Picnic report…& endorsement from “spatial” expert workshop for retention of unspoilt character of Southern slopes

What a great summer picnic! This event on Dover Down field, the 6th since the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society was formed,  and the 4th in collaboration with the Abbots Mill Project and Canterbury Greenpeace, was one of the best yet. All the usual ingredients were to be found. Blessed with pretty good weather, we had a strong turnout of people of all ages and backgrounds, including people and families from the local and university communities (some familiar faces, some new friends); the sharing of food, drink, serious conversation and gossip; playing and unstructured fun for children, including tree climbing, hide and seek and exploration of all the nooks and crannies of this wonderful unspoilt fields, woods and hedgerow setting; and entertainment from various musicians on the Greenpeace stage, including Richard Navarro, Jack Barrack Cade, Pete Hicks and Luke Dodson. Pictures from the picnic are interspersed here.

first

Semi-structured discussion of Masterplan

A further element in the picnic this year was a semi-structured discussion of the latest iteration of the Masterplan information, led by Dr William Rowlandson, the staff union (University and College Union)’s green representative. The discussion was shaped by the perspectives of people of different ages, with varying experiences of the fields, and from different roles and backgrounds in the local and university communities. Despite this striking diversity, it affirmed the value to all of the unspoilt fields and generated a clear consensus that buildings of any form on the fields should be strictly forbidden for the full duration of the pending Masterplan (to 2031) and indeed  beyond.

william

This conclusion was  hardly surprising, since the prevalence of this view in both communities has now been well documented on innumerable occasions in the University’s own consultation processes (most recently, see the last CFPS Blog summary of the 2016 Conceptual Masterplan consultation report ); as part of  Kent County Council and Canterbury City Council led processes (the village green application review and the planning/green gap proposals  respectively); and of course, the university staff and student affirmative votes on the issue.

fifteenth

However, it was still good to see this view underlined collectively with such clarity and force; to hear it being contextualised with interesting  ideas about how to enhance the green sustainability dimensions of other parts of the campus; and and to see it conjoined with the coming together of minds on what to look out for in the months ahead as the Masterplan process moves forward. There was shared tactical sentiment that it was crucial that both local and university communities watched, very closely, the University authorities’ words and actions as they unfold in the months ahead. Even if the process would likely be drawn out, complex and convoluted, it was agreed this vigilance was needed to ensure that any language used by the University authorities in seeking to portray itself as supportive of the host community and its own staff and students on this matter was not mere empty rhetoric or cynical spin.

second

What was needed, it was agreed, was meaningful, firm and unambiguous commitment to ensure the protection of the unspoilt Southern Slopes (“Parklands”) landscape for the full duration of the Masterplan period (to 2031, crucially including the period after 2025, when the current University Estates Plan expires). If the fuzzy, equivocal buzzwords and vague  evocations (“enhancement”, “green assets”, “pavilions” etc) used in the 2016 Conceptual Master Plan were retained and carried through  in the stages ahead without proper clarification, it was recognised this sort of elastic and unfocussed language  could potentially provide dangerous discursive cover for damaging development. Structures and buildings on the Southern Slopes could potentially be smuggled through in the years ahead, claiming such ‘development’ involved ‘landscape enhancement’ or the strengthening of ‘green assets’,  an outcome against which all there where wholly committed.

fourteenthnavarro

“Spatial Workshop” affirms need to protect Southern Slopes

Although not publicised at the time, it also emerged at the picnic that the University Corporate Communications department had convened, to take place a few days later, an expert invite-only  “spatial workshop” to discuss “place making”, “planning and environment”, “landscape and biodiversity” and “transport and movement”. A useful report of the event has now been made available, and can be seen here. This should be welcomed, and as the appendices show, it  turned out to involve a sensible balance of people with relevant authority, knowledge and experience –  with one exception.  Other than a handful of Estates staff,  a core constituency of the university community – its own academic and nonacademic staff, most obviously as represented through the UCU – had not even been invited. At the picnic and afterwards,  bewilderment was expressed on this glaring omission!

fifth

Luckily, the discussion at the picnic helped partially address this, because Richard Norman, one of the picnic attendees,  had been invited to the “spatial workshop” in his capacity as a residents’ association representative. Richard was positioned to draw on the wider set of views – from residents and staff alike – that he had encountered at the UCU-convened picnic discussion, in articulating a position at the “spatial workshop”. (There has subsequently been a belated attempt to address this issue by addressing an invite to university staff to attend a separate “focus group” to discuss the meeting report (this seems likely to happen in september, but the date has not yet been made known).. Once again, such a “focus group” is helpful, but it was nevertheless a shame that the opportunity was missed to formally include staff representation at the July event, and thus integrate their input more systematically into the process.)

ninthrichard

What do we learn from the “Spatial Workshop” about expert and representative opinion regarding the appropriate place of the Southern Slopes/”Parklands” in the Master Plan? In fact, the report further adds to the massive stockpile of evidence concerning the strength of sentiment in favour of retaining these fields, woods and hedgerows as unspoilt space.  Two of the four groups which were organised at the event directly discussed this place. First,  Group 4, whose members included representatives of CCC, KCC, and local voluntary and amenity groups,  are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained and not built upon” (op cit, p. 8).  Second, Group 1, whose members included Ruth Wilkinson, the incoming President of Kent Union (the students’ union), CCC and parish council leaders, and Richard Norman (residents’ association) are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained” (op cit, p. 6). However, it is important here to understand that the latter, vaguer phrase in relation to Group 1 cannot and should not be interpreted as expressing a different view from that expressed by Group 4: Richard was able to confirm that this Group were also unambiguously committed to the rejection of any idea of placing buildings or associated structures on the Southern Slopes too.

eleventh

 

Recognising Shared Heritage: Towards a place on the agenda?

Finally, although not linking the matter directly to the Southern Slopes/”Parklands”, it is encouraging to see that elsewhere in the Worshop report, as part of the agenda for the  “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” two of the expert Groups (3 and  4) emphasised the need to look for opportunities to “reflect the historical landscape” (op cit, pp. 11 – 12). There is obvious and direct relevance here for Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes, because we know the extent to which the unspoilt landscape here reflects a particularly rich heritage, including its association with the wonderful Beverley Farmhouse; its enduring salience as a shared open viewing point of the cityscape (from long before the university existed); the legacy of field structures,  meadows and orchards (including apple trees still in place to the east); and  the existence on the land of part of the original, ancient “salt way” from the Cathedral to Whitstable (to the west). In Blogs written five years ago (see History Really Matters and Midsummer Notes: 6 Easy Ways to enhance Chaucer Fields as unspoilt Space) the potential not only to remember these things passively, but to bring them actively back to life by rescuscitating relevant language, including the original place names –  whilst also making new connections evoking local history – was proposed. Let’s hope that the existence of an explicit heritage strand in the “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” could help make some of these ideas real in the future.

nineteenth

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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).

fordwich canoe coach & horses faversham cycle 023

 

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.

cfbutterfly-4cr

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.

 July-August batch 086BLUE BUTTER

‘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.

midapr 22014 230

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.

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 084

‘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.

CF&holidayprep 148

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

chfields 152cr