of policy priorities at the level of both local government, and the University itself.  As to (b), since no information or evidence has been made available in support of hotel development – and there was silence on this matter at stage 1 of the Masterplan process –  all we can do is lament the damage done to the University’s reputation by the opaque way it has proceeded, as set out below.

 

(a) Heritage and Culture[1]

This land has remarkable resonance and value from this perspective not only at the District level, but at the County level too. This follows from:

  • the ways in which the gentle but varied topography has shaped the organic emergence of a beautiful ‘semi natural’ balance between nature and man;
  • the wide range of wildlife which makes Chaucer Fields its home, or use it as a staging post as the seasons and weather change;
  • the existence of tantalising myths about the site in the local community (for example, are some of the features of the site even anticipated in the Doomsday book?);
  • the strong existing sense of identity growing out of the demonstrable appreciation of this land by local people of all types;
  • the remarkable imprint of layers of history – from the obvious mediaeval field structure, and the connection with the Kentish yeoman farming tradition (following from the site’s connections with Beverley Farm), to ways in which the use of some of the land for orchards and market gardening purposes in the twentieth century are also in evidence;
  • The accessibility of this site to people from all directions, and the extent to which it provides an arena or ‘public realm’ which these people share.

This combination of  factors trace out a distinctly Kentish legacy, and underscore this site’s significance to the people of Kent, not just people who currently live close to it in Canterbury and the District.[2] It is clear from all this evidence and argument here that the development of a hotel and conference centre cannot be undertaken here without destroying this remarkably rich semi-natural legacy.

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(b) Economic and ‘business case’ considerations

There were serious weaknesses with the economic and ‘business case’ aspects of the hotel/conferencing facility aspect of the 2011/12 planning application, and many of the assumptions and claims being made at the time were not considered robust. In relation to the current Masterplan, unfortunately, no substantive information has been made available at all. Despite repeated requests from members of the local and university communities, the Masterplan Team have failed to present any documentation, analysis or reports outlining the case, in systematic terms and under current economic conditions, for proceeding with a conferencing hotel on campus. Worse still, the Masterplan Team also failed to evidence the assertions made repeatedly during the consultation events that such a facility (i) must be essentially commercial in character, and not integrated with the core educational and research functions of the University; and (ii) can only be situated on Chaucer Fields, rather than on any of the other available potential sites on campus (there are many). Instead, when questions were asked they were deflected with anecdotal ad hoc claims, and vague evocations that the undisclosed models/materials have found favour with ‘experts’ from the hotel and conferencing sector, and the ‘business community’. This level of opacity and evasiveness makes a mockery of the University authorities’ often repeated claims to be committed to such basic values as open communication and dialogue with its stakeholders; accountability; and responsiveness to the local and university communities.

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(c) The Policy arguments against the proposal for the conferencing hotel are at several levels

    • Planning Policy as per Canterbury City Council’s District Plan: The proposal demonstrably violates both general policy principles (relating to landscape policy, open space and amenity policies; as well as the heritage considerations already considered above) of the District Plan; and the detailed applications of policy specific to this site as they have evolved in recent years. One key example from the latter category are the guidelines requiring not only the resistance of site fragmentation and respect for traditional field structure patterns on the Southern Slopes, but their active strengthening. Another example is the extent to which retention of the open woods and fields in this particular place is crucial, due to this specific locality’s relative deprivation of amenity land and open space.[3]When account is taken of both these general principles, and the particularities as they relate to Chaucer Fields as integral to the unspoilt Southern Slopes, it becomes impossible to see how any claim could be made that the hotel proposal respects Canterbury City Council’s landscape, open spaces and amenity policies.

 

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    • Masterplan Priorities The whole purpose of the Masterplan process it to stabilise and offer a coherent sense of direction to what had previously been a chaotic and piecemeal approach to campus planning and development as pursued by the University authorities to date. It is intended to complement and support the legally pivotal District Plan.

 

The first observation about the Framework Masterplan, therefore, is that the inclusion of the conferencing hotel proposal on the Chaucer Fields site within it would have the opposite effect to that envisaged when the Masterplan became a requirement of local policy. This is because, as set out above, the proposal violates the District Plan’s priorities in relation to landscape, amenity and open space policy. Hence, retaining this as a possibility within the Framework Masterplan would embed an anomalous and contradictory element within the Plans, create costly uncertainty for the years to 2031, and make it difficult or impossible for the plans to function together in a stable and coherent way.

 

A second consideration is that the proposal directly contradicts what is probably the single most important aspect of the Masterplan (which has been widely welcomed by both local and university communities, and by expert opinion):  the imperative that development should be concentrated on the central campus/at the campus heart. Because Chaucer Fields and the proximate Southern Slopes are far from central campus, allowing the positioning of a hotel, and associated facilities here, directly undermines this core commitment, and further weakens the Masterplan.

 

A third consideration relates to many of the more specific supporting commitments and values emerging from the Stage one process. If the hotel proposals were to be retained, then these supporting values will have been undermined, and the credibility of the entire Masterplan approach, once again, weakened. The relevant aspects here overlap with many of the preceding points, but some can still usefully be identified here: the importance of responsible and responsive stewardship of the relevant land because of its landscape value; respect for how local people wish to protect and enhance their quality of life on a day to day basis (linking to amenity and open space); and respect for shared green heritage.  These important values will be seen to be fulfilled if and only if the Chaucer Fields conferencing hotel proposals are removed from the Masterplan; otherwise, they will not only ring hollow, but will have been actively undermined by the inclusion of this anomaly.

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    • University strategic policies As a non-profit higher educational institution, the University is a complex organisation, constantly evolving to balance a range of challenging educational, research oriented, social, cultural, environmental and economic considerations. In this context, it is worth clarifying what we know currently about how this balance can and should be struck, from the perspective of the University’s own governance institutions. Two aspects are especially pertinent:

First, we should not lose sight of the fact that the original decisions by the University Council to allow a hotel proposal to move forward, in 2011 and 2012, were not framed as offering executive planners a free rein to pursue unrestrained commercial activity. Rather, the decision was conditional on the hotel operating in such a way as to secure functional integration with the University’s core functions of education and research, and it was envisaged this would have particular advantages under conditions of economic uncertainty. It is unclear, therefore,  how the implied model of “unencumbered income generation”,  not directly related to University mission, as evoked at consultation events, is compatible with the foundational University Council decision.

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Second, there is rightly an increased emphasis in emerging strategic University policy (known as “Kent 2025”) on what is being called “civic mission”. Some of this is oriented towards the regional, national and international levels, but the University authorities are now also seeking to claim that, in order to protect reputation in a fast changing environment, they need to be more responsive to the local host community. There are even explicit references to “opening up our campuses and resources”, “building a sense of community and engagement” and “promoting access”.  These sentiments, values and priorities resonate well with the ways in which the unspoilt shared green space at Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes have traditionally functioned –  and can continue to do so to good effect –  if this “green gap” in its current form were to be protected and respected. To destroy this legacy and pursue the anomalous hotel option on this site  would cause major reputational damage, do great harm to the  direction of  policy travel suggested in “Kent 2025”, and embed in the university’s relationships a profoundly divisive element which will be ever present for years to come.

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ENDNOTES

[1] A key source for the first set of considerations is somewhat paradoxically perhaps, contained within the body of Chapters 7 (relating to landscape) and 8 (relating to culture) of the original 2011/12 Environmental Impact Assessment. This was supposed to support the University authorities’ planning application at the time  – but in fact contained a range of material that militated strongly against it. These considerations are, it  is suggested,  as relevant now than they were 6 years ago. The analysis for the second and third set of claims builds upon that, but links it to more recent considerations.

[2] This reality was emphasised especially in Chapters 7 and 8 of the 2012 EIA (with Chapter 8 drawing on the scholarship and insights of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust).

[3] The unspoilt Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes are in close proximity to areas of local open space deprivation at the urban Ward level. As the Council’s Open Space policy has rightly surmised, this is especially the case in relation to St Stephens. This is a problem which has become more significant over the period 2012 – 2018, in the light of the development of high-volume building in St Stephens, a trend also affecting the neighbouring St Dunstans Ward.

SUBMISSION (SLIGHTLY EDITED) ENDS

 

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The discredited plans are back : Please respond!

Welcome to the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! Our fields have witnessed winter snow, the blooming of spring, and the heat of an exceptional summer since the last Blog appeared. I’ll intersperse some images in the text to capture some of the variety across the seasons this year in what follows (as well as providing a much more depressing image – see below!).

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We are now moving towards autumn, and the fields and woodlands have that transitional feel.  As the natural cycle has progressed, in what direction have we moved in terms of  the future prospects for this wonderful shared green space? With the University authorities failing to meet their promised timeline regarding stage 2 of the Masterplan, members of the local residential and University communities could be forgiven for beginning to hope that serious learning was at last taking place.  Perhaps the pause reflected not the usual institutional inertia, but instead, a willingness to listen to the feedback received through multiple events, processes and arenas over the last 7 years? In terms of the “Stage one” Masterplan process most recently, had the University authorities at last recognised that development here would undermined the integrity of the entire process, contradicting the stated principle of focussing development on the centre of campus? After years of denial about the environmental, social and heritage value of the fields in their unspoilt form, had the penny finally dropped that this was and is a special and much loved place to be cherished, and not destroyed?

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Alas, we have found out this month that nothing could be further from the truth. As has become clear , the dismissive and condescending position taken towards community sentiment, reported in the previous Blog, has been in evidence once again.  Mass opposition fed back to the University at every opportunity offered  last year  documented clearly in the University authorities’ own consultation report is being ignored, and expert opinion disregarded. (This was expressed a year ago at “Conceptual Master Plan” consultation events,  a “spatial” expert group including professionals from local government and civil society, and a staff group convened at the last minute).  Directly contradicting this input, an  option of positioning  a “Conferencing Hotel” and related facilities on the fields has not been shelved. Instead, it has been retained as part of “stage 2” of the “incremental” Masterplan process.

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Those who follow this issue closely may notice in the image below, taken from the “stage 2” option plans now belatedly revealed , that this version of  the plan would position the buildings slightly to the west of where  they had been situated in  the “stage 1”  version of 2017, a little closer to Chaucer College. But it  is crucial to note that the latest plans retain the same disastrous scale, continue to contradict the stated intentions of the Masterplan, and would have essentially the same potentially catastrophic environmental, social and aesthetic impact on our fields as the “stage one” version.

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Raising this issue since the news broke, I have found those in the local and university community who have put time and effort into responding to the University authorities over the years are now  feel betrayed and affronted. This action is seen as demonstrating  a complete failure to listen or attempt to even begin to understand what is at stake. Many find this especially galling as the University is meant to be a learning institution where, if anywhere, we should expect to find an ability to move on and learn from past mistakes.  The retention of these plans within “stage 2” of the process is viewed as symptomatic of a profound rupture between remote, inward-looking University authorities on one hand, and the University community of teaching/professional staff and students at large on the other, which in turn overlaps symbiotically with the local residential community. (Many staff live locally, and many University alumni settle in the city when their studies are complete.)

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So, overall this latest “stage 2” development is being taken to confirm a depressing pattern of continuity with the past: the same old habits of disregard for the communities who host the university and make it function; and the perpetuation of exactly the clumsy,  incoherent and damaging muddling through approach that the Masterplan process was meant to prevent. Similar perspectives can also be found in organisations representing local civil society and expert opinion in the community more broadly.

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For some, this is even a depressing sign that the University has “lost the plot” entirely in terms of its mission and social/educational responsibilities. In both social media and out and about in the District,  it is now increasingly common to hear people claim that the University is functioning as a predatory for-profit developer in all but name. It is believed to be seeking to exploit the land, originally bequeathed to it by the local statutory authorities for educational purposes fifty years ago, for narrow financial gain.  And it is thought to be hiding behind the mantle of its status as a charitable educational institution with empty rhetorical claims, as exemplified recently by its circulation of “commUNIty” newsletters. On this view, such material claiming “learning” has taken place is seen as disingenuous window dressing, cynically designed to distract, divert and deflect attention from the University authorities indefensible “expansion at any cost” practices.

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Understandably, given this perspective, many can see little point in re-engaging with yet another round of consultation. What’s the point? Why should they do so, if the process is essentially a sham? I don’t doubt many people are  exasperated! If you share this frustration – why bother making an input? The reason is simple. If we succumb to consultation fatigue and fatalism, this will be spun as acquiescence and acceptance by the University authorities, and this, in turn increases the probability that this wonderful shared green space with be lost forever. We cannot assume previous inputs into consultations processes, fora and dialogues will be given any weight at all: indeed, the track record to date suggests exactly the opposite.

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So, it is crucial that as many people as possible come forward yet again, and express (or re-express) their views and commitments once more. This may feel like this is collectively banging our heads against a brick wall. But if we do not do this, and development here is then permitted, all the efforts and energy expended in defending the fields up until now will have been for nothing.

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So please do turn your attention to the Masterplan issue!  How can you do this? Unfortunately, the current stage of the process has not been well publicised. No prominence has yet been given to it on the University’s websites or communicative media at this key stage, with information buried in obscure places. While as to dissemination to local residents via the “CommUNIty newsletter“, these were made available in mid summer,  when many people were away, and so far ahead of the events next month that it is unlikely they will have been registered with many.

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However, what we now know is that there are two ways to express your views. First, for locally based people, there are 4 events which you can attend:

  • SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER 10.00  – 16.00 at WESTGATE HALL CANTERBURY
  • THURSDAY 11TH OCTOBER 14.00 – 20.00 at TYLER HILL MEMORIAL HALL
  • FRIDAY 12TH OCTOBER  14.00 – 20.00 at BLEAN VILLAGE HALL
  • THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER 10.00 – 16.00 at : DARWIN COLLEGE CONFERENCE SUITE on the eastern side of the University’s Canterbury campus.

Please look at the  timings and dates carefully: If you can’t make the one in Canterbury two weekends from now, please note that the alternative options are close by, including 2 which run until 8pm during the week that follows.

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Second, many readers of this Blog do not live locally, and a lot now live abroad.  If you are in this position, it appears that you can still email your feedback. The  email address – masterplan@kent.ac.uk  is provided on the Masterplan website here. (The website resources in relation to this process have been poorly organised, seem to have moved unpredictably between different addresses over time, and are hard to navigate.  But the information above seems to be accurate at the time of writing).

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If you go the email route, please can I suggest that you request an email acknowledgement and ask explicitly how your input will be used? I say this, because this is not clear from the University’s masterplan website. But if you are being generous enough with your time to make a contribution, you surely deserve at a basic minimum this sort of recognition and response.  Comments will be added to this Blog, or included in a later Blog, if any clarity is subsequently offered by the University authorities on this matter.

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Finally, please do feel free to mine the CFPS Blogs to inform your perspective and support your contributions. Although I suspect most of you will not need to do so, as you have plenty to offer based on your own experience and knowledge!

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society