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.

 

Village Green Application Public Inquiry dates: Weeks beginning 23 February & 16 March 2015

Introduction

After a long wait, the dates for the Public Inquiry in relation to the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes Village Green Application (VGA) to Kent County Council (KCC) has been announced! This has taken a long time, because KCC have  been processing a large number of Village Green Applications from across the county with very limited resources, and because there was a legal dispute to resolve in advance over the appropriate timeframe of the Inquiry 

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More information on timing and process is provided below, courtesy of the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blogroll). Their text is slightly abbreviated and edited here. This Blog is interspersed with some photographs taken on the fields recently, which try to capture a little of  the autumnal beauty of the fields, trees and hedges there at this time of  year.

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Please read their update carefully. If you live locally, we hope you will be able to show your support by attending some of the Public Inquiry sessions in 3-4 months time.

All best Chaucer  Fielder

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Update from Save Chaucer Fields group

A date has been set for the [Kent County Council] Village Green Application Public Inquiry.  There had been a delay in setting a date for the Inquiry, [most recently] due to pre-arranged commitments from both ourselves and The University. But now dates have been determined. It will start on Monday 23rd February 2015 and last for 5 days. It will then adjourn and resume on Monday 16th March and last for up to 5 days as necessary….

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 ….. in the coming weeks SCF will concentrate on preparing strong evidence [for  the relevant time period, 1991 – 2011] to put before the Inquiry.  A suitable venue will be agreed in due course, details of which will be publicised.

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It’s a Public Inquiry, open to all. We hope that supporters of this lengthy campaign will find some time to attend during the hearing, and demonstrate to The Inspector that local people are interested in seeing Chaucer Fields protected for future generations.

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Photographic summertime 2014 Blog

Mistle Thrush

Resident Mistle thrush, late may 2014, later nested successfully,

chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner.

 

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“Cuckoo Spit” caused by froghopper nymphs, june 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

 

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Blackbird, june 2014, Beverley Boughs, chaucer fields

 

 

July batch 056

Unidentified fruit, July 2014, Jack Cade’s carvet, chaucer fields

 

July batch 007

Oak foreground Cathedral background, June 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife cropped butterfly

Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Linnaeus, 1758], June 2014, Bushy Acres, chaucer fields

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Walkers, june 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

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Jay, June 2014, Beverley Boughs, chaucer fields

 

July batch 012

Honey bee, July 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

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Ancient path from Blean church to Cathedral, June 2014, Dover Down field,            chaucer fields

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Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina [Linnaeus, 1758], June 2014, Jack Cade’s carvet,    chaucer fields

July batch 030

An otherwise irritating sign put to good use by a house sparrow, July 2014, Dover Down field, chaucer fields

 

Whitethroat

Whitethroat , late may 2014, thought to be in transit,

chaucer fields ©Mark Kilner

 

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.
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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

 

 

Next picnic date (21 Sept), District Plan deadline (30 Aug) & CAT Open Day

Dear all

I hope you are having  a good august. As you’ll have seen first hand, or may have picked up from the SCF Facebook site, the grass has now been cut, and the hay has been made!  So the fields are very much in late summer mode – for example, see image of Dover Down field below. This Blog will pick  up some of the threads of the last one, and is interspersed with some recent snaps from the fields:

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Southern part of Dover Down field looking north, Chaucer Fields, late August 2013

Draft District Plan consultation deadline looms

A reminder:  The deadline for sending in your responses to Canterbury City Council (CCC) in relation to the proposed local plan, which has enormous implications for the character of our landscape and environment for years to come, is the end this month (5pm Friday 30 August). In an earlier Blog I included a link to the relevant website. However, it is clear that some people have found understanding and navigating the specific route for responding presented via this portal to be  opaque and excessively complicated.

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Cathedral framed by Cade’s carvet hedge, southwards view from recently restored bench close to Innovation centre bus stop, august 2013

I was pleased to learn earlier this week that local community groups are sensibly suggesting that people  can respond in a much simpler and less time consuming way:  CCC should still take your feedback into account to the same extent as if you had followed the tortuous portal approach.

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Unspoilt  Southern Slopes, between Bushy Acres and Eliot pathway, August 2013

What is this simpler approach? In what follows I have drawn upon and supplemented the guidance of one of the leading community groups the material relating most obviously to the situation regarding chaucer fields, the unspoilt southern slopes and the University. They rightly emphasise you shouldn’t feel the need  to make a detailed or complicated response: a simple snail mail  letter or e-mail will do. But it’s a good idea to say which particular enumerated and named policies you’re referring to, where this is possible:

  • ·         Write to or email CCC if you agree with the proposal that the University of Kent should be required to produce a Masterplan for its campus, which maintains its campus character, respects the setting of the site in the wider countryside, and includes a landscape strategy, write to say that you support policy EMP7.
  • ·        Write to or email CCC If you agree with the proposals to protect the environment, including views across the city from the University slopes, and protecting open spaces, write to say that you support policies HE2, LB2 and OS8
  •        Write to or email CCC if you welcome  the provisional decision not to consider the Southern Slopes as a potential site for housing development (200-300 houses) because this would dramatically violate Sustainability Objectives (Evidence base:  the  SHLAA-sites-Analysis conducted by AMEC for CCC in 2012)

 You can send your comments by post to Planning Policy Team, Planning and Regeneration, Canterbury City Council, Military Road, Canterbury, CT11YW; or by e-mailing planning.policy@canterbury.gov.uk

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A juvenile jay foraging in apple tree dating back to Mount’s nursery days, southern part of Bushy Acres, august 2013

CAT Open Day, archaeological excavations

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Ross from CAT discusses evidence of burial at the Keynes III/Turing excavation

I attended this fascinating event in the morning. Expert CAT staff were on hand to share their wealth of knowledge about how what is being found on the Keynes III/Turing college site adds to our understanding of how our ancestors were living 2-3 millenia ago. A highly informative guided tour of the site was provided.  Amongst the highlights for me on the day were:

  • learning that the place was a local centre for our ancestors throughout the entire iron age, although there was also modest evidence of settlement as early as the bronze age. It would have been a hive of activity  at the same time that Bigbury camp, just a few miles away near Harbledown (well known internationally as the place for a key military struggle between local people and the invading forces of emperor Claudius in 54 AD) was also famously flourishing
  • finding out that the site hosted differentiated areas for habitation (evidenced, for example, by pottery and charcoal from fire pits) and working life (including textiles: in particular numerous loom weights have been found). There is also ample evidence of burial and material relating to  funeral pyres, suggesting  that sacramental ceremonies would also have been performed here
  • confirming that the people who inhabited the site were involved in trade and transactions with others from outside the area, and even beyond England. Kent has long been proud of its role as a vanguard of civilisation in the British Isles from before the common era, a status documented by contemporary Roman writers. A beautiful horse-design coin originating from the North West of continental Europe, then part of the Roman empire (perhaps from what is now Belgium or France), probably about two thousand years old,has been unearthed  on the Keynes III/Turing site (see image).  Our iron age ancestors in this place were apparently systematically engaging in monetized commerce with our continental neighbours when other parts of the country were still relatively insular and isolated!
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Pre-Roman invasion coin from continental Europe found at Keynes III/Turing excavation

Please see the CAT project site for more on this project in general. At the time of writing information on the success of  the open day has not yet been posted, but  hopefully an update will appear soon.

Next CFPS Picnic: Date confirmed

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Meadow Brown  basks in mid day sunshine, Bushy Acres, August 2013

I am delighted to announce that discussions on the timing of the collaborative picnic involving CFPS with local civil society groups has progressed, and we have now agreed a date: PM SATURDAY 21st September. Please put the date in your diaries now. I’ll report more detail on the plans in a future blog in terms of timing and content, but it’ll include all the usual CFPS activities (socialising, formal  games, informal play, musical  entertainment etc) and more besides.

Enjoy the rest  of your week!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Guest Blog – an American student’s perspective

Introduction

Welcome to the first “Guest Blog” from the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society!  We start with a contribution from Justinian Dispenza, an American student who was studying for a year in Canterbury in  2010-11. Justinian was one of a group of  students, from Britain and abroad, who took the initiative in efforts to highlight the environmental value of unspoilt Chaucer Fields. A Film Studies student here for a year from Indiana University, Justinian applied his skills in two ways to draw attention to the situation. His Hedgerow Havoc video, when posted on YouTube, secured hundreds of hits,  bringing humour and a sense of fun to the campaign, and helped catalyse large numbers of students to take part in the Chinese Lantern Event of February 2011. If you haven’t seen this clip, you can it now  by clicking here: Hedgerow Havoc . Second, Justinian went on to capture the event itself on video, another YouTube film which has meant that people who were not there at the time have been made aware of what happened that evening  [see Blog Roll, right].

 

Justinian being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012

 

Justinian  developed  an interest in environmental issues at school through involvement in recycling projects. He has subsequently worked with several British and US-based international environmental NGOs as volunteer and paid staff, including the Sierra Club student’s coalition, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and People & Planet. In relation to Chaucer Fields, as the Blog captures, he is committed to the cause for the long term, and is spreading the word amongst peers in Indiana, and other Universities. He is hoping to work in Environmental media in the UK or elsewhere in Europe when he graduates in 2013.   Justinian is currently visiting Canterbury again – including Chaucer Fields of course (see photos). He is using the city as a base for wider European forays, combining visits to old friends, touristic travelling and  the  take up of volunteering opportunities in organic agriculture. He sees these efforts as part and parcel of his commitment to environmental respect and social justice.

Justinian not being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012

JUSTINIAN’S GUEST BLOG

Chaucer fields. They are home to dog walkers, runners, cyclists, frisbee players, picnic makers, amateur photographers, tree climbers of all ages, and everything in between.  But, is it even more than that: It is so much more.  These fields, and the Southern Slopes of which they are part, are in my experience one of the major reasons for international students choosing to study at the Universiy of Kent.

As an international student, I had many options to study all over the world and had a list of 5 or so programs that accepted me.  I come from a small town in the USA and I grew up around parks, picnics, and the great outdoors although Indiana’s great outdoors are significantly flatter than the natural beauty you have in the UK! So  when I got the brochure from the University of Kent and saw the aerial shots of the University, its massive “green belt”  – clearly seperating it from the city, yet with Canterbury at the same time within easy reach –  I instantly knew that this place was going right up near the top on my list.  Universities in the US tend not to  have green belts: concrete and tarmac usually dominate.

I have always felt that the UK is at least five years ahead of the United States on progressive thinking and environmental responsibility and foresight.  And this thinking, of which the British should be proud, is bound up with real actions and practices. I am constantly telling my friends back in the USA how amazing it to witness people of all ages banding together here protect something they believe to be worth fighting for.

To make this post even more topical, I found out recently that my favourite spot of small woodland left on Indiana’s campus had been bulldozed without warning to expand our University’s School of Business. This last bit of unspoilt forest was taken and destroyed without so much as a blink of an eye from the general student population. Unfortunately, those of us who would like to have tried to stop it were either out of town, or too few to stop the bulldozers.  In the USA, we have been so quick to pave everything, cut ourselves off from  our natural suroundings and turn them into sterile short grass parks, interspersed with  Mcdonalds-style catering and consumption opportunities.   For those of you who don’t know, “managing nature” in America often means putting a fence around a piece of land and spraying it with pesticide every couple weeks.

Since England isn’t much bigger than my home state of Indiana and has 6 times the population –  and the South East is especially densely populated – I am convinced that the effects of losing a green space such as this would so much more devastating. It would hit hard wildlife, local nature lovers, and have knock on effects on the health and well being of locals, University staff and students alike.

Here in Canterbury, you have already fought with more vigour and strength than I have ever seen back home and it has been an inspiration to me and my Indiana friends  who have been following the development of this campaign. There is no danger of the passivity I reported in Indiana in your part of the world. The momentum behind the Chaucer Fields campaign just seems to keep on gathering. But – if  Chaucer Fields were to be been turned into a concrete revenue generation opportunity for the University in spite of this, what would have been done?  There is simply no going back. You never hear of someone tearing down a hotel to plant a garden.  Fight for this green space with everything you have.  I only wish as many of my American colleagues were as passionate about saving green space!!

PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP THE FIELDS AND SLOPES.  This thriving expanse of green space shared by so many really, really must be kept so that future generations from Britain, the USA and all over the world may share in its beauty. Ideally, the University of Kent should have a re-think on the matter, and recognise it is in its own interests to nurture and respect this wonderful place. It should develop ways to meet student accommodation needs, on or off campus, which don’t do so much damage, and  which do not severely erode its environmental reputation, and undermine its green credentials. This is counter productive, since it will obviously discourage environmentally aware students like me from choosing to study here.

Table: People & Planet’s Universities Green League table, People & Planet

Year University of Kent Christ Church University
2007 50th 93rd
2008 48th 81st
2009 21st 70th
2010 89th 56th
2011 94th 31st
2012 107 th 33rd

Source: data from subpages for relevant years at  http://peopleandplanet.org/

Where am I coming from with this? As the data of well respected NGO People & Planet –  with whom I have been involved for a couple of years now –  show, the University of Kent’s lack of  green sensibility  has already demonstrably lead to a collapse in its national environmental management &  performance rating. This has unfolded especially over the past four years. There are also devils in the detail. It may be significant that its relative position has also dramatically weakened locally, as other institutions close by have improved their positions. For example, see the Table above comparing the University of Kent with Christ Church University. It now seems to me its green reputation is going to deteriorate fast at international level too, and adverse knock-on effects in terms of recruitment will follow.  That is, unless it listens to its students, staff, and local people and withdraws the ‘development’ plans in the interests of all.