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

July CFPS Blog – from prehistoric ancestors to UKC alumni

Dear all

Midsummer time

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Bushy Acres Field midsummer view, July 2013

I hope you are  enjoying the summer. Chaucer Fields and the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are now in midsummer mode, albeit looking a bit parched. Luxurious long grass playing host to numerous bees, damselflies and butterflies.

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Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Lennaeus, 1758],  “Beverley Boughs”, early July 2013

The butterfly population has included the ‘usual suspects’ – such as  Dusky Meadow Browns, Small Coppers, Small Whites and Small Tortoiseshells, but interesting to come  across a new one (to me) recently – the Speckled Wood (see photo above). This butterfly thrives in unpolluted and unspoilt wooded glades and tranquil settings. So finding plenty of then in ‘Beverley Boughs’ (see map below) shouldn’t  have come  as a surprise!

Chaucer Fields draft heritage map

CFPS Heritage map from 2012: especially good place to see butterflies is ‘Beverley Boughs’

CAT Open Day, Keynes III site

The main purpose of this Blog is to remind you of the upcoming open day at the Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) dig currently underway just north of the fields – above University Road and Beverley Farm. You may recall that the University has been required to facilitate the dig as a condition for  obtaining planning permission to proceed with the Keynes III development. This  development is now being referred to as the ‘Turing college’ development although the rationale for this has not been discussed or debated as far as I know. Anyway, please see the map below.

CAT dig in southern slopes context

Source: Adapted from Canterbury Archaeological Trust official map to show site proximity to unspoilt Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)

As mentioned in the last Blog, the open day will take place this thursday 25th July. It’s a great  opportunity to find out about the fascinating evidence for a middle iron age settlement (that means dating from the period 300 – 150 years BC) established here. This builds on what had already emerged in recent work at the St Edmund’s school campus close by.  Presumably this extraordinary site will have been flourishing alongside Bigbury Camp just a few miles away (near to Harbledown). This was a settlement which seems to have been more significant than Canterbury itself, long prior to the Roman invasion, only after which that city became the dominant population centre locally. The event will be opened by the Lord Mayor at 10.30am, although the gates will open to visitors at 9.30am and the event will continue until 4pm. There will be regular site tours and displays of finds. CAT say all are welcome to attend. For more hints on what is being discovered, please refer to the relevant CAT project site here

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source: Image provided by CAT. Note roof of Beverley farmhouse in middle distance in front of Cathedral

Other notes

A couple of  other reminders and information points:

  • Please recall that the Canterbury City Council District Plan consultation period is currently ongoing. We (as individuals, voluntary groups, or other organisations) have until the end of August to respond. Please refer back to the previous Blog for more information.
  • Following the enormously successful May event on Chaucer  Fields – combining a picnic with the ‘Beating the Bounds’ by local church parishioners – another picnic is currently being planned for later next month, or early september, with local environmental and social groups. This  will be another exciting collaboration. Please watch this space for more details of date, time and the arrangements for participation!
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The parochial bounds-beaters who met with Chaucer Fields picnickers in may 2013 were following an ancient local tradition. This image shows St Stephens parish bounds beaters from a century ago at the St Stephen’s level crossing. The tradition was already several centuries  old then. They  will have also walked through Chaucer Fields if they did their job thoroughly!  Source: “Canterbury in Old Picture Postcards” by the late Terry Hougham, European Library, reproduced with kind permission of his grandson Max Apps

To finish: more on UKC alumni Ed Quast’s photographs

Finally, you may notice that after a couple of years, it seemed to right to ‘refresh’ the Header image used for the Blog. It occurred to me that it is crucial that the images we use communicate the  point that the Unspoilt Southern Slopes are a fabulous asset for all local communities and all ages: the local geographical community that hosts the university campus; the university community itself, including current staff and students, as well as alumni; and people of all ages, with whichever communities they associate.

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Ed Quast’s prize -winning iconic Chaucer Fields photograph from 2011

The new CFPS Header Image is provided courtesy of Ed Quast, a former  UKC student with whom I’ve kept  in touch. His evocative photo of the fields from 2011 caught the imagination of local people and was voted one of the most popular of all local photographs that year (see above). Another previously unpublished photo from Ed appears below!

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Hope to see you on thursday!

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

From Bulldozers, bees and bounds….to pre-history,presidents and picnics

One White Sugar University Road view

source: One White Sugar, Faversham (see Blog text below )

This Blog is admittedly something of a rag-bag of information and observations. If it is the chaucer fields ‘picnic’ aspect that you are here to find out about, Sunday 5th May is the key date for your diary. Please scroll down to the end of the Blog. But I hope there are other points of interest in what follows.

No news: expected Chaucer Conference Centre planning application

The nearest thing to news here is what  hasn’t happened. The University’s Chaucer Conference Centre planning application, expected to have materialised by now (on the basis of what University authorities chose to tell us last year), has not done so. Unfortunately, no news is not necessarily good news in this case. Although there are ongoing and imminent changes of personnel at the most senior level at the University which we might hope could lead to fresh thinking on this matter, there is as yet no evidence of policy change. So we’ve no obvious reason to believe the University has abandoned its plans to replace fields, trees and beautiful vistas with tarmac, multi-storey buildings and high rise blocks. It seems most likely that delays beyond its control, or deliberate stalling, explain this latest episode of policy drift.

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One of the  favourite oak trees amongst climbers, with the cathedral and marlowe theatre in the background. Southern part of Dover down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

Unspoilt Southern  Slopes Imagery 

Happily, spring in with us in earnest at last. The unspoilt Southern Slopes, including chaucer fields, are now coming to life with verdant fresh foliage, the hum of bees and other insects, and resonant birdsong. This includes the melodious singing of robins, wrens, blackbirds and thrushes; the chirping of house sparrows and dunnocks; the cackling of the several members of the crow family that frequent the fields; the repetitive calls of chiff-chaffs, tits and  finches; and the drumming and characteristic laugh-like cries of great spotted and green woodpeckers.

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Honey bee, Bushy Acres field, middle part of chaucer fields, April 2013

No new photos from Mark Kilner this time, I’m afraid (see previous Blog and Blogroll, right). But I did stumble across the image at the top of  the Blog. This is a striking artistic representation from Nigel Wallace, founder of the Faversham business White One Sugar, which specialise in posters and cards capturing iconic Kentish and national scenes. The style is inspired by mid twentieth century railway advertising posters. They have developed a number of Canterbury images. You’ll notice the one here captures the Cathedral framed by the unspoilt landscape. This is famously  part of the remarkable panoramic views whose integrity would  be undermined forever if building south of University  road and east of Chaucer College were to proceed. Nigel tells me that this is  one of their best selling representations of Canterbury.

A Pesticide Free Zone

In what follows, I’ll revert to interweaving some more of my own amateur photographic efforts into the  text this time round. I have paid  some attention this time to life which is able to flourish by virtue of the fact that this land has never been subjected  to pesticides, chemical sprays or other contaminants over the years, unlike much other proximate land. This is a topical international issue at the moment, with the ongoing debate on whether or not to control much more tightly at European level the use of the pesticides with wildlife in mind  – especially  in the light  of the dramatic decline in bee numbers in recent years.

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Small Copper,  Dover Down Field, late may 2012

To underscore the value  of the fields in their  unspoilt state from this perspective, I’ve included photos from the last few days,and last summer, of the commonest types of  bees and  the butterflies which are in evidence here at these  times of year.  A less well know manifestation of the fields’ spray-free past is  the existence of a wide range of fungi. A friend of mine who was studying botany some years ago, told me that in a single morning of mycology field work, he catalogued at least 35 varieties of fungi on the Southern Slopes. The combination of trees and uncontaminated open space on the slopes is especially conducive to their flourishing.   

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small tortoiseshell, south western part of Dover Down field, chaucer fields, april 2013

CAT excavations beginning: Keynes III site north of unspoilt Southern Slopes

Anyone expecting to experience the wonderful tranquillity which has been a signature feature of the fields for so many years will have been struck by the uncharacteristic temporary intrusion of noise during the day time this month. As people who venture to the northern part of the fields, or University Road users will have witnessed, the reason is that the diggers and bull dozers have been active to the north and east of Beverley Farm. They are clearing the ground in historic Saw Pett field for the ‘Keynes  III development’ student accommodation blocks. As a condition of giving planning permission, Canterbury City Council required that Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) conduct excavations on the site.

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Initial trench at Keynes III site, east of Beverley farm and north of University Road,            4 april 2013

Seeing the fields close to Beverley Farmhouse being dug up in this way is a troubling sight – in my opinion, especially sad in the context of the University never having demonstrated convincingly that other, alternative sites –  including Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking) –  could not have been developed. However, unlike land further south, this part of campus was already earmarked for commercial development several years ago.

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Digger for Keynes III site close to Beverley Farm, april 2013

Moreover, encountering this ‘development’  so close by will, for sure, harden the resolve of the many people already committed to preserving the unspoilt  fields further south, below University road, to do everything possible to ensure this can never happen there. Witnessing the digging will also surely raise awareness of the threatened status of the proximate area amongst regular and routine University road  users who, up until now, may not have given the issue much attention.

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Working on the Keynes III site, mid April 2013

There’s also something positive to report on how the process will unfold. Regular readers of this Blog will be aware how important CAT’s work has already been in drawing on historical documentary evidence on the heritage value of the setting of Beverley Farm – both north and south. But the ongoing archeological work seems set to systematically evidence, for the first time, that the significance of this place for human settlement  long pre-dates the medieval origins of the farmhouse over half a millenium ago. As expected given the ancient impact of man on the shape of the land and character of the place, CAT have advised me that some Pre-Historic finds are already in evidence.

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Honey bee, Dover Down field, mid april 2013

This  is hardly surprising, since in very local terms the Beverley Farm setting  is obviously nearby to  the iron age centres of Canterbury and Bigbury Camp. Indeed from a county-wide perspective, this part of Kent is especially rich in prehistoric settlements (see Alan Ward’s chapter ‘Overall Distribution of Prehistoric Settlement sites’ in Lawson and Killinggray’s Historical Atlas of Kent, Phillimore, 2004). Perhaps this will remind University authorities that the campus’s presence here accounts for just a fleeting moment of historical time: It should be approaching its land stewardship responsibilities with great care and humility.

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Male chaffinch, southern part of Chaucer Fields, mid april 2013

Indeed, I think this is a good chance for people from both communities to work together for a common heritage interest, and the dig is going to be ongoing for several months. So please watch do continue to watch this space for .

  • updates on finds as the excavation unfolds; and
  • opportunities for the local and university communities to get actively involved as volunteers in the process of revealing our past.
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Buds on one of the apple trees presumably dating back to Mount’s nursery days earlier in the 20th century. Central southern part of  chaucer fields, april 2013

Kent Union election for sabbatical officers 2013/14

I have written to congratulate the President-elect of Kent Union, Chelsea Moore, on her electoral success last month. She’ll take up the sabbatical position as head of the University of Kent’s students’ union, covering the academic year 2013/14, in the autumn. What has this got to do with the fields? For now, Kent Union’s adoption of a policy to ‘campaign to save chaucer fields’ in response to the all student vote (ASV) last year has not really generated any visible results under the current leadership, despite suggestions  reported in an earlier Blog that these might be pending. But we can I suppose assume that it has helped shaped the approach taken in handling the issue in behind-the-scenes discussions with the University authorities. And there is of course still ample time for the existing leadership to take a more publicly apparent contribution.

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Spring growth inside one of  Chaucer Fields’ many hedges, april 2013

But looking further into the future let’s hope that Kent Union’s approach will become bolder and more transparent. In a pre election statement, Chelsea chose to emphasise how “Research highlighted that students feel there is a lack of social areas on campus where they are not prompted to spend money. I would lobby the University for more communal areas on campus for people to relax and socialise in comfort.” ( see About Chelsea Moore).

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Blue tit glimpsed through Jack Cade’s carvet, central part of chaucer fields, april 2013

Protection of the currently unspoilt Southern Slopes clearly goes hand in hand with this aspiration: it is indeed precisely a communal area which allows for relaxation (as well as much else besides, of course). Combining this with the policy commitment she will inherit from the 2012 ASV, we can hope that the protection of chaucer fields  will be an important priority for Kent Union in 2013/14

Bee, Dover Down field

Honey Bee, Dover Down field, end of may 2012

5th May: Beating the Bounds… and a picnicking invitation

The historical fascination of Beverley Farmhouse and  the Southern Slopes are not just to do with pre-history or the medieval period. One of the most fascinating documents to be turned up by CAT in their 2011 research was an early eighteenth century map. (See Hill’s map, with the proposed 2011 ‘development’ plan boundary incongruously superimposed. This is a bit confusing to the modern observer, because north and south are inverted!)   The resonant historical field names on this 1706 map (which I have resurrected and used in this Blog over the past year) are striking. But one thing also in evidence is that the cartographer is unable to give a clear parochial boundary! This is because the land close to where the double hedge (“Roper’s twitchell”) is now prominent was then clearly not part of either St Stephens or St Dunstans parish. The issue was only resolved by magistrates, with the parish boundary unambiguously defined in law some years later.

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Bell Harry tower and Bushy Acres field trees, Chaucer fields, April 2013

Against  this backdrop, the continuation of the ‘beating the bounds‘ tradition, to demarcate where the St Stephens-St Dunstans boundary was finally situated, is especially interesting. Two years ago, Reverend Justin Lewis-Anthony led his parishioners over these fields as part of the process of beating the bounds of St Stephens. This year on sunday 5 May Reverend Mark Ball will be doing the same for neighbouring St Dunstans, including walking through Chaucer Fields. By so doing, he will also be drawing attention to the importance attached by the church to land with which it is historically deeply associated, and which is currently highly valued and widely used by the local community.  If  you are free on that day , please come to witness this tradition.

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan's church, June 2012

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan’s church from close to University road, from June 2012

We will be holding a  picnic which aims to coincide with the presence of the St Dunstans parishioners on the field. It will involve the usual combination of music, recreation, relaxation and socialising. It will almost certainly be in the afternoon, but more details will be circulated by email, texts, tweets and on the Save Chaucer Fields Facebook page closer to the time.  Hope to see you there!

Beating bounds from Foxworthy

Source: Customs in Kent, Tony Foxworthy, 2008, Country books, reproduced with permission

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Four things worth noting

Dear all

As usual, a bit later than I had hoped. A small number of updates. The images are some fairly predictable seasonal ones from Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes (south of Beverley farm, east of Eliot path and west of Chaucer College). But perhaps less predictably, I ran into some Christ  Church University 3rd Year Film Studies using the setting to make a film, so I’ve included a group picture of them too. They have promised to give me the link for the film when it is completed, so of course I’ll pass it on.

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1. Keynes III Planning Application approved (5 February)

As expected, the student accommodation blocks on land north of Beverley farm and west of the existing Keynes college extension (‘Keynes II’) – between Giles Lane and University Road – received planning approval earlier this month. This was in line with the officer’s recommendation, as noted in the previous Blog. Keith Mander and  Tom Ritchie (Kent  Union President) spoke in favour of the proposal, and St Edmunds School, who occupy land close to the proposed site,  objected. The main issue to emerge at the meeting was the question of the impact on St Edmunds School, who apparently had not been consulted by the University about Keynes III (which seems bizarre).  Councillors explicitly dismissed some of the concerns raised (some with explanation and others without), although they simply did not discuss at all others. But they did acknowledge there was a legitimate worry about security, leading to a requirement to take this issue into account in handling boundary issues. This was reported in the local press.

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In my view, it was disappointing that Councillors chose not to pick up on the issue of site selection, despite the officer’s explicit ‘reservations’ about this question, originally set out in  in the context of the aborted 2011 application, and then restated once again in her report this year. Alternative options, including Park Woods and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking), were never thoroughly explored in a evidence-based way (separately or in combination), but dismissed by the University with unsubstantiated claims about cost and feasibility.

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Canterbury Christ Church students filming on the Fields, February 2013

Why was the University not challenged on this aspect? I don’t know the answer to that. But my sense is that the Development Management Committee’s silence on that issue may reflect the wish to avoid further delays in meeting the need for offering further student accommodation. A year had already been lost because of the bungled initial application in 2011, yet the issue had become one which is widely regarded as being in need of urgent resolution. Presumably, no one wants to be seen to causing a further delay at this stage!

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At the same time, we must hope lessons have been learned. In the longer run, if further accommodation needs emerge, and new proposals come through, the issue of site selection must surely be dealt with professionally and transparently. Any such proposals must be defended with an evidence-based approach. In my view, this would need to involve undertaking systematic and transparent evaluation of the full range of alternatives on and off campus in the context of a publicly negotiated Master Plan.

2. Kent Union’s approach after the all student vote

I am sometimes asked by members of the community what action Kent Union are taking in relation to Chaucer Fields?  This question is posed in the aftermath of the All Student Vote last November, which made it official Union policy to “Campaign to save Chaucer Fields”. In the SoS Forum (see previous Blog), ideas for follow through action were already informally shared between the community and the champions of the policy from within KU.

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I learned today that momentum for action is now formally coming to fruition at the level of  the relevant committee charged with implementing the policy (Kent Union’s  ‘community zone’), working with Kent Union’s President, Tom Ritchie. This is welcome news, and it seems we can look forward to some interesting initiatives in the months ahead. I’ll keep you up to date on these, as more information is released and as events unfold. 

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

3. Kent @50

Many of you will be aware that the University’s  50th anniversary is approaching (and I already reported how this can be put in a much longer historical context vis a vis the Southern Slopes in the last Blog). The University is currently asking members of the “University  community”, especially including former and existing staff and students, to submit ideas about this, please see:

http://www.kent.ac.uk/planningfor50/.

The “ideas” are being posted  on  a “painted wall”  using “wall wisher” or “padlet”, see below (use the link for a more legible, high resolution image)

You’ll note at present one mention of the fields, bottom left hand corner  “promise not to build on Chaucer Fields”. However I have been told by several people that they have submitted Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes related “ideas”,  framed much more positively and extensively than this rather bland statement. The ones I’ve seen tend to stress that  the value of the fields as a positive asset for all should be recognised, and urge the University to commit, in various ways,  to  protect and/or enhance them as beautiful, shared unspoilt space. Indeed, the current moment of anniversary planning is seen as an opportunity to link this issue to University imperatives both  to foster its own ‘community’, as well to develop healthy relations with the host community, .

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Early signs of spring, “Jack Cade’s carvet”

If you consider yourself to be a member of the “university community”, perhaps you would also think about submitting a fields-related “idea”?  If you do, please email me your submission. I am collecting these, so that justice can be done to the richness of people’s ideas. I have also opened an account with “wall wisher”, and eventually  intend to create a “parallel wall” which will showcase the many positive and creative ideas which now seem to be emerging on this matter.

4. Upcoming events

You’ll recall from previous Blogs that next month is highly significant for the fields – with the public inquiry running regarding the Village Green application at the Franciscan Studies Centre (week beginning 18 march). And while the University has chosen to be secretive about the timing of its current approach, it seems likely that a ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ proposal, presumably based upon the plans sketched out at the ‘exhibition’ event last september, may also be submitted to Canterbury City Council next month.

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The Save Chaucer Fields group really need financial support to help with cover the financial costs of dealing with both these processes. There are two events with which your involvement and support would be most appreciated – they’ll help to raise funds as well as being a great chance to have fun and socialise with like minded people. Based on experience, they will include people of all ages from outside the University, as well as University staff and students.

  •  On Saturday 9th March, 7.00 – 10.00 pm, there’ll be a Chaucer Fields quiz night at St Dunstan’s church hall, please see poster below for more details (and if you are a Facebook type of person, please see the SCF Facebook site). Please do buy your tickets in advance, so the organisers are ready i terms of catering and facilities.

9 march 2013 SCF quiz

  • On Saturday 16th March, mid to late afternoon, a  Fundraising musical event will take place at a venue to be revealed! It will be between the University and the city centre, which many of you will know…. Please make a note of this in your diary…. I’ll report more details in the next Blog!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Belated welcome – 2013

Dear all

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 186

A belated Happy ‘New’ Year!  There’s one important, and perhaps under-reported development to note with the first Blog of 2013. We learned this week that Canterbury City Council officers are  recommending  to the Development Management Committee that the Keynes III development be granted planning permission. More on that below. Other than that, there’s nothing dramatic to pick up on: in a sense the “waiting game” continues in the run-up to March. However, there are some healthy signs that the momentum is steadily gathering in terms of actions and planning on the part of those seeking to protect the Fields as unspoilt shared green space. I’ll intersperse the text relating to the unspoilt slopes with images from last weekend’s snow on the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields. As ever when it snows, many families and students were out and about enjoying the scenic beauty, and making the most of the opportunities to have fun that the weather presented!

1. Keynes III: Councillors likely to approve planning permission on 5 February 2013

A report has been written by officials for the Councillors who sit on the Development Management Committee of Canterbury City Council recommending the proposed development –  west of the existing Keynes II extension, and north of the Innovation centre (between Giles Lane and University  Road) –  be granted planning permission. Typically, Councillors vote in line with recommendations, so it is very likely that permission will be given. The report (download here) affirms the development is potentially positive both in terms of dealing with currently unmet accommodation needs for students (for the benefit of the University and city/District alike), as well as being on balance conducive to implementing existing business park plans.  (This is argued to follow especially from the construction of a new access road which would service both sets of needs).

As discussed in earlier Blogs, this was not a foregone conclusion. While the overwhelming majority of local opinion was in favour of the development – not least simply out of relief that it is less appalling than the Chaucer Fields megasite alternative originally mooted in 2011 – there were reasons for questioning the plans. Some of these perspectives were expressed in feedback received from expert bodies inside and outside the Council, and also by lay people too.

In a Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog written when the application was submitted in November, you may recall that four considerations were highlighted. However, since then, new information  has surfaced, much of it reported clearly in the officer’s report, which has lead to a revision in my position in respect of three of these issues.

  • Playing Fields: The objection has been withdrawn in the light of belated clarification by the University, following an internvention by Sports England, on the temporary nature of the playing fields in the context of its overall playing field provision;
  • Pre-existing Development Policies: The original objection, on the grounds of lack of clarity relating to the business park, has been withdrawn. That’s because a clear account on how the plans relate positively to long established policies (the District Plan, Supplementary Planning Guidance and linked Briefings), covering development of the land north of University Road, is included in the officer’s report.. (The University’s own material on this issue had been vague and incoherent, hence my initial objection);
  • New evidence on the Resilience of demand for University places (not in the officer’s report) suggests the absolute number of students seeking residential accommodation may be stable (even if, as a proportion of all students, the number seeking residential accommodation may fall in response to the new financial environment). The related objection has been withdrawn.

Accordingly, I have written to the  Council (download here) to say that  the earlier representation should be adapted. The view is expressed that planning permission should not be unconditionally withheld.  While the impact on the landscape north of Beverley farm (and the University Road) it problematic, the officer’s report does seem to put forward a balanced justification for allowing development there, in terms of policies and priorities which are democratically determined, and already in place.

However, it is suggested that the other point made in the original letter – that the alternative site analyses have been wholly inadequate – still stands, and it is noted that the Council’s report does highlight  ‘reservations’ on this point. Accordingly, the view is expressed that planning permission might reasonably be given, but given more conditionally: It is suggested it could be forthcoming  if and only if the University is now able to demonstrate conclusively that other sites are not appropriate (including especially the obvious options of Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking)). Its failure to do so convincingly to date, given the importance of the issue, is frankly unacceptable. So, this basic requirement is still outstanding, and has not gone away. And the Council is always going to be haunted by ‘reservations’ and doubts about avoidable loss of green space, albeit of relatively modest amenity value,  unless this condition is attached and demonstrably and unambiguously met.     .

2.  Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) initiated January 2013

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So evidently Council officials have been hard at work in recent weeks in drawing together the evidence needed by Councillors to make an informed decision. For their part, the promoters of the ‘development’ at the University  have been publicly silent for around 3 months now, although no doubt further work has been undertaken behind closed doors, especially in preparation for March’s public enquiry and potential planning application on Chaucer Fields themselves (see previous Blog).

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Elsewhere, those who embrace a positive vision for the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space have been preparing the ground for the future. Most importantly perhaps, the Save Chaucer Fields (SCF) group, the coalition of residents associations which has been central in driving the grass roots campaign against  ‘development’ on the unspoilt fields since 2011, have  prioritised working with relevant parties in preparing for the Village Green public inquiry. With the University conspicously choosing to be incommunicado, focussing on this crucial groundwork has made good sense. Please do refer to the ‘refreshed’ SCF homepage,and the SCF village green sub-page, which contains very important information about the pending public inquiry (see also the January newsletter, below).  Week beginning 18 march is the key moment, with hearings taking place on campus, but at an institution which is constitutionally separate from the University: the venue is the  Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury CT2 7NA.

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It is significant too that a Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) was initiated this month to facilitate communication and co-operation in defending the unspoilt Southern Slopes in the months ahead. The Forum is informal but will meet regularly, and includes CFPS, the Save Chaucer Fields group; participation from Kent Union, the students’ union, with community zone and environmental interests coming forward (now with a clear mandate to defend the Fields in the aftermath of last term’s decisive all student vote requiring the Union to campaign to Save Chaucer Fields); and involvement by the University and Colleges Union, the University of Kent staff union, whose members voted in favour of protection for the Fields last year.

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The SoS Forum intends to liaise with and potentially involve the many other sympathetic parties who share  commitment to the fields – including local church groups (especially the Church of England, with its historic stewardship role in relation to community land); the Canterbury Society, Greenpeace, local recreation groups, individual student-led societies, and a number of local businesses and local and national charities, including those who were mentioned in CFPS Blogs in 2012. The idea is to make sure that the collective voice of civil society on this matter cannot be marginalised. Not only will this voice be heard, but it will necessarily be heard with increasing volume and persistence!

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3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013

In its latest newsletter (see below) SCF report that they have set a target of £4,800 for the weeks ahead – especially to cover the costs of legal advice in pursuing the Village Green Application, and the costs associated with contesting the Chaucer Conference Centre Planning Application expected in March.Chaucer fields newsletter 2013 (fundraising) .

The SoS Forum are keen to build on the success of previous fundraising community events to support the campaign. And I am pleased to say that the joint SCF-CFPS Ceilidh, featuring traditional English dance music from Roystercatchers, at the end of  last year raised over £500, as well as bringing people together for a great – and different, for many – night out. Attendees included not only local people without University connections, but UKC staff and UKC students currently studying here with origins as far afield as the Middle East, China and the Caribbean!  We’ll need more events like this to keep the momentum going.

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Indeed, as mentioned in the newsletter above – and you’ll be aware of this if you follow Save Chaucer Fields on Facebook – a further fundraising quiz on the evening of 9th March in St Dunstans church hall is also planned. These events are indeed great fun, good for community morale, and strongly recommended. And: this is  an especially important event, happening as it does at the beginning of  March. Please do try to go if you can, or if you are unable to do so, please consider making a donation to the cause (see above).

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Aside from further quizzes, other collaborative events currently being  planned for 2013, with guidance form the SoS Forum,  include::

  • A further Roystercatcher English Ceilidh, and related  acoustic musical happenings on the University campus and beyond
  • As weather permits in the Spring, a series of picnics involving play and recreation
  • A gathering on the Southern Slopes focussed on the ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ constructed by Whitstable’s Dead Horse Morris, to mark the arrival of May, as happened in 2012
  • A celebration of  “Beating of the Bounds”  – also in May. In collaboration  with  local church authorities, this will be based around the parish boundary (between St Dunstans and St Stephens) that has across the Southern Slopes for centuries –  as well, of course as other places in Canterbury further south where the boundary lies. This ancient tradition has long been enacted in and around our city (see photo below), and has a fascinating history in this particular place. The Blog will have more to say about this tradition in the months ahead!
Beating bounds from Foxworthy

Source: Customs in Kent, Tony Foxworthy, 2008, Country books, reproduced with permission

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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Update – heritage, voting and dancing!

Dear all

Another relatively short Blog. Its a busy time of year for all of us, you have less time to read and I have less time to write! As usual, some seasonal photos interspersed in the text to keep the beautiful fields and also Beverley Farm at the forefront.

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Frosty morning view of Cathedral from Dover Down field, December 2012

1. Keynes III planning application

(student accommodation north of University road/west of Keynes extension)

Only a relatively small number of written representations have materialised at this point.  The possible reasons for this were discussed in earlier Blogs, including the relatively limited amenity value of this site (aside from the playing field, see below) and the sense that it is at least less appalling than the 2011 proposals.  However, it is important to stress that this does not mean that unconditional Planning Permission will necessarily be granted. Permission could be granted with modest or very extensive conditions attached; or it could be  refused outright.

The reasons are complex, but two considerations are  worth emphasising. First, the Development Management Committee will be taking into account the quality of the arguments put forward by those who have made representations, even if numbers are modest. If they are collectively convinced that the case presented by objectors is compelling,  they will turn down the application, or attach strong conditions to require accommodation of objector’s concerns.

Beverley farmhouse from the North, December 2011

Beverley farmhouse from the North, December 2011

Second, the DMC will also need to take into account in its decision not only the objections of people and outside groups (civil society organisations), but also the ‘internal’ feedback received from its own institutions; from ‘technical’ consultees or expert bodies (often referred to as ‘quangos’); and a body designed to bridge the gap between the community, technical experts and the Council itself, the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee (CCAC)

Beverley farmhouse  december 2011 detail 2

Beverley farmhouse – external medieval feature detail

It is interesting to note that the Keynes III application has generated a series of robust responses from the CCAC, but also a series of issues from experts inside and outside  the Council. For example, Sports England refer to the loss of playing field space,and emphasise that compensatory space must be found as a matter of national policy. And in a remarkably strongly worded passage drawing upon the research which the University itself was required to do as part of the Environmental Impact  Assessment the Council’s own Conservation/Archaeology section says that “overall the proposed [Keynes III] development will have a significant and permanent negative impact on the  historic landscape and leave Beverley farmhouse isolated” (memorandum, 12 november 2012).

As you may recall I believe Beverley farm and its setting should be treasured and respected  as an important  part of our local – indeed the whole of Kent’s – heritage. In earlier Blogs, through maps, historically resonant language and text, I have tried to emphasise the deep, time honoured connections between the farm and the fields stretching southwards,towards Canterbury  (ie, Chaucer Fields and the unspoilt proximate Southern Slopes). This new material provides expert confirmation that heritage is a major consideration further north: it shows that the Keynes III development would undermine the ancient field setting on the other side of this mediaeval farmhouse as well. This is made much worse by the knowledge that the University has still failed to present convincing  evidence to substantiate its claim that already-developed places without any such profound heritage value, including the Park Woods and Giles Lane car  park site, cannot be developed instead. I think this disregard for our heritage is unacceptable.

Beverley farmhouse - external medieval detail

Beverley farmhouse – external medieval detail

If you share my concerns, please do take a look at the Chapter 8 Cultural Heritage-1, and you may then yet feel the need to respond to the proposals. This could serve to amplify the concerns already emphasised in the internal Council memorandum.

2 Student Vote: Kent Union must now campaign to save Chaucer Fields

Let’s now turn to the situation regarding the fields south of University Road. You may have already picked up through the SCF Facebook page, in twitter feeds (see Blogroll and right hand side of this Blog), or Kent Union websites that something rather remarkable has happened since the last Blog in the world of student politics at the University. Surpassing the most optimistic expectations of  people seeking to secure protection for the unspoilt Southern Slopes – including me – in an on-line ‘All Student Vote’, University students have voted to campaign to require Kent Union to campaign to save Chaucer Fields.

All leaves gone, December 2012

Most leaves gone, Dover Down field, December 2012

More students vote for their union to campaign on the issue as a policy priority than for sticking with the position formally prevailing up until now (‘neutrality’). But that is not all;  there was a decisive endorsement of activism on this issue: 877 voted for the pro-unspoilt-Chaucer Fields policy change;  298 against the policy change; and 235 abstained (with 1,410 votes caste in total).  Please refer to the Kent Union All Student Vote results site for more on the context and implications of this result.

So, not only have the staff union strongly endorsed the protection of Chaucer Fields (see earlier Blogs reporting on the UCU on-line vote and the outcome of an open meeting convened by UCU).  Now the student’s union have taken the initiative too. It will take a while to absorb this result, and it will be exciting to see how Kent Union chooses to follow through on this new policy commitment.

One of the views from University road which would be despoiled of the Chaucer Conference Centre were built

One of the views soutwards from University road which would be despoiled if the Chaucer Conference Centre were built, snowy December morning 2012

Why were these efforts successful? Looking back my first reaction is that three ingredients may have been important.  First, the extent to which most students share with most local residents a high level of recognition of the extent to which the currrently unspoilt landscape around the University is one of its most important assets. They know this differentiates it from many other Universities which are already often characterised by soulless grey sprawl. This is not least because this feature of the University setting is one of the key reasons people are attracted to come here to study in the first place. Moreover we also know from opinion poll reseearch conducted by Ipsos Mori for Canterbury City Council that students share similar commitments to preserving green open space to non-students, even in the face of intense pressures for development.

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

Second, there was a remarkable effort to secure a positive result from a small but extremely committed and dynamic group of students, especially Ayla Rose Jay. With extraordinary energy, they campaigned cleverly and passionately during the crucial time period on the run up to the voting deadline. Third, a good relationship has been built with key people in the community who have been working on this issue for a long time. Information and ideas were shared to ensure that Ayla and her circles were well equipped to use appropriate campaigning techniques, and to support their position with relevant evidence and argument.

Save Chaucer Fields banner in snow, December morning 2012

Save Chaucer Fields banner barely visible in snow, December morning 2012

3. English Ceilidh – Saturday  8 December Evening

Let me finish on another positive note! There’s been a high level of interest in this event, and all is set for a great evening. Its going to be a real community celebration, bringing together local residents, University staff and University students in a very special way. If you are free and would like to come, you do need to get a ticket, or reserve one, in advance. To do this, please either phone one of the SCF people whose numbers are shown  below, or just drop me an email at chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com I can have a ticket reserved for you at the door (note, they are £10, which will make an important contribution to the ‘fighting fund’ being built up in readiness for the costly efforts to secure the fields’ future in the years ahead). Please be sure to be on time – 7.30pm sharp!

All the best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Christmas Event 2012

Short Blog – updates and reminders

Dear all

This is going to be a shorter Blog! I think I may have tested many people’s capacity to absorb complex information to the limit with the last one! I’ve got a couple of night time views from the fields in this one (a) because these have barely featured at all in the rich Google images library relating to the fields that has emerged over the past couple of years; and (b) simply because the only chance I have had to be on the fields with a camera recently has been after night fall. Please remember – the beautiful juxtaposition of the Cathedral and other historic and significant buildings (such as Westgate towers, St Dunstan’s church, and now the new Marlowe Theatre) with velvety darkness will be lost forever if the high rise sprawl represented by the proposed Chaucer Conference Centre proceeds. The ‘buffer’ supposedly retained under the 2012 plan as a ‘concession’ is frankly pathetic in size compared to the majestic scale of the current unspoilt space there.  And light from the ‘development’ would necessarily spill over, effectively connecting the campus to the northern edge of the city. The distinction between campus and city would be lost.  Light pollution would be ubiquitous, and opportunities for people with limited mobility or transport options in the densely populated northern part of the city to stargaze conveniently will be lost forever. But…. I digress and I said I’d keep it short! So here goes:

Dover down field view, free of proximate light pollution, november night

1. Keynes III Pending Planning Application

Thanks for your feedback on the last Blog, which had suggested that people consider writing in with views on the 2012 Keynes III Planning Application. It does seem like many people are really torn on this: they are united by their resistance to the Chaucer Conference Centre, at the same time it is recognised that moving the student blocks northward is less appalling than situating them on the unspoilt Southern Slopes further south, as per the 2011 proposals. As described before, SCF have not encouraged people to object.  Morever, people who don’t live extremely close have not had formal notice of the proposal.  That is to say, most have not been prompted to offer written representations by Canterbury City Council who, following existing practice, have defined ‘neighbours’ in a  limited way, and not written to anyone south of University road. (They advise me that just 40 addressees have been notified about the current application).

Personally, I will still be writing submitting objections. You don’t need to have received a letter from the Council: anyone can do this (see the information on how in the last Blog). However, in the light of an exchange with Richard Norman of SCF, I have decided to modify the grounds for my objection, and raise 4 points rather than 5. I now think it unwise and hazardous to try to link this particular Planning Application to a ‘Master Plan’, because if this were to be done, the latter would necessarily be rushed and of poor quality, and could lock us in to premature decisions.  It would  take time to do this properly, because it needs to meaningfully involve engagement with affected parties if it is to be credible. And affected parties would include University people, as well as the host community, especially people living in Canterbury,  Blean and Tyler Hill, so the process would need to be time consuming and extensive. If you want more background on this, the exchange with Richard Norman is public, and can be viewed in the ‘comments’ at the foot of the last Blog.

Night time view of Cathedral and Marlowe theatre, from top of Dover Down field. Absence of light pollution in foreground and middle distance results from existence of unspoilt green buffer from bottom of field right up to University road

Accordingly, these and only these will now be my grounds for objecting:

1. The University has demonstrably failed in its Keynes III application to make a convincing case that alternative, more appropriate sites, including those earmarked in the District Plan, cannot meet the need for student accommodation. This is, first, because each of the alternatives, presented in turn and in isolation from one another in the submitted documentation, involve unsubstantiated assertions about cost and logistical feasibility; and  second, the University has failed to consider possible approaches which involve the provision of the necessary accommodation by combining developments across more than one alternative site. In sum, it has failed to ‘join up’ its analysis.

2. The Keynes III development cannot reasonably be considered out of the context of a more developed account of the plans for a ‘business innovation park’ or ‘science park’ north of University road, near to Beverley Farm and the Canterbury Innovation Centre in its immediate vicinity. At the moment, it is unclear to almost everyone what this ‘park’ will involve, and there is certainly little information in the public domain.

3. The University’s claims about the level and nature of demand for student accommodation which underpin the Keynes III Planning Application do not adequately account for the true characteristics of its current  student body, nor the likely effects of the new  fee environment on domestic undergraduates’ choices. This is because the University is not merely a ‘residential University’, as is currently claimed, but in practice caters significantly for students who choose to commute from outside the immediate vicinity (that is, while living neither on campus nor in the city of Canterbury, but further afield) Moreover, the new fee regime is set to render the representation of the University  as a essentially a  ‘residential University’  increasingly inaccurate and outdated.

4. The Keynes III development may involve the loss of land, some of  which can be described as ‘playing fields’. By apparently failing to make commitments to secure ‘like with like’ provision, the University may be violating national regulations.

Please note, if you wish to write, the deadline is TOMORROW although the Council have kindly indicated that representations after this deadline but before the determination of the decision (perhaps early in 2013)  will all be taken into consideration by the Planning Management committee

2. English Ceilidh: 8 December, 7.30 pm onwards, St Stephens Junior School

On a lighter not, there’s already been significant interest in this, and it seems set to be a great evening. Please do try to come if you can. I am pleased to be able to tell you that not only will you get a discount from Murray’s General store at the Good’s Shed if you show your Ceilidh tickets. Now Clive Barlow, of Press Wine Services, has kindly confirmed he is also offering a discount on his excellent wine if you these tickets are shown. For more on Clive, his expertise and philosophy, please go to his profile at the Institute of Masters of Wine

If there are any other Goods Shed people who wish to offer a discount to Ceilidh attenders, please let me know! The Goods Shed management and staff have long been supportive of our cause, and we are most grateful. This is just the latest way of expressing their support.

3. Student vote urging Kent Union to campaign to protect Chaucer Fields ongoing

I wanted to finish the Blog by wishing those involved with this effort good luck. The odds are stacked heavily against them, for all the reasons discussed in the previous Blog, but now I know more about the process, I think there’s may be additional reason too.  The vote on the issue is buried at the bottom of a long list of issues, and may well escape the attention of potentially interested but very busy students. But – hats off to them for taking the initiative, and showing that commitment to our unspoilt green space can potentially be something that unites students and the rest of us. The on-line vote is currently ongoing until wednesday, please see Kent Union Zone information for more details.

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, saturday 24 November 2012

all the best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Keynes III Planning Application submitted by the University

Dear all

I learned today that the University of Kent has now submitted its planning application for the student accommodation element of its development plans (“Keynes III”). You’ll recall this is the part of the original Chaucer Fields megasite proposal which has been re-situated away from the fields, north of University road (please see previous Blogs for more information). You can find the full proposal by visiting the Council Planning site and searching for recent Planning Applications, or use  the relevant case number, which is CA//12/01887.

A first impression on the Keynes III Planning Application: the case for locating the development here rather than elsewhere remains weak and inconclusive

This is a massive bundle of documents which it will take us all time to establish how to navigate, let alone read, and then digest! As with the previous application, it looks like signposting and cross referencing is poor. If this were a student assignment, it would be found seriously wanting! While I confess  I haven’t had a chance to scrutinize all the appendices, I’ve already tried to have quick look at the alternative site analysis, as this is one of the key issues here.  My initial impression is that, once again, we encounter unproven assertions and a lack of evidence to support the claims about alternative site suitability, especially in relation to capacity, cost, logistics and deliverability. Most obviously, various options seem to be ruled out on the grounds of cost without any supporting documentation, or explicit articulation of the actual financial ramifications. When the stakes are this high, we need to see all the details, and at least at first glance, these don’t seem to have been forthcoming.

Sunny day, beginnings of autumn, Dover down field

At the same time, we see a sad lack of imagination, and an absence of environmental sensibility, in considering the full range of possible options. In particular, achieving an enhanced overall student accommodation capacity by development across more than one alternative site appears not to have been considered. No explanation is given for this blind spot. My view is that if this is indeed true, it is an appalling oversight, especially as the University has had over 18 months to consider the feedback it received from the local community, and experts in the field.

With a little common sense, alternative scenarios readily begin to emerge  – even if one works with some of the assumptions the University has itself claimed apply. Take just one possibility: it seems that around a third of the additional student accommodation capacity could be secured by a medium scale development at Giles lane car park (with underground parking to sustain car parking space, if needed). The remainder of the required development could then be located on the northern part of campus, including in-fill and demolition within Park Woods, and on land close by, yet still well away from village population centres or high amenity green space here. With some of the heat taken off Park Woods by also developing Giles Lane car park, many of the short term problems of transitional accommodation (and income) loss stressed by the University could be readily minimised, and the development could be staged in a much shorter period of time than the ludicrously long time scales asserted in the documentation.

Anticipating that the claim will be made by the University that such environmentally sound approaches are ‘prohibitively expensive’, ‘too costly’ or ‘inefficient’, we must insist on seeing the full detail of  the facts and figures which supposedly substantiate such claims. And we must also be ready to point out three things. First, such alternative, more environmentally sensitive approaches are not ones associated with wild eyed environmental fanatics  – as the Estates Department might  like us to believe. In fact, for the past 7 months, they have been confirmed as completely mainstream, and a preference for them has been a core requirement in adhering to the National Policy Planning Framework now being implemented by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government. Locally,  this sort of approach also resonates in many ways with our own District Plan in attaching a high value to our open space and respecting our beautiful semi-natural landscape . Second, the University as an institution is now rather well placed to invest in quality, rather than approaching development projects from a narrow and short sighted cost cutting perspective . Let’s not forget it has been functioning with a surplus in the region of £10-15 million annually in recent years. Third, if we do now concede the point that even when the University has accumulated enormous resources it can still cut corners on environmental considerations, and fly in the face of national and local planning priorities, this will set appalling precedents for the future. Other places which also deserve protection, including green space of high landscape value on campus close to the villages of Blean and Tyler Hill, as well as the Southern Slopes more generally, will be next in line.

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, cloudy late october

These are some of the most obvious considerations I think people should bear in mind when deciding whether to welcome or resist the Keynes III initiative. I am well aware many people are simply relieved that something is being done to meet student accommodation needs after all the delays. But given that the way this is pans out is going to affect the character of Canterbury and its surroundings for decades to come, I think we must pause for thought and resist short sighted solutions with disastrous potential long term implications.

Personally, I hope to have time to review the submitted materials more fully in a few days time – the above remarks, let me repeat, are based on an initial impression of documents which are poorly organised. I’ll keep you posted if I have further thoughts with a further Blog in early to mid November, and I suppose that a deadline for written representations in this sort of timeframe will be confirmed by the Council soon. In the meantime, please look out for your letter from the Council advising of the new Planning Application (you should get one of you wrote to the Council about the 2011 application, or live close by). And we can also expect the Save Chaucer Fields group to offer important advice, through the Web (main page and Facebook page, see Blogroll links on this site), and mailouts locally.

Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes in the context of Keynes III

As emphasised in earlier Blogs, there is of course another  crucially important, reason for challenging the Keynes III plans, which has to do with the knock-on effects of permitting it to proceed, rather than Keynes III itself. That’s simply that  if this development is given the go ahead, the University Estates will claim that the space north of University road, which could otherwise have hosted conference facilities, is now ‘full up’, so any conference facilities ‘must’ be located on Chaucer Fields. The precedent will then have been set for the future, and we can expect to be told in the years to come that there is ‘no alternative’ to the development of the Southern Slopes, and land close to Blean and Tyler Hill villages, because elsewhere on campus ‘is now full too’.

Grey squirrel feasting on chestnuts, close to ancient cart track to Beverley Farm – get there fast or he’ll have them all!

In this context it is interesting to read how the resistance of the community to Chaucer Fields is presented in the covering letter accompanying the new Planning Application:

“.. there remain concerns within sections of the local community about
the proposed conference hotel on the Chaucer Fields site. In light of the consultation
responses, and given the ever increasing need to deliver new student residences, the
University has decided to move forward with the Keynes extension (the subject of this
application) whilst the conference hotel is subjected to further consideration and
consultation” (covering letter to new Planning Application, p. 2).

While referring to ‘concerns‘ seems like an understated way of describing the level of opposition to development on the fields, we can perhaps accept that in the context of a dry planning document, we are not going to see the plain english which would better reflect community sentiment. (In plain english, the words we would expect to see would probably increasingly include: deep anxiety, disbelief, anger, and frustration.)  However, the reference to ‘sections of the community‘ is, I think, not acceptable because of the inferences the reader is clearly intended to draw about the narrowness of opposition.  This seems to be proof positive that the University Estates Department remains in complete denial about reasons for resisting the ‘development’ of Chaucer Fields, and the nature and scale of sentiment in the community, and indeed within the University, against this idea.

Mid autumn sunshine, Dover down field

Anyone who needs reminding of how widespread opposition to the ‘development’ of Chaucer fields is at community and University levels could obviously refer to: the level of interest in the local media; the results of the University’s ‘Local Dialogue’ consultation from 2011, wherein almost all of the 260+ respondents (including local residents, students and staff) objected to ‘development’ on the field in principle; the over 450 Objection letters submitted to the Planning Application in the same year, again, overwhelmingly opposing development in principle on this site; and the outcome of the anonymous electronic poll and open meeting organised by the University staff’s trade union, the UCU,  with large majorities opposing ‘development’ on this site, and urging the use of alternative locations. These are extraordinarily consistent and extensive reactions on an unprecedented scale.

Significantly, this attempt to marginalise opposition by implying it is narrowly based has today been dealt a blow by the first publicly available written representation to be made in response to the recent planning developments. The letter comes from the Canterbury Conservations Advisory Committee. I think this is an important intervention, and so I am reproducing it here in full (you can also download it from the Planning Application site, mentioned above).

Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee’s recent letter to CCC

There are at least three reasons why this is particularly significant. First, CCAC is an expert advisory body to the Council It is in no sense a ‘lobby’, but supports the Council in making decisions which are defensible in policy and technical terms. It does not seek to represent a ‘section’ of the community. Rather, it seeks to articulate the public interest in the sphere of planning, defined to draw on a deep well of relevant professional and lay experience. Second, in supporting the Council, the CCAC focusses in the interests of the District as a whole, not any one geographical section of it  The University’s portrayal of those who are unconvinced by  the chaucer fields development as ‘sectional’ seems also to hint that those involved are narrowly self-interested, and confined too in a geographical sense (‘nimbys’). But CCAC’s intervention makes very clear that there are sound reasons for resisting the Chaucer Fields development from the perspective of the District as a whole. The third reason is the substance of the letter. It sets out that there are profound and deep seated concerns affecting the locality relevant here, and which the University cannot and must not dismiss as ‘sectional’.

Close up, mid autumn colours, Beverley Boughs

Part of the broader context here is that it is time the University moved away from its ad hoc and fragmented approach towards  revealing its overall planning intentions to the host community through a fully transparent ‘Master Plan’ or similar overview document. This idea was already suggested by the Canterbury Society in 2011, but to no avail. The reinforcement of this message from CCAC should be a wake up call for the University. The current secretive approach –  hoarding information to the last possible moment and even then only revealing intentions in a piecemeal, partial and opaque way –  has demonstrably been a recipe for disaster in terms of how the University is seen locally. It has damaged community relations, and  been associated with confused and inconsistent decision making as exemplified in the Chaucer Fields experience to date. If the University is really concerned about the efficient use of resources in a way which relates meaningfully to the needs of the District, instead of deflecting and trivialise the concerns of the host community, it should begin listening to, and learning from them.

That’s all for now, other than to say: please continue to protect the evening of 8th December in your diaries for a special community event! All will be revealed next month!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Breaking news – Chaucer Fields

Dear all

Essential (long) September and beyond

What I suggested could be called  “Essential September” in an earlier Blog has been and gone! We can talk of “Essential long September” perhaps, because the first few days of october have also witnessed important decisions (see below). Real progress has been in evidence in certain respects – although, as we’ll discuss below, in some respects the threat to Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes has actually intensified.

Please bear with the length of this Blog. But I feel  the issues are so important now that a more  extensive discussion is needed. We are at an important moment in the  decision making cycle. The University Council meets this friday, and a report on Chaucer Fields and associated  developments is on the agenda. And as you’ll see below,  important statutory planning processes will be beginning to unfold from later this month onwards.

A greater spotted woodpecker like this one has been frequenting Dover Down Field in recent weeks. Image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust/TheWoodland Trust

I think on balance we can say that ‘long September’ has been a positive month for those who treasure the Southern Slopes as shared, unspoilt green space for two main reasons

  • We learned that the Village Green Application is proceeding to a non statutory public inquiry. (See the record of the Minutes of 11th September KCC Meeting, although at p. 32 the number of attendees seems to be inaccurate; there were at least 80 people at the meeting). While the VGA had been dismissed as highly unlikely to succeed by the University, the outcome must not be pre-judged. There’s a real, fighting chance we’ll be able to protect forever 43 acres of the Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)  as unspoilt green space. This should lift our spirits, and is a step forward for future generations of local residents and their families, University staff, and University students. It is also good news for our many visitors from all over the world who often instantly recognise the beauty of this remarkable place, and have expressed disbelief that it is even being considered for ‘development’ .
  • The revised University ‘development’ plans, presented at recent ‘preview’ and  ‘consultation’ events, show that the University Estates Department has now U-turned on key elements of its proposals from 2011. It is frustrating for those of us who believe in transparent governance that this shift in thinking has been shrouded in secrecy for more than a year. And as we’ll see below, the changes are also double edged, with disturbing backward as well as forward steps. But at least we now know that there is, in principle, a willingness on the part of the University to begin the process of taking into account the views and values of the host community, and indeed the wider University community itself.

KCC Regulation Committee members &  interested parties on the site visit to Chaucer Fields prior to the meeting launching a public inquiry, morning of 11th September

The U-turn on Student Accommodation: a new ball game emerges

What form has this shift taken? As described in September’s CFPS Blogs, the “Keynes III” student accommodation blocks are now planned for north of University road (further extending the recent Keynes college building works). Here, they would be close to, but not actually built upon,  Chaucer Fields, in a place where they would seem to have much more limited negative consequences from environmental, landscape, social, and heritage perspectives. Yet at the same time, Professor Keith Mander, the champion of the ‘development’ plans, revealed at one of the recent University-led ‘consultation’ events that he still would have strongly preferred to persist with the original proposals.

Professor Mander’s continued strong preference for the original proposal while the University as a whole has changed its position is revealing. It can be inferred that the change of direction must either reflect an instrumental calculation that those earlier proposals were anticipated as likely to be rejected by Canterbury City Council’s Planning Management Committee; and/or, it could the welcome influence of more conciliatory voices from within the higher echelons of University infrastructure – the position the University itself, through its Corporate Communications Department, seems to be seeking to promote.

The changes involved in this re-think are really important, because of the principles they imply, and the extent to which they undermine the claims made by the Estates Department in 2011 about how cost, logistics, and deliverability constrain the options available. There are two key dimensions to this. The change indicates  (1)  the acceptance by the University that there is no overwhelming justification for a 10 acre megasite, involving co-location of student accommodation blocks and the hotel/conference facilities in the same place; and  (2) the implicit  abandonment of assertions from 18 months ago about  the feasibility of site options elsewhere on campus. In particular, claims made in 2011 about how cost considerations, complexity, capacity constraints, the use of land for sports, and  “logistics and deliverability” factors prohibited the college extension option, and the development of land north of University road have all been quietly abandoned (see Site selection appendix extract.  for the assertions made in the original application).

Hawthorn berries, dark red and ripe, late september, Jack Cade’s Carvet

Assuming the University wishes to develop plans which are demonstrably rational and publicly defensible this completely changes the context for decision making about ‘development’ on campus. It is logically now time to re-visit the other rejected sites where the Estates Department similarly claimed  – without evidence  – that cost, complexity, capacity constraints, logistics and deliverability criteria ruled out development. The other site options which come back on to the agenda include most obviously (i) other land behind Innovation Centre north of University road; (ii) extensions to other colleges (iii) part of Giles Lane Car Park (providing underground parking is incorporated to ensure retention of parking space); (iv) a part of the land currently occupied by sports fields near Park Wood road (as long as replaced with equivalent or better alternatives elsewhere); and (v) land within, immediately adjacent to, and/or north of, already-developed Park Woods (but still well south of village population centres in Blean and Tyler Hill to preserve a green buffer and local green space for people there on that part of the campus too).

The Continued threat to Chaucer Fields: an Enlarged hotel/conference centre

As  reported before, however, this policy shift on student accommodation was not the whole story. Far from it.  The threat to Chaucer Fields has in some respects actually intensified because of other aspects of the modified proposals. That’s because the University has failed to take the opportunity to also rethink its flawed analysis in relation to the location of the hotel/conference centre element. Not only do its revised proposals leave  hotel/conference centre multi-storey blocks at the heart of Chaucer Fields, despoiling the historic Dover Down Field. But  the number of proposed blocks and rooms has actually increased, with the number of rooms from 150 to more than 300. Why? This enlargement apparently follows the recommendations of  the consultancy group  ‘Hotel Solutions’ in a marketing report conducted last year.

That report, it must be noted, narrowly focussed on financial considerations, with no account of the relevance of other factors a charitable, nonprofit organisation like a University with stakeholders other than shareholders would normally be expected to consider. Accordingly, the extensive environmental, social and landscape harms the proposal would inflict on the host community and the University itself were not acknowledged, let alone given weight in the analysis. Nor were the detrimental effects of the development on the local economy – the negative effects on local independent small and medium sized businesses, as power is concentrated in the hands of the University bureaucracy –  seriously considered.  (You can read the UNIVERSITY OF KENT RESIDENTIAL CONFERENCE RESEARCH – FINAL REPORT redacted here, courtesy of the University Council secretariat).

Cutting the grass on Dover Down Field, early october

The Process in the Months Ahead

Finally, at the start of this month, more information on how the process will unfold has come on stream – and the University has indicated another shift in its original position, even since a few weeks ago. Instead of submitting its applications for planning permission across the sites together, it will handle the process with two distinct and seperate planning applications at different times. (Thanks to Canterbury City Council for advising me of this development, which is not explicit in the University’s ‘consultation’ materials). So:

  • The planning application for “Keynes III” will still follow the schedule presented last month, going in at the end of this month (late october); whereas
  • the “Chaucer Conference Centre” proposal will not now follow this schedule. It will instead be submitted later – although in true Estates Department style, the specific timing remains a mystery! However, it should be noted that, as long as this delay is for weeks or months rather than years, if the application were successful, it would still theoretically allow the process of concreting over the fields to begin in late 2014 (with a reduced amount of time between the planning application and the commencement of the building works).

Yellowing English Oak leaves, Dover Down Field, early October

Some thoughts on the proposals, and the community reaction on Keynes III to date

It won’t surprise you to know, given my observations on how earlier assumptions have been jettisoned, that I  personally believe that there is still a great deal of work to be done to convince University people, the host community and Canterbury City Council that  “Keynes III” is necessarily a step forward. At the risk of stating the obvious, the main reason for this follows from the lack of evidence presented in the alternative site analysis to date. We have been presented with unsubstantiated assertions, not evidence-based analysis

How could the alternative sites support a different approach? I am  sure there are several, if a bit of imagination and creativity were bought to bear on the problem, and a number of ideas were floated from local and University-based attendees at the ‘consultation’ events last month. This applies to both the location of the hotel/conference facilities, and the student accommodation blocks. Many argue that the claims about the ‘synergetic’ gains coming from situating the conference centre close to the Innovation Centre and business or “science” park have never developed beyond vague conjecture at best, and are simply loose talk and meaningless waffle at worst. Accordingly, on this view, the conference facilities and the student accommodation could readily both be sited well away from this part of campus in a relatively unconstrained way using an intelligent combination of the sorts of sites mentioned above.

However, suppose, despite the bluster to date, there really were yet-to-be-made-public compelling reasons for still having the Hotel/Conference Centre close to the Innovation Centre and business park.  Does this necessitate ‘developing’  Chaucer Fields? Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is clearly no. Some of the land north of University road behind the innovation centre could instead be used to host any conference facilities which are truly needed (with the student accommodation on the other sites mentioned).

(Personally I would guess that  downscaled conference facility development  – on a modest scale,  rather smaller than the 2011 proposals, and in keeping with the Innovation Centre in terms of height and visibility  –  is likely to be the best option here once all relevant factors begin to be responsibly considered. This would allow the University to better fulfill its educational mission and achieve some balanced diversification of income. At the same time on this scale it would avoid distortionary and dysfunctional concentration of economic power in relation to the local economy; it would impose relatively limited environmental and landscape damage; and it would minimise the problems of aggravation of traffic, noise and light pollution which are already beginning to adversely affect campus life, and would be escalated by an enormous hotel complex).

However, I should acknowledge that my scepticism about  the wisdom of “Keynes III” is not necessarily shared widely. Some within the University and community at large  seem incredibly anxious to ensure more student accommodation is in place quickly (with a year having been wasted with the flawed initial Planning Application),and are therefore more positive. They may well be willing to accept ‘”Keynes III”  even without a comprehensive review of the alternatives.  Indeed, in Press Release following the September ‘consultations’, released last week, the University is already seeking to draw attention to the existence of a significant pro-Keynes III strand of opinion.

A troupe of long-tailed tits like this have been flitting through the hedges in Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres in recent weeks

Of course, how Canterbury City Council responds is another matter. It must always think long term, and  look at the bigger picture. It has already stressed the need for the University to present exhaustive alternative site analysis, and presumably would not be satisfied by “Keynes III” unless a convincing body of new evidence is brought to bear by the University to rule out other options. In addition, we still don’t really know about the wider patterns of local public opinion. These decisions will directly effect many thousands of people, and many more indirectly – we don’t yet know what they really think.  And it must be pointed at that the numbers who attended the ‘consultation’ events upon which the Press Office have reported seemed to be very much smaller than the equivalent ones (via the ‘Local Dialogue’ group) in 2011

The reason for this is simple. Last time round, people took a great deal of time and trouble to attend and respond, diligently filling out forms and arguing convincingly for the retention of Chaucer Fields as unspoilt space. They were rewarded with the 2011 Planning Application and now the revised proposals –  which completely misunderstand their values and concerns in relation to the historic fields as a crucial green buffer shared by the University and host community. Many have evidently reasoned, based on this earlier experience, that there would be little point in engaging with another University-led consultation: better to wait for the democratically mandated Planning Application process, where at least they can expect their substantive concerns to  be given some weight. So, we’ll have to wait until the Planning Application is submitted to  see whether the supportive attitudes towards ‘Keynes III’ reported by the University Press Office really do prefigure an endorsement of this part of the plans from the people of the District more broadly

The Community Reaction: The Chaucer Conference Proposals

In its Press Release relating to the “consultations”,  the University Press Office was conspicously silent about  how the “Chaucer Conference Centre” element of the proposals were received. What do we actually know about this?  Local media reportage  give a good sense of the amount of anger at, and resistance to, the retention of the aspiration to ‘develop’  Chaucer Fields expressed by members of the “Save Chaucer Fields” (SCF) group (the coalition of  residents associations representing people who live close by). My personal impression from attending some of the events  was that this sentiment was shared more generally, and was not just associated with SCF activists. I witnessed  several people with no connection at all to SCF argue passionately against the development of Chaucer Fields .

Why? It strikes me there are perhaps three main sets of reasons for the wholesale rejection of the Chaucer Fields plans from SCF but many others too. Forgive  me at this point if I begin to sound like a stuck record, but unless these simple points are repeatedly articulated, there is a danger they will be disregarded once again! First, if the University Estates Department had bothered to properly read and digest the feedback it received in 2011 via the Local Dialogue consultation, and then people’s responses to the Planning Application, it should have already shelved the plans to develop the Southern Slopes in their entirety. Persisting with such proposals in the face of such  remarkably well articulated community sentiment, expressing the enormous value attached to these fields as shared local green space, appears rigid, gratuitous and even aggressive.

Second, and emphasising once again the location issue, there is widely felt indignation that the Estates Department’s had, by last month, still apparently not bothered to pull together and present a serious analysis of the alternative site options. This has been despite having had 18 months to do so since the last Planning Application, when the Canterbury City Council Planning Officer plainly and explicitly said in her report that  this was essential (and was a key reason for the plan’s deferment).  It it widely seen as simply irresponsible to risk squandering  the much loved green buffer between the University and the city , and allowing sprawl to proceed, when the alternative options have not been fully and exhaustively considered.

Third, there is the character of the actual new proposals themselves.  Those who attended September’s events were offered the image below as the best representation that could be mustered: these were indicative images only available in sketchy form and reportedly subject to tweaking in the light of feedback, but we can already see key characteristics.

Sketch of Chaucer Conference Centre proposals, as per september 2012 events

At the parts of the events  I attended, I was unable to find anyone at all who was positive about this aspect of the  plans. Why? The following nine considerations draw upon discussions  I had then, and subsequently, and I hope will resonate with the reader who is familiar with this setting

  • The landscape would be irreversibly damaged and there would be a highly significant loss of shared open green space. Rich opportunities for the appreciation of nature, and extensively used for play, recreation, and a range of individual and collectively organised leisure pursuits would be lost
  • The scale of the buildings would be utterly out of keeping with the landscape and proximate buildings, including Chaucer College and the Innovation Centre (where the latter already pushes the boundaries of acceptability). The proposed conference buildings are of a wholly disproportionate scale, and dramatically violate both the letter and spirit of  local Landscale and Open Space policy. The sketch shows them to be  of a completely new order of magnitude compared to existing building: massive, towering 4-5 storey blocks, which would impose massive damage.
  • the  Countryside and Parkland views from within the unspoilt site itself, and from the East,  South, and North within the broader Southern Slopes, would be lost forever. These are currently enjoyed by  cyclists, runners and walkers. Obviously, views from within  the site would be obliterated; those from land adjacent to the site would be  completely ruined
  • the Views from University road would also necessarily be adversely affected, despite the Estates Department’s emerging claims to the contrary. This is simply because  the topography of the landscape – unlike the adjacent Chaucer College case – simply does not allow for elegant concealment of buildings, car parks and cars (and this would hold even if they were scaled down in line with Chaucer  College’s low level  structures)
  • Additionally, the Attempted Screening seems to involve deciduous trees not dense enough without leaves to systematically block visibility of the buildings, car parks and cars in the winter months. The sketch seems to also imply additional tree planting north east of the proposed annex blocks (hotel guest or postgraduate student overspill) to achieve screening. But this would take decades to mature, and would only naturally be approaching readiness in about 40 years, just as the expected life of  the blocks they are intended to  screen would be coming to an end!  Obviously, such a pattern would also undermine the open grassy slopes character of the setting prized in local landscape policy,  violating the long established medieval field structure
  • During the day, the current aural Tranquillity of the fields would be wiped out, replaced by the noise pollution associated with the sprawling development
  • At night, light pollution would destroy the ‘Dark Skies‘ value of the land for the high density population living nearby, depriving large numbers of people in the  community of the ability to stargaze and appreciate the majesty of the night sky
  • the Ancient Pathway from the Cathedral to Blean church, and then on to Whitstable, would be lost to car park tarmac, wiping out a 300 year old track of enormous cultural and symbolic integrative significance for the District
  • The environment for the Historic Hedges would be ruined. Multi-storey blocks would tower over them incongruously . And it is hard  to see how the biodiversity value of the retained hedges, could be realised in a meaningful way in the context of  this ‘development’. The hedges would be degraded by the loss of a sympathetic proximate natural environment, and would no longer be well positioned to flourish free of pollution, nor to host bird life and many other living creatures as they do now

A family stroll on Bushy Acres, headed towards Dover Down Field. If the proposed ‘development’ proceeded, looming in front of them  would be multi-storey blocks

A Final  Word

.I’ll keep you  posted in the months ahead about any further developments – and promise to try to keep  the CFPS less wordy in future! In the meantime, two dates for your diaries – one imminent, one  longer term. First this thursday evening, 6.30pm please try to attend the meeting of Canterbury City Council’s Executive Committee, in relation to Kingsmead Fields (more details at Kingsmead Fields Blogspot). Second please protect the evening of saturday 8th december in your diaries for a mystery event! The CFPS will be collaborating with the Save Chaucer Fields group and others in to organise an exciting and inclusive social and cultural happening. Watch this space!

Best wishes

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic  Society