Picnic time approaching… plus Consultation, District Plan Green Gap status and Signage update

This Blog has been “rested” for a while, buts its time to rejoin! There are three reasons for this. First, after several months of unexplained delay, the Consultation Report on the Conceptual Master Plan, covering the consultation of summer 2016, was finally published a few weeks ago. So, there’s some news to report on that. And also further news concerning  the proposed “Green Gap” status (updating the details in the last Blog.)

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Second, regular users of the fields may have noticed the change in wording on the signage which demarcates this land, words that are also reproduced on the signs used at other points on the edge of the campus. What little is known about this is worth sharing.  Third, it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to picnics, including on these fields, to take advantage of the sunshine and good weather in this extraordinarily beautiful, currently unspoilt shared green space. As evidence presented in various contexts by many local people and groups over the past few years has shown –  in responding to planning applications, earlier consultations, and when compiling the vast body of material needed to make the case for village green status –  this is a customary form of leisure and recreation here which goes back for decades. It reflects deep community attachment and commitment to this unspoilt green space. Indeed, given the  historical record of using this place as a spot to view, linger and appreciate the Cathedral and cityscape – a practice  long pre-dating the University’s founding –  we can speak of this as a truly time honoured  tradition (see the “History Matters” CFPS Blog).

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So, once again I am delighted to confirm the annual collaborative picnic which symbolises this precious legacy, organised jointly with Greenpeace Canterbuy and the Abbot’s Mill Project, and supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blog Roll on the right of this text for further details). More information on what happens at the picnics come at the end of the Blog! You could skip straight to that, if you would rather find out about the latest news at the picnic itself. But please do consider reading the detailed updates on the Conceptual Master Plan Consultation, Green Gap status, and signage change issues, presented in what follows first, if you have a little time. As ever, images are interspersed to make it more digestible. This time, they are photographs taken on a short walk yesterday.

Campus Conceptual Master Plan Consultation Report

This report, published by the University’s Corporate Communications Directorate, can  be found here. It is not a particularly attractive read, but it seems reasonable for the University to claim that the process of developing the Master Plan and undertaking a consultation has been “welcomed”. This is  formally true, and reflects civility on the part of those consulted. On the other hand, of course, it could be pointed out that the University is not really positioned to claim any credit for this: it has been expressly specified as a requirement  by Canterbury City Council (CCC) –  the relevant local planning authority –  and it is hard to see on what grounds it could be resisted by the University authorities.  And especially because developments on campus in recent years have been haphazard and at times even appeared chaotic and shambolic, there has  been a steady build up of public pressure to take this obvious step –  and to take it transparently.   Ad hoc and piecemeal ‘business as usual’ is simply no longer acceptable.

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What do we learn? The report demonstrates a mixture of  reactions from consultees, and publishes the full set of responses in its voluminous appendices. This transparency is certainly a point in its favour. So, for example, there are 16 pages covering responses from “local groups” (Appendix 5A, pp. 61 – 76).  We can see the opposition to building south of University Road on the Southern Slopes clearly stated by local residents’ associations, one of which even supplied evocative photographs of the fields. But these are not the only relevant concerns from organisations. We also see explicit recognition from the influential Canterbury Society (see Blogroll) that this sentiment is much more widely shared: ‘people in the City feel like the Chaucer Fields should be kept undeveloped and not built upon’. At the same time, two highly respected local charities, orientating themselves towards the overall style and process of the consultation, highlight major concerns. The Kent Wildlife Trust and Council for the Protection of Rural England both use robust language in respectively challenging the University authorities on their failure to attend to the biodiversity dimension in developing the Conceptual Masterplan;  and highlighting apparent incompetence, mistakes and oversights in the way the University undertook the consultation process.

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Appendix 5B then  reports written feedback from individual people – over 81 pages (pp 77 – 158). Once again, it is striking to see how many such consultees have felt moved to write expressing their strong and implacable opposition to the potential loss of the Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes green gap. Large numbers of respondents point out that if the building of a “Parklands” conferencing hotel and other units were  to proceed there, as posited in the Conceptual Master Plan,  unspoilt shared green space, with extraordinary heritage, social, aesthetic and environment value, would be lost forever to both the local and university communities.

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These sentiments are perhaps predictable, reacting as to they do conferencing hotel proposals which have essentially been carried over from earlier in the decade,  cosmetically reframed now within a Conceptual Master Plan with comforting imagery, the soft focus, fuzzy language of  “enhanced landscape” and narratives deploying the vocabulary of “green assets”. So is this consultation document just telling us what we already know, that there is little or no support for the ‘development’ of the fields from either the university or local communities? In a sense, yes. But it can also be read positively by those who value the fields as generating  new evidence in support of the durability of this sentiment, sorely tested by already being expressed on multiple occasions for several years. In other words, it reaffirms and underlines the enduring strength of these values, and the level of attachment and commitment to this landscape and place amongst local and university people. It is remarkable that many people still had the energy to raise this issue for the umpteenth time, having repeatedly done so already, year after year, on a massive scale in relation to earlier versions of ‘development’ proposals. This is a tribute to the resilience of the local and university communities in the face of consultation fatigue. 

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Indeed, the resistance to Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields despoilment emerges as  amongst the most vehemently expressed views in the entire document, as acknowledged in the main body of the document (Table 5, pp. 20 -21, Main Report): The other major issue emerging here is confirmation of the extent of opposition to ‘developing’ agricultural land purchased by the University to the North of the core campus, proximate to Blean and the Crab & Winkle Way (“Northern Land Holdings”) by situating car parks, sports facilities/buildings and a range of permanent strutures and units  (again, often using soft language – this time, ‘hubs’ – to downplay the extent to which land use would no longer be essentially agricultural in character, and involve significant and irreversible development)

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It is also worth emphasising another finding revealed by this process not in writing, but in relation to the face to face feedback witnessed at the various  events convened as part of the process. Table 2 (pp. 12 – 14, Main Report) lists a number of ‘presentations’ and ‘exhibitions’ conducted. Most of these events were not well attended, perhaps relating to a lack of effective communication about them (see the remarks above, as per the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s response).  However, at the  events that were best attended – for University Staff on campus, and in Blean village hall –  audiences once again reasserted their resistance and opposition, and sometimes with real anger.  The narratives adopted by the University authority representatives and architectural consultants were greeted with marked incredulity by many attendees at these events.  Why?  There were probably three main reasons for this reaction.

  • the narratives demonstrated a lack of basic familiarity with,  and understanding of, the character and topography of the relevant local landscapes
  • they showed a lack of awareness of the sheer strength and evidence base for pro-unspoilt space community sentiment, and
  • the narratives also suggested that the  ‘landscape enhancements’  in question (in practice, of course, nothing but development –  since we are referring to hotel buildings, other built units, car parks, facilities of various forms  etc) were something audiences didn’t need to be so concerned about, because they weren’t envisaged to take place in the immediate timeframe of the existing Estates Plan (the University Council, in signing off the Estates Plan 2015-2025, has nowhere  endorsed, or indicated funding for, the proposed hotel or other developments).

 

This third feature of the narrative  was experienced as patronising , because it appears to assume that, while the University authorities ‘think ahead’, the university and local communities are characterised by either transience or short sightedness, an unwillingness or inability to think more than 8 years ahead (a lack of concern for developments after 2025).   This disregard for forward thinking public concern is not only directly at odds with the notion that there should be a long term District Plan at all (in lie with national policy expectations,the timeframe for the ’emerging’ CCC District Plan runs to 2031, 6 years after the current Estates Plan expires). In relation to chaucer fields/the southern slopes, the revealed assumption of myopia or transience is also out of line with one of the  core findings of the village green enquiry –  that meaningful local residential communities, with durable, collective shared practices, commitments and beliefs – and therefore, capable of taking the long view –  do exist in relation to this place.

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The next steps in the process are referred to in the documentation. It is suggested the University will work ‘collaboratively’ with CCC over a period of several months to move towards the substantive Master Plan. In relation to Chaucer Fields, we know that CCC already responded to the overwhelming nature of local (and university) community sentiment in favour of protecting the fields with the “Green Gap status” proposal. Even if this particular protection cannot be included in the new District Plan for technical reasons, we can and should expect CCC to take a strong and clear position on this issue in these upcoming discussions: the key point is that the principle of protection and respect for this space has been publicly affirmed and agreed by CCC, even if “Green gap status” proposal fell on a technicality. This is a point the following section will now consider.

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“Green Gap status” not permitted as District Plan moves towards adoption

In the last Blog, it was reported that the proposal supported by CCC, that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes be given “green gap” status in the District Plan, was, in response to claims-making by the University authorities’ hired legal consultants,  being challenged by the Planning Inspectorate on technical-procedural grounds (not substantive grounds, as reported in the local press). As expected, further to this initial response, this proposed “green gap” provision has now been removed, as part of the latest step in moving towards District Plan adoption. This is a technocratic “modification” needed to ensure the Plan will be ‘sound and legally compliant’.  Full details can be found here at CCC’s official update on the Plan.

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On the face of it, this seems like a setback for those who wish to see the unspoilt fields protected and respected. However, it is important to stress two considerations to make clear that it also has advantages. First, the very process of CCC even considering this status, and then taking the enormous step of proposing it be built into the District Plan, shows that the political will is there at local Council level to commit to the unspoilt fields. Even if ultimately overturned on a technicality, this does not reverse the fact that CCC have boldy come forward and defended the values of the community on this issue, or alter the motivation that lay behind this proposed protection. Second, in order to deflect the “need” for this protection, the University legal advisers who argued for its removal had to build their case, in part, on the claim that existing protections as expressed in CCC documents (including internal papers and documents relating to CCC meetings) were already shown to be so extensive in relation to this landscape that additional policies, such as the “green gap”, were not “needed.”  The University is thus potentially “locked in” to recognition of the value of the unspoilt landscape by its own legal consultants’ position taking in relation to this issue in the future. It has itself been forced to chart and acknowledge in its submissions to the Planning Inspectorate the high salience and significance of existing protections, already in place, and additional to any “green gap” status. It would be incoherent, inconsistent, and create an impression of disregard for due process to claim at a future date that such existing protections can be readily dispensed with.

Signage update

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Observant users of the fields may have noticed early last month that the form of words used on the demarcation signs has now changed: the image above shows the new language, where the one below shows the older formulation.

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This can be read in a number of ways. Is it a strengthening of the role of the relevant elected public authorities (in this case, Kent County Council) over the University, insisting on greater clarity on the publics’ right to use ‘rights of way’ crossing the land in our county? On the other hand, it could be seen as clearing the ground  in the longer term for a situation in which access here and in other places where the University owns land will be more strictly circumscribed, driving a strict wedge between allowable and forbidden use.  A world of narrow pathways and functional ‘desire lines’ to and from workplaces in the context of a looming hotel complex,  a range of other buildings and facilities, and car parks, all  erected on a previously unspoilt landscape where roaming had previously been the norm. In other words, this is a scenario in which the free sharing of  land around the University, for recreation and leisure by the university and local communities, is over time constrained and then ultimately brought to a halt in the name of ‘development’ (or, ‘enhanced landscape’).

The University authorities have indicated they have taken this initiative as a result of ‘legal advice’, but it is not in the public domain what form that advice took, or the nature of the agenda in asking for it. The most benign and optimistic explanation, more in line with the first reading, is that it is a response to the fact the cyclists, walkers and others, particularly those trying to ‘find their way’ onto the Crab & Winkle route, had often found the older signage confusing, and this is a way to rectify this. However, only time will tell whether a more controlling intention to restrict non-public right-based of way activities into the future is  part of the thinking too.

 

Upcoming Picnic – Sunday 16th July midday onwards   

And so to the picnic – this will be the sixth collaborative one since the CFPS was formed in 2011.  The event is always great fun, with every one is slightly different from its predecessors. However, certain key features always endure – sharing food and drink in a truly beautiful setting, appreciating both the nature surroundings and the proximate cityscape; play for families, ranging from impromptu tree climbing, hide and seek to more organised activities, such as football, kite flying, rounders and dodgeball; conversation and socialising, finding out about people, places and gossip, crossing the boundaries between the local and university communities; and last but not least, music, ranging from a small stage with amplification for those inclined, to more casual jamming and swopping of tunes and musical ideas.

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This year, we are delighted to highlight two special features of the event, each linking back to the support base for the fields as it has been nurtured and grown over the years. First, Richard Navarro will be playing once more! A regular at earlier picnics, and someone who did a lot to raise awareness of the cause with his Joni Mitchell inspired Concrete Lung , touring and other commitments meant Richard was missed at recent gatherings. However, he will join us this time, fresh from a recent highly successful tour of Ireland.

Second, we will take the chance of the gathering to convene a group to informally talk about ways forward in protecting, respecting and enhancing the local landscape (the demarcated campus, and any adjacent/other land now acquired by the University). This will be in the light of what we have now learned about the University authorities’ agenda and intentions thus far (through the Master Plan process). This will be led by Dr William Rowlandson, green representative at the University of Kent for the University and Colleges Union. (See William’s response to the Conceptual Master Plan consultation here.) UCU has already been an important actor in confirming University staff’s commitment to protecting the fields (facilitating the motion leading to a strong vote in favour of protecting the fields as undeveloped green space shared with the local community in 2012), and there is potential for it in the context of this new initiative to take an wider role regarding the local environmental agenda too.

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We look forward to welcoming you to the picnic on sunday – 12.00 midday onwards! (Facebook users, see the event information from the Abbot’s Mill Project here).

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Merry Christmas 2016

Here is our customary Festive Greeting visual message!

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

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

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The view for earlier generations

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

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Sledging in the “Bomb crater” on the Southern Slopes

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

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Sledging inside  Roper’s twitchell

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

 

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

 

 

 

Campus Master Plan and Picnic News

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

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

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University Campus “Conceptual Masterplan” presentations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picnic News

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

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

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Dear all

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

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

 

VILLAGE GREEN PUBLIC INQUIRY: SCF GUEST BLOG – APRIL 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imminent: Key event: Public Inquiry re Chaucer Fields Village Green App

Note re photographs in this Blog: The most exciting  pictures are courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust – please see the last section of the Blog for more details. There are also some images of the Cathedral seen from the fields after dark, swathed in natural night time darkness and relatively unpolluted by artificial light. 

Village Green Application: Public Inquiry Process about to begin

A key purpose of this 44th Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog is to act as a reminder that a key moment in the Village Green Application (VGA) – which, if successful, would protect the fields from despoilation for the forseeable future – is now imminent. As mentioned in November’s Blog, the Public Inquiry begins this coming Monday 23rd February, and will last for 5 days.If needed, a further week has been reserved for evidence gathering next month (week beginning 16th march).

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Late Bronze Age pottery from water hole, Keynes III/Turing dig (see below). Reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

This Kent County Council (KCC) Inquiry will be conducted in Canterbury’s newly refurbished Westgate Hall and begins at 10.00am. This is an excellent and resonant choice of venue – resonant, because, like the fields, this has in recent years  been a much loved public space under threat of destruction. But as a result of an enormous community effort spearheaded energetically and with great skill by the Westgate Community Trust, that threat was challenged and successfully deflected. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits the fields.  Here, there is also a great breadth of support, and those wanting “development” find themselves isolated and way out on a limb. After all, let’s recall the obvious and almost ubiquitous support throughout the local geographical community – to which Canterbury City Council has commendably responded by proposing ‘green gap’ status for the fields in the draft District Plan (see First CFPS Blog of 2014).  But also let’s not forget the views articulated from within the university community itself: recall the decisive votes taken in favour of protecting the fields by both the staff union, the UCU, and the students’ union, Kent Union, earlier this decade.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

While not everything depends upon a successful VGA, it would be an especially robust form of protection. So all who wish to see the natural beauty, breathtaking views, and wonderful health, leisure and social benefits associated with the existence of the unspoilt Southern Slopes safeguarded will want to follow the Public Inquiry process and its eventual outcome. It would be especially valuable if supporters who live locally and have the opportunity to attend the Inquiry express their commitment by coming along to some or all of the proceedings at Westgate Hall next week.

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Iron age charcoal pit used to produce charcoal & possibly used for culinary smoking purposes on a large scale.  Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

SCF Facebook and Fundraising Quiz Night 7th March

For more  information and details on the Inquiry, please do follow the Save Chaucer Fields group’s Facebook page. You’ll also find there details of an important social event taking place between the two weeks of the Inquiry: there will be a Fundraising Quiz Night at the hall of St Dunstan’s church, Canterbury on Saturday 7th March from 7pm onwards. Again, please do come along to this too if you possibly can. These nights are always great fun, and allow supporters the chance to catch up socially, as well as hear the latest news about the campaign. But they also generate much needed financial resources for the SCF group, which relies on fundraising in order to cover legal costs and other expenses, which are high because of the complexity and depth of the Inquiry.

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

League Tables – mixed results for environmental issues:  a time for reflection

The University of Kent is rightly proud of the impressive record in research and teaching of its its academic staff.  A sense of the achievements, albeit somewhat mechanistically gauged, is communicated by its repeatedly strong showing in national “league tables”, and these results are reasonably used in efforts to persuade potential students, staff, funders and other stakeholders of the University’s significance. In recent years, such metrics have begun to be applied to other areas of higher educational life. The environmental dimension is an important one here. And although there is no equivalent to the routinised Government measures of performance in teaching and research, comparative yardsticks do seem to be beginning to come through.

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Late Iron Age Belgic slater. Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Accordingly, the University has recently been keen to point to an evaluative exercise suggesting this is also an area where has also done well, referring in various media to how its ‘green credentials‘ have been underscored by a study by the University of Singapore. However, is the picture quite this straightforward? The answer is no. Unlike the case of research and teaching, where all the evidence tends to point in the same direction (towards remarkably high achievement) this is in fact not the case in relation to environmental policy and practice when these results are put in context. In particular, an apparently longer established and much more wide ranging exercise, conducted annually by the highly reputable and locally rooted environmental charity People & Planet, has consistently found the University of Kent  stubbornly languishing with only a mediocre track record for some years- including the latest results released last month

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Cathedral from Dover Down field, chaucer fields, January 2015

People & Planet’s findings  do not seem to have received a great deal of attention, at least in the public domain, from University authorities as yet. But it will be important to scrutinise both sets of results in the months ahead to ascertain why these results are so dramatically different. It likely partly reflects differences in methodology and focus, including the apparently wider evaluative horizons of the People & Planet studies. But are there other considerations?  Presumably, both studies have strengths – but also weaknesses and flaws?  Whatever the situation, it would  surely be sensible to pause before rushing to celebratory conclusions. It would be healthy from the perspective of balanced communication, and working in the interests of transparency, for the University to engage with the results emerging from both exercises. so let us hope that the full range of evidence will be explicitly acknowledged and considered and debated in the months ahead.

Keynes III/Turing College – archaeological results

Finally, to add colour and interest to this Blog, with kind permission I have included images of late Bronze Age and Iron age artefacts found during Canterbury Archaelogical Trust’s  excavations of the land just north of Chaucer Fields (above Beverley Farm and the western segment of University Road). That’s because I know many of you are keenly interested not only in the visible aesthetic and environmental and recreational value of our cherished local landscape, but also how the land connects with our heritage: the historical and pre-historical patterns that  contribute to its sense of ‘specialness’.  For substantive details, I would like to refer you to the excellent interim report prepared by Ross Lane Some of you heard Ross speak about the findings during the ‘open day’ on the site for the dig last summer, as reported in a CFPS Blog in summer 2013.

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Loom weights, probably early Iron Age.Excavated at Keynes III/Turing dig in 2013, reproduced courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust

Ross, whose modesty veils a remarkable level of expertise  especially on this period of our history,  has kindly offered to  talk at one of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society events we will be holding this summer. I would be very grateful if you would let me know if you would be interested in hearing Ross share his knowledge in this area? Please email me at: chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to attend an informal talk at one of our picnics, and I’ll have a better sense of the basis for proceeding.

That’s it for now. I hope to see you at Westgate Hall for the Inquiry and at St Dunstan’s church hall for the quiz!

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer  Fields Picnic Society

 

Chaucer fields – entry for Woodland Trust competition

Dear all

I hope you have had a good summer. There’s no major news to report –  one reason why this Blog hasn’t been active for a while. But do look at the Save Chaucer Field’s  group’s summary of the state of play from a couple of month’s back if you want to get up to speed. Its  here or go to their home page via the Blogroll, top right hand corner of this Blog.

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Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

This lack of important news in recent weeks –  really since Canterbury City Council announced that the draft District Plan include green gap status for the fields –  doesn’t mean public interest has faded, however. Quite the opposite. For example, I am regularly asked where things stand, and a few days ago this website passed the 10,000 hits mark, with a readership which is not only local, as well as increasingly national and international.

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Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

One idea which might, however, be worth mentioning is that  this month I am putting forward one of our oak trees for national recognition! This is via  the Woodland Trust’s English Tree of the Year competition . (See also the Blogroll link for more information on the trust.)

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The excellent Woodland Trust, like many other national and local  green groups, has long been supportive of our cause, and this seemed like a natural thing to do. Many of you will instantly recognise the tree in question as the young to middle aged Oak tree in the southern section of  Dover Down field, close to Roper’s twitchell,next to one of the many pathways that criss cross the Southern Slopes, and often chosen by picnickers.

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I am sure it will not be an ancient, knarled, or historically significant as some other trees entered for this event! But I think we’ve got a case. Its exceptional character stems from its surroundings and the way it is appreciated by so very many people, all the time.

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The tree is striking, somewhat set part from other  around the field, and visible from many angles across the fields. Viewed from the north east  over Dover down field it foregrounds some of the best views of Canterbury Cathedral and its world heritage site. From the north west, in Bushy Acres,  it sits between Roper’s Twitchell (the double hedge) in front, with St Dunstan’s church behind.  And situated in what is now being  recognised  as the Southern Slopes ‘green buffer’, it is close enough to large numbers of people – students and staff on the University campus, and those living in the residential area to the south – to be enjoyed by the many who walk, run or ride past it every single day.

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And its not an oak everyone just passes by! It has acted as a social focal point  for organising picnics, providing shade in hot weather and cover when wet. It has clearly witnessed many a story and many a song!

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Students and friends at June picnic

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But most importantly to my mind, is its use by local children – not to mention adults – as convenient and accessible for climbing. The branches are positioned just right for any tentative 4 year old trying to get the hang of it, while more adventorous older people can and do climb 20 or even 30 feet up to gain excellent views across the landscape!

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Long may it continue – to use the cliche, for generations to come.  And I will let you know how we get on in this year’s competition!

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Chaucer Fielder

 

First Blog of 2014 – important Local Plan news and upcoming picnic

Dear all

Profusion of hawthorn ('may') across hedges

Profusion of hawthorn (‘may’) in Roper’s twitchell & Jack Cade’s carvet,  april 2014

This is undoubtedly one of the best times  of year to enjoy the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes. The grass is lush and verdant, the deciduous trees are visibly  springing to life with new foliage, and the hedgerows are full of blossom, most dramatically hawthorn (see above). Perhaps the best time of day to appreciate the fields is when this visual display is joined with the sound of birdsong, as day breaks. In a future Blog, I intend to upload recordings of the spring dawn chorus. But for now I’ll intersperse the Blog in the usual way with photographs which try to capture some  of the beauty of the Slopes in April, and show in simple ways how they can be enjoyed by children.

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scooter riding inside Roper’s twitchell, Cathedral in distance, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Its been a while since the last Blog appeared. A key reason for this has simply been a lack of major news to report. Of course the unspoilt fields  continued to be used by local residents, visitors and the university community; but in policy terms, the first few months of 2014 have continued the ‘waiting game’ described in earlier Blogs as having characterised much of  2013. But as we move towards the summer, important local policy news is now beginning to emerge. I’ll first of all summarise the situation  on that, and then report an informal happening which will take place on the fields next month – the latest in our series of musical picnics.

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house sparrow, jack cade’s carvet, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

1. Policy development – draft District Plan submission finalised

As you will recall from earlier Blogs, Canterbury City Council’s emerging new Local Plan is fundamentally important for everyone who is concerned about the balance between ‘development’ and other priorities. That’s because the Plan’s content and specific policies will be the  key reference point in determining where and how building is to be encouraged or permitted, and where it is to be discouraged or prohibited for decades to come. It is crucial to recognise that the future of those parts of our landscape which are currently unspoilt and valued as such by local people for heritage, recreational and environmental reasons is at stake here: policy commitments to protect and respect such special places made in this document are going to be absolutely crucial in the years ahead.

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Climbing an oak tree in Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

As expected, in recent months  the remarkably high value attached by communities to the Southern Slopes  as unspoilt shared green space emerged strongly from the local consultation process. Numerous submissions stressing the importance of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as a whole were forthcoming  from individuals and knowledgeable local groups.

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Westgate towers viewed from Dover Down field,  Chaucer Fields, april 2014

The good news is that the mass of  evidence and argument put forward in this way  has now  been taken seriously by Canterbury City Council in specifying the content of the District Plan. Drawing on both lay submissions and advice from planning and landscape experts, earlier this month CCC officials initially suggested that Councillors needed to consider incorporating specific protections for the Slopes.

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The recently restored bench at the north of Chaucer Fields, just south of Beverley Farm (close to University road) – one of the best used viewpoints

And this is precisely what has happened as the Plan has proceeded through the relevant decision making committees. It has been amended to explicitly recognise the value of the fields. And it has been good to witness that the issue has been treated as an entirely non-partisan one, uniting all strands of political opinion. First the CCC Overview Committee recommended the adoption of ‘open space’ protection for the Slopes; then the CCC Executive Committee followed, although reframing the proposed protections as a matter of  ‘green gap’ policy (because the land is technically outside the ‘urban envelope’, these policies are the more appropriate ones);and finally on 24th april, the full Council endorsed  this ‘green gap’ status for the Southern Slopes as part of its general approval of the Plan as a whole.This has taken shape despite a late formal objection to these protections being made by University management, as reported at the final  Council meeting  (although the substantive grounds for this objection are not currently known).

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Bluebells in the  Southern Slopes wooded area east of Chaucer Fields (nr. Elliot path), april 2014 . Both woods & fields would be protected under the draft  CCC  ‘green gap’  policy

The idea of a ‘green gap’ here resonates well with strongly held local sentiment that the fields should be suitably protected as a highly significant ‘green buffer’, ‘green belt’  or ‘green lung’ benefitting both local residents and the University community at large. More specifically and formally, this status (Policy OS5) would mean that any ‘development’ which “significantly affect[s] the open character of the Green Gap, or lead to coalescence between existing settlements”; or which would  result in “new isolated and obtrusive development within the Green Gap” would be explicitly prohibited.

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

This is all very encouraging news. However,  it is important to stress that the draft Local Plan incorporating these green gap protections for the Southern Slopes is not yet legally adopted policy. There are several further steps to be completed. Most importantly, these include  a 6 week period during which interested parties are  entitled to make representations concerning the Plan’s legality and “soundness” . The Plan also then needs to be scrutinised and signed off at national level by the  Planning Inspectorate (an executive  agency of the Department for Communites & Local Government). The Inspectorate will undertake a detailed and thorough review of the CCC Plan, supporting policies, and the representations received during the recent and upcoming consultations.

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Peacock butterfly, Inachis Io, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

 2. Collaborative Musical Picnic – 3.30pm onwards 11th May

On a less “heavy” note I am pleased to announce that plans for our next picnic  are now well advanced! This informal happening is jointly facilitated by CFPS and the Abbots Mill Project  (see Blogroll, top right). It is being actively supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group, Greenpeace Canterbury, and by environmental representatives from the UCU (the University of Kent’s main staff union) and from Kent Union (the student’s union).  We hope you’ll come if you live locally: 3.30pm onwards, sunday 11th may.

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Tree climbing with attitude, Bushy Acres,Chaucer Fields, april 2014

Tips include:

  • bring a rug etc, as the grass is rather long and can be damp in places
  • bring your own refreshments (and bags to take away rubbish)
  • bring props for games: popular in the past have been frisbees, kites, football, rounders and cricket (on those parts of the fields where the grass has been cut)
  • bring musical instruments if you feel inclined to play
Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Of course, many of the popular play activities undertaken on the fields at picnics and other times don’t require you to bring anything: including tree climbing, “it” and other tag games, hide & seek and  exploratory games – for children, but also anyone who is young at heart.

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Runner, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Alongside these ‘do it  yourself’ activities, there’ll be the chance to:

  • learn about local environmental issues from the groups mentioned above;
  • listen to local acoustic musicians, including Richard Navarro, Jules Madjar (Canterbury Buskers Collective)Ivan Thompson (Hullabaloo etc), Katy Windsor, Frances Knight, and some musicians and singers from Roystercatchers;
  • join a procession involving  Dead Horse Morris’s “Jack in the Green”, the “incredible walking ivy bush” making a (reincarnated) return appearance after a couple of years;
  • hear Mark Lawson’s fabulous tales – another return visit, back by popular demand.
Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action, Chaucer Fields picnic May 2012

The Jack will have already welcomed the rising sun on mayday, and paraded the streets of Whitstable during may day celebrations earlier in the week. The Jack is made of ivy gathered from various parts of the District, including ivy gathered from the Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields. His constitution and  participation symbolises how respect for green space is a shared priority for local people from across the local area

Jack in the Green (walking ivy bush!)

Jack (walking ivy bush!) amazes local children, Chaucer Fields picnic, may 2012

Let’s hope the weather is good to us!

Hope to see you at the picnic

Sadly some fine trees were felled by winter storms. However, even logs provide  play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

Sadly some fine trees were lost or damaged during the winter storms in December 2013 and January 2014. However, in some places new viewing vistas of the Canterbury cityscape have opened up; and even logs provide play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society