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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1049

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1406

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.

XXX Dover Down Field, late may

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.   

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1003

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 149

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1271

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1287

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1387

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1253

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.
temp all phots to 21 april 13 1309

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1312

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).

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1376

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 135

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

Advertisements

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

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 215

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).

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 128

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.

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 223

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.

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 119

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!

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 229

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.

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 166

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).

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 183

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

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 203

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.

mid november 2012 chaucer fields and song school 021

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

Chaucer Fields – the case for opposing Keynes III and other matters

Dear all

Note: If too busy to read this long Blog in full , please scroll down to the section entitled

“The Keynes III proposal: rationales for Planning objections”!

Autumn foraging preamble

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, late autumn

Chaucer Fields now have that late autumn feel. Some trees have lost their leaves entirely, such as one of the English Oaks next to the ancient pathway leading from the Cathedral to Blean Church (see above).While others, particularly the Red Oaks in Beverley Boughs, are variously showing interesting combinations of colours (see below).

Autumn colours,  view of Beverley Boughs from within Dover Down field

This time of year is also a good one for foragers. The most obvious opportunities to gather nature’s bounty have passed with the blackberry and apple crop well and truly over for some time. But even now, there are at least three other ways in which we can all share what our fields have to offer. First, the abundant hawthorn berries may be on their last legs, but can still be gathered for culinary purposes! Second, sweet chestnuts such as those which can be found at the heart of the fields – where Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres join (next to the old cart track where the hedges meet) – are excellent in casseroles! And thirdly, foraging is not necessarily only about food. For example, at this time of year,  the several horse chestnuts on the fields offer local children conkers galore!

Some chestnuts are still around and can be foraged for cooking

It would be fun to write more about each of these – and I have some tried and tested recipes up my sleeve involving the edible ingredients mentioned above if anyone is interested! However, more immediately important is to make sure people are aware of unfolding developments in relation to the current Planning Application process. Please recall, as reported in a previous Blog,  that the University chose this summer to promote both the Keynes III undergraduate student accommodation blocks and the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel  plan (the enlarged hotel proposal) together  – at the private preview and public exhibition events in September). But then it chose to  separate them for the purposes of the Planning Application process. We have a planning application for Keynes III now pending and with the Council. There’ll be a seperate one, probably in March 2013 or soon thereafter, for the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel.

The Templeman Library Development (yes – it is relevant!)

To make matters yet more complicated, there is currently also a Planning Application with Canterbury City Council for what seem  – to me at least – to be well thought out and imaginative plans for the Templeman Library, for which the University should be applauded. Others are expected to follow shortly in relation to other planned development on Campus, but because the University has failed to develop a Master Plan, the timing of these other plans is unknown (an avoidable problem – see below).   Concerning the Templeman, it is now beginning to emerge that this plan envisages not only the most obvious forms of capacity expansion you would expect for a modern library of this kind. Also planned under the flexible mode being proposed is a new capacity for hosting conferences outside term time (using a 250-seater lecture theatre, 8 seminar rooms for break out sessions. These would be used for teaching (and study space overspill) in term times, but at other times they  will not be needed for internal needs, and can be used for conferencing, with a range of catering facilities conveniently on hand ).

This weakens the case for the conference element of the proposed mass Conference complex anywhere on campus, and suggests the need for more modest facilities to enhance the University’s conference ‘offer’.  A good deal of any future demand existing in the District for such a facility could now be met by intelligently combining the use of the Templeman’s exciting new planned facilities with the great variety of accommodation and conferencing options already available on other parts of campus. This includes, for example, those at Darwin college, and excellent facilities for residential conferencing at Chaucer College, which seem to be under-utilised,  currently used from time to time for spill-over redirected from within the University. (Perhaps some expansion of the conferencing capability of Chaucer College could also be re-considered, although I understand the scope for this is limited because the Japanese foundation which runs this establishment does not wish to develop on a large scale. But a modest enhancement, in partnership with the University, could be considered.)

There are also possibilities off campus. There are  a range of sites in the city in which the University could readily consider investing, but has apparently chosen to overlook to date. But let’s also not lose site of the offer of excellent independent operators in the city, with whom the University already has contracts, like Cathedral Lodge. Conferencing needs currently not met by the existing ad hoc arrangements could be met by more systematic, carefully planned and extensive partnership arrangements. This would leave only a residual need, which could be met by  more modest conference development on a much smaller scale than that proposed under the ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ plans.

Chestnut tree at the heart of Chaucer Fields

The essential point is that we can only understand conferencing needs by taking into account the full range of University-related existing facilities and contracting arrangements, on campus and off it. And crucially it seems to me these collaborative ways of increasing capacity were not  reviewed in the report being used to justify the claim that a massive development is now required. This is hardly surprising, since the report was written by marketing group “Hotel Solutions”, a London-based multi-national consultancy, without the inclination, time or local knowledge needed to identify, let alone analyse, such partnership possibilities.

But – back to the Library specifically: The Library Planning application is case CA//12/01831, which can be found on the Council’s Planning Application website or go straight to the proposals by following this link. The University is commendably conducted this as a very open process of engagement with the University community itself, and involved a mature ongoing dialogue with Canterbury City Council. This is a refreshing contrast with its handling of Chaucer Fields. It is good news for those of us who believe in transparent governance and decision making, and shows the University is, when it chooses. able of engaging with the community and the Council in a mature way. I’ll be writing to Canterbury City Council in to support the Library proposals, subject  to the condition that a publicly shared Master Plan to put this development in the context of the Campus as a whole, is urgently made available (see below).  By the way, I will also suggest when I write how important it will be to make sure the needs of University students and staff are not compromised by external conference use of library space, since the learning and research needs of University people must always be fundamental, and study space has been a key issue in the past. Anyway, the deadline for written representations on this particular application is 19 november – so please do make your views known if you feel this is appropriate, by reviewing the case materials, and writing to development control at Canterbury City Council (see address below).

The obvious, urgent need for a Clear, Comprehensive UKC Campus Master Plan

It is  frankly a no-brainer that  these and other University-led developments, which are closely related and functionally affect each other on and off the increasingly diverse and complex UKC campus, need to be scrutinised together. This is the only way that their inter-dependencies can efficiently and effectively be taken into account and managed to good effect. The example of the joint emerging conferencing capabilities discussed above evidently illustrates the case for a much more joined-up and publicly transparent planning approach. It makes you realise that a clear and comprehensive Master Plan of the University’s various emerging and pending development projects is now needed as a matter of urgency, so that these sorts of connections can be made explicit and analysed in the round.  At the moment, by withholding a clear statement of what its overall (on and off campus) development intentions are at present, the University is not only needlessly perpetuating uncertainty about the future in its own community and the host community too, especially in places abutting the edges of campus  It is also risking its reputation for transparency in decision making.

And aside from the obvious economic and technocratic reasons for looking at pending and current developments jointly, there is also an important “micro political” dimension to all this. That is in the sense that absent a Master Plan, the impression seems to be being left to some observers that ‘back room deals’, as opposed to publicly justifed and defended decisions, are playing an unhealthy role in driving priorities. At the moment, there are even unsubstantiated rumours circulating that  plans for  buildings on campus are being developed under a veil of secrecy and deliberately left vague, so that those who want such facilities developed are ‘on side’ with the Chaucer Conference Centre proposals. This is apparently believed to be on the understanding that if they don’t ‘rock the boat’ in relation to those proposals, they are more likely to see their favoured facilities build. I do not know if there is any truth in these claims. But I do know that this state of affairs is avoidable via a transparent Master Plan.

Inside Beverley Boughs, November 2012

In summary, I think the main advantages of a shared and inclusive Master Plan indicating clearly the current plans of the University, would be that:

  • the dangers of  inward looking, anti-democratic patterns of communication driving development priorites could be minimised, – and be seen to be minimised; and
  • the University’s reputation as a public institution with responsibilities for communicating with relevant communities about its activities would be salvaged

I believe such an open approach is actually the least we should expect in the twenty first century from a powerful local nonprofit institution. Let’s remember it is an exempt charity benefitting from a myriad of tax and other policy privileges and subsidies, and meant to be accountable to a wide range of stakeholders: its approach to planning should reflect this.

University “Statement of Consultation” made available

Unfortunately, the closest we get to engagement with the democratic process in relation to Chaucer Fields at the moment (that is, until its treatment in Canterbury City Council’s District Plan is revealed, and elected Councillor’s vote upon this case in Planning) is the documentation prepared for the Keynes III Planning Application.  Despite its surface focus on Keynes III, as we’ll see below, it does relate to Chaucer Fields too. As part of its efforts to defend its approach in the context of the statutory planning process, the University has now had no option but to submit a report of the recent promotion events and ‘consultation’ available to Canterbury City  Council, who in turn have posted it on the case website. Although the planning applications are now split, this first application refers to the consultation in relation to both elements. This document has materialised some time after all the other required documents were posted (with no explanation for the delay, incidentally). Strangely, it has not, at the time of writing this Blog been made available on the University’s own Corporate Communications website relating to developments If you want to review it, it can be now be found alongside the myriad other planning materials needed for the Planning Application, CA//12/01887, at Canterbury City Council’s Planning website

It has to be said that this is a peculiar and partial document. It adopts an uninformative approach, noting the events, reproducing materials already otherwise available to boost the size of the report, and with just one table reporting on the feedback received, which was presumably the point of the exercisel  Please do form your own view about how useful this is if you have time by reading the report in full. But in my opinion it is yet another opportunity missed. Why? The report’s authors had a chance to communicate clearly its rationale for the modified approach, interpret as well as report on the findings, and express in a balanced way what they have learned from the host community as a result.

I believe they have demonstrably failed to do all this. First no explanation as to why the University have not re-situated the conference centre/hotel proposals, as well as those relating to student accommodation blocks,  away from Chaucer Fields is offered. The document simply parrots  the mantra ‘the University remains of the opinion that the Chaucer Fields site represents the most appropriate location within the campus to deliver a conference hotel’ (Executive Summary, op cit, p. 0). The problem is that this is asserted  without any explanation or explicit line of reasoning as to why it believes this currently unspoilt place must be ‘developed’! This weakness in the University’s position has also been recognised by the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee – see the previous Blog. There is also still no explanation of any sort as to why the premise that the developments needed to be co-located has been abandoned. (In 2011, it was emphasised that both components must be developed side by side, but there is silence in this report concerning what has changed since then)

Looking east from western part of Dover Down field

Second, there is no recognition on the collapse of feedback from the local community. The number of responses over time has collapsed from around 260 in 2011 (the “Local Dialogue” report on the original proposals)  to just short of 100 now, and less than a third of those refer to the Chaucer Fields site. The report is even presented as ‘successfully raising awareness’. But given the thousands of leaflets distributed, and the efforts of the University’s Corporate Communications website to present the case, this is a very poor level of engagement.  I personally think  the low response levels likely reflects the extent of community’s disillusionment with, and distrust of, University-led consultation in relation to the Chaucer Fields site, as inherited from last year. Based on the 2011 experience, many have reasoned that there is little point in responding –  when the University is expected to simply disregard what it is told about community sentiment, because it appears bent on ‘developing’ Chaucer Fields, and potentially the wider Southern Slopes.

Third, as noted above, the only material on the content of this limited feedback, expressed in reductionist tabular format,  is presented in an eccentric fashion. And unfortunately, unlike the “Local Dialogue” report, in which, commendably, respondent’s own words were made available in full in a supporting appendix, the reader has no way of assessing these comments in the round with this document.

Take a look at the table below. It extracts from the ‘Statement of Consultation’ summary table the feedback received as reported specifically in relation to the hotel/conference proposals (see the full report for material on Keynes III). It is noticeable that even the two responses categorised as ‘supporting’ the ‘Chaucer Fields Conference Hotel Proposals’ are actually referring to the idea that a need for such facilities exists in the abstract, rather than expressing a belief  that they should be build in this particular place. In fact, the only explicit response in favour of this place is categorised as ‘partial support’, because it requires ‘proof that no other site is available’. Yet – as previous CFPS Blogs have shown, of course, no such evidence has been forthcoming from the University (also, see below for the suggestion that this oversight should be considered  grounds for withholding Planning Permission).

Source: Statement of Consultation submitted with Keynes III Planning Application, p. 5

Additionally, other statements cited as representing  ‘partial support’ for the ‘Chaucer Conference Hotel Proposals’ in fact  essentially express reasons for basic opposition to it! This includes two respondents who explicitly rejected the Chaucer fields site  by commenting that ‘the building should be to the north or on the sport fields’. I too would agree with exploring those options properly (see below) – although would recognise the need to insist on the replacement of any lost sports fields, And I would hardly be judged as in ‘partial support’ of this plan!

As acknowledged earlier, any attempt to re-interpret these findings is going to be fraught, because, unlike in 2011, we don’t know what respondents actually said. But we can have a reasonable stab  at doing this in an indicative way.  I would suggest a more defensible figure of the proportion who have on balance been persuaded, recategorising responses like the example given, would be something closer 20%. So – on this more balanced reading, the exercise seems to have  found that around 80% of those who engaged were against the proposal. If we then factor in the point already made about the evident resistance to participating in a University-led consultation at all from precisely some of the people who are most opposed to it, the figure would begin to become comparable with earlier  findings of widespread, systematic and deep opposition to Chaucer Fields development. For example, it would be in line with the community feedback found in the “Local Dialogue” report of 2011 mentioned above, where a review of the Appendix of actual responses reveals principled opposition at over 90%.

The Keynes III proposal: rationales for  Planning objections

It has been emphasised in the above that the promoters of the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes ‘development’ option can take no comfort at all from the feedback they received during September’s events. Indeed, the opposite is true: the evidence confirms the remarkable extent of opposition and resistance to the loss of this unspoilt space in the host community.

However, I would concede that significant numbers of people in the local community currently feel very differently about the Keynes III proposals. As you will recall if you have followed this issue this development, previously part of the Chaucer Fields megasite, is now proposed for construction elsewhere. If allowed to proceed,it would be situated north of University road, next to the recent Keynes extension already functioning, and so not on Chaucer Fields itself . Why, then, might you be concerned about this?

In this regard, can you first of all be encouraged to review the position set out by SCF on this matter. If you live locally, you may have received their November newsletter through the mail. Otherwise, their clear statement has now been uploaded onto the landing page of their website (see Blogroll, above). You can see here that SCF themselves are not opposing the Keynes III development –  essentially simply because it is away from Chaucer Fields, and not on  the currently unspoilt part of the Southern slopes (south of University road).

I believe, however, that there are potential grounds for objecting to the proposal. As reported in an earlier Blog, it seems obvious to me what the scheme’s promoters are trying to do: get the “Keynes III” proposals accepted early in 2013,  so as to allow it to start construction on the project around March 2013 (as per the timetable discussed in earlier Blogs). At around this moment, my guess is that it would then intend to submit the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal, claiming that no alternative sites were available. This  not least because the onset of Keynes III’s construction would at precisely that moment be demonstrably ruling  out the option of using that space for this development!

But there is an alternative. If ‘Keynes III’ were not to proceed, modest conference facilities could readily be built  north of University road, at, or close to, the site which is now being specified for ‘Keynes III’, adjacent to or overlapping with the proposed ‘business’ or ‘science’ park instead. But how would student accommodation needs then be met? I personally favour a combination of Giles Lane car park and Park Woods, although there are many other alternative ways of using sites, or combining them to meet accommodation needs  which the University has evidently failed to explore (see below).

If you are thinking on the same lines – and many people do seem to be on the same page with this issue –  the problem we face is that presenting the case in this ‘common sense’ way does not go with the grain of what are considered relevant ‘considerations’ in the Planning process. So, a way needs to be found to express this argument in a way which is, in fact,  potentially compatible with Planning ‘considerations’.

Looking northwards from the bottom of Dover Down field, sunny november day

I believe there are five reasons which may be worth proposing, and which could conceivably be seen as relevant by the planning authority (Canterbury City Council).  Three of these build on the suggestions set out in this and earlier Blogs, and the first two are, I believe, in line with the thinking of the Canterbury Society (see Blogroll);the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee (representing expert opinion across the District); and principles recently set out by Natural England (see its submission to the latest consultation). The other two of them are more novel.  I would welcome comments from readers as to the value of these potential objections, and also whether there are other considerations which should be taken into account as well. For example, I have not had a chance to look in detail at heritage and environmental considerations, because of the impenetrable and non-navigatable character of the relevant documentation. But there may well be reasons here for contesting the University’s case here too.

So, here are the five reasons:

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 holds true in two senses.

First, it is because each of the alternatives, presented in turn and in isolation from one another, involve unsubstantiated assertions about cost and logistical feasibility. Indeed, there is very little here beyond the superficial material presented to the Council in the 2011 Planning Application, to which the Council reasonably responded in its draft report that a much more searching analysis was clearly needed. Given that keeping with development on some of the alternative sites would allow the development to stay within the constraints of the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework, which requires developments to stay on already spoilt and developed land, other than in truly exceptional circumstances. The Keynes III proposal is on an unspoilt green field site, albeit without high local amenity value, and the case for exceptionality has simply not been made. So, development here would be incompatible with both the NPPF and the District Plan.

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: it has failed to ‘join up’ its analysis. For example, the last CFPS Blog suggested that if part of the development were located at Giles Lane Car Park, and part were located at Park Wood, the problems associated with each site when considered in isolation could be offset against one another to overcome the difficulties emphasised by the University. But this particular combination of possible sites was just one, perhaps the most obvious, example. The University should have looked at the full range of combinations in an effort to develop options which do not violate the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.

2. The University should not be granted planning permission for Keynes III or related applications until it has shared with its own University community (including staff and students), Canterbury City Council, and the local community a comprehensive, clearly specified, publicly defensible and professionally presented Master Plan for development purposes.

Planning decisions on the Canterbury campus are increasingly related to one another in numerous complex ways as the University seeks to diversify its resources and widen its reach. In this context, development decision making which is not properly joined up by a Master Plan, and seen to be coherently interrelated, will  increasingly evolved in ad hoc, fragmented, piecemeal and inefficient ways.  As long as the University fails to share a comprehensive overview of its plans with its own employees and students, and with local people, this pattern will steadily worsen.

3. 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. If the ‘park’ is intended to allow for the development of commercial activity and trading only indirectly related to the University’s mission, then inside this ‘park’  is the obvious site for any revenue-maximising hotel element of the proposal, which would be dealing with transient visitors. (Keith Mander has explicitly stated to the CCAC, in minutes available for public scrutiny, that the purpose of the hotel element of the proposal is nothing more than income generation). On the other hand, activity related directly to the University’s core mission – student residential facilities (to the extent they involve supportive infrastructure for, and nurturance of, committed students over several years) and conference facilities (used for the advancement of learning rather than for commercial gain) would logically be located outside the business innovation park. The University needs to be much clearer about how its plans relate to these key distinctions, and the boundaries of, and focus of, the intended ‘park’, which are currently chronically unclear.

4. 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.

Regarding the former, while it seems to be implicitly claimed that the University should act as if it were purely a ‘residential University’ when it makes planning assumptions, this representation of its functioning has become a misleading simplification. Significant numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students are local people or are at least within commuting distance, and are choosing to live at home while studying in Canterbury (for example, residing elsewhere in the District, in other parts of Kent, or in South London). They neither required campus accommodation, nor make claims on accommodation in Canterbury, and are therefore not a ‘problem’ to the extent the University assert, although those who use cars obviously add to pressure on parking space. As to the new fee environment, the monolithic ‘residential University’ assumption may be becoming increasingly out of date. With the costs encountered by potential students rising, we can expect increasing numbers to choose to reside at home and commute to limit living costs. The University should recognise that reality in making planning assumptions.

5. 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.

Current and future users of the open space set to be occupied by Keynes III – including University students and staff pursuing sports and recreational activity, as well as local people, would be adversely affected by the development. While this land does not seem to exhibit the same intense patterns of amenity use as the Southern Slopes further south, it may involve significant activity from planning perspective. Its development could be incompatible with Sports and Recreation policies both nationally and locally.

If you agree with me in relation to some or all of these reasons, please do consider expressing your view to Canterbury City Council over the next 10 days If doing this, please remember to:

  • include your address on the letter or email
  • Refer to the case number, to repeat, this is CA//12/01887
  • Set out clearly those reasons you believe mean that Planning Permission should not be granted
  • Address your letter or email to development.control@canterbury.gov.uk  as well as to Katie.Miller@canterbury.gov.uk
  • Make sure you send your letter or email before 26 November (a week on monday)

As I say, please do get in touch  – chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com –  if you believe other grounds for objecting are also relevant, and those perspectives can then be made available to the CFPS readership

Kent Union Community Zone Initiative

So much for the Keynes III Planning Application. I’ve also got some news relating to students. You’ll be aware that in the past, individual students and some individual student societies have been keen supporters of efforts to protect and respect these fields. Many continue to express their commitment. However, there’s now a chance that this important support can feed into a stance on the issue from Kent Union, the union representing students at the University of Kent
Ayla Rose Jay, a newly elected ‘Your Community’ committee zone member at Kent Union, is taking the initiative here, as some of you may have noticed on the SCF Facebook site (See Blogroll, above).  She has put forward the idea that Kent Union should move from not articulating any view on the matter  – its position at the moment – to actively campaigning to save Chaucer Fields (and protect the Southern Slopes). Sometime in  the week of  26th November there will be an “All Student Vote” in which the students will get the chance to vote YES in support of the Union campaigning to save Chaucer Fields. If this all Student Vote is successful, it will become Union Policy to actively lobby for the saving of Chaucer Fields, which could wield a lot of weight for the cause.
Over the next two weeks Ayla and fellow students  will be campaigning  to get the message out there and encourage the students to vote. In my opinion, they  face a seriously uphill struggle for at least four reasons. First,  my impression is in terms of its priorities, practices and routines, Kent Union in recent years seems to have concentrated on service delivery. With a few exceptions, it has tended not to facilitate engagement with   issues which do not relate in some immediate and obvious way to the consumption of education, leisure or retail services. This is of course important work, but it does mean that activism of the type Ayla is so bravely seeking to catalyse is perhaps not currently embedded in the Union’s modus operandi and culture as strongly as it is in other Universities, or indeed historically.  Second, only a relatively small proportion of students apparently actually vote for their representatives in the well established Kent Union officer election process. So it is going to be very difficult to encourage voting on a much less familiar issue as a one-off! Third, this is a busy time of year for many students, and many are preoccupied with coursework and assignments. Fourthly, the issues are really complex, and I have found learned professors and experts on public policy find it very difficult to understand and reflect confidently upon them. For younger minds with less experience, this must seem truly daunting!
Nevertheless, it is surely worth a try. And we know from the surveys of public opinion regarding the balance between open green space and ‘development’ commissioned from Ipsos Mori by Canterbury City Council that the student population in Canterbury (across all local higher education institutions) tends to share many of the same aspirations to respect and nurture our open space as non-students in the community . Also, in my opinion  involvement in these sorts of efforts is really worthwhile, even if the desired outcomes may be incredibly difficult to achieve. I think we all should be grateful to Ayla and her colleagues, and try to offer appropriate advice and support as best we can.
Upcoming Fundraising Event – Colloboration between CFPS and SCF

Most of the above has been pretty heavy stuff! But I can end the Blog on a lighter note with confirmation of a collaborative community event which we hope wil attract anyone who cares about this issue, be they residents, staff, students or visitors. From 7.30pm onwards on 8 December, we are holding an English Ceilidh at St Stephen’s school. (We call it an ‘English Ceilidh’ to emphasise that the music and style of dancing is predominantly English rather than Gaelic, although of course the word ‘Ceilidh’ is Gaelic).  Please come along to support the cause, and have fun – the dancing is great to join in, but is not compulsory! You can still enjoy great company, and listen to traditional music (mainly English, with a bit of Irish thrown in) from local group Roystercatcher(s). Please see the image below, and if you can, download it at  Christmas Event 2012 and display it prominently! But a couple of things to add to that:

  • Do email me (chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com)  if you haven’t managed to get a ticket from the people listed below, they are all very busy and may not always be available. Please send me a message at  including a contact phone number and the number of tickets, and I’ll pass on your request by email to the SCF Fighting Fund team
  • Please note that Murray’s General Store at the Good’s Shed near Canterbury West train station will be offering a 10% discount on all beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) purchased for your consumption at this event. I recommend sharing one of the local beer kegs, but there are plenty of other options.  To qualify, all you need do is show Lee or his colleagues your Ceilidh ticket!
  • If this is a new sort of event for you, don’t be deterred. It will be presided over by a ‘caller’ with over 20 years experience, and you will pick up the dances as you go along!

That’s all for now
best wishes

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

Chaucer Fields – three unanswered questions

Dear all

Opportunities to find out more about the University’s revised proposals for ‘developing’ Chaucer Fields – in conjunction with land north of University road –  are looming (on 22nd and 24th september – see their ‘Corporate Communications consultation website’ for more ‘exhibition’ details). So it might be worth sharing some initial thoughts about questions which may be relevant to raise with the proposers. I am convinced  the University authorities have fundamentally misunderstood the reasons for extensive and growing opposition to the violation of the unspoilt fields – from local residents, University staff, students, and civil society groups alike. That is to say, it has demonstrably failed to grasp the meaning of the responses to both the ‘local dialogue’ consultation it organised, and of the representations made at the time of the last planning application. If it had taken in  the nature of and rationales for this opposition, it is unthinkable that the plans would be taking their current form.

Since the Blog of 10 September, more information has been revealed about the content of the proposals with the belated posting in the middle of last  week of the ‘preview’ presentation made to Councillors and ‘other stakeholders’ . Amongst the most important features of the new proposal are:

  • The hotel and conference facility proposed on Chaucer Fields has been dramatically enlarged. It is now TWICE the size of the facilities originally proposed, upscaling from 150 to 300 places. (This seems to be largely a response to a 2011 management consultancy report. It argued the University needed to acquire more market power to try to insulate itself from risk in a very uncertain and unstable form of commercial activity) This is now referred to as the ‘Chaucer Conference Centre‘. Obviously if allowed to proceed, it would wipe out the amenity, heritage, environmental and recreation value of Chaucer Fields as enjoyed by local and University people for decades (that is, as unspoilt, shared green space).
  • The student blocks/accommodation component of the development is on a similar scale to the previous proposal (750+ places), but has been resituated to a site north of University road. This directly contradicts the claim made over many months by the scheme’s promoters, reported in the CFPS Blog, that ‘extensive studies’ had confirmed that no other sites were possible. It is being referred to as ‘Keynes III‘ because it is close to the previous extension of Keynes college.

Modified proposal – timetable                                                                                                         source: “Preview” , 10th September, now publicly available from University website

More details are also given on the proposed timetable – see above. Clearly the idea for the student accommodation is to be ready for academic year 2014/15’s intake. We also see the intention in relation to Chaucer Fields themselves. If the Village Green Application fails, and the Planning Application were to be approved, developers would start concreting over the landscape in two year’s time, and be open for business in Spring 2016.

The Save Chaucer Fields group, in its SCF Newsletter Flyer 11th September 2012, rightly objects in principle the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal –  of course, because it would destroy Chaucer Fields! But it welcomes the ‘Keynes III’ student accommodation proposal, and it is easy to see why, not least since the University claims it has taken this step as a result of  ‘listening to the community’, and tries to frame this particular step as a reasonable response.

I would tend to be much more cautious about the extent to which ‘Keynes III’  is necessarily a step forward. For sure, there is a need for more capacity to meet the accommodation needs of students, and unfortunately the bungled first Planning Application and delay in moving to the new proposals have wasted a lot of time in positioning the University to meet these needs. But can we yet be certain this is the right answer? I don’t think so. First, we’ll need to see substantiating evidence that there are no major environmental harms involved, and have confirmation from heritage experts that the ‘Keynes III’ site is indeed appropriate. (Historically, this place was known as part of Saw-Pett Field.) We will also need to be absolutely sure that the place does not function as a local green public space, with high amenity and recreation value, for significant numbers of  people (individually, or via organised groups).

My impression is that land use here is occasional, sporadic, and limited, compared to the systematic, varied and wide ranging use of the green land further south, while the view does not have the same panoramic qualities. The plan also seems to respect the ancient pathway to Blean church – another obvious contrast with the Chaucer Fields proposals. So, it does seem likely that development on this site would be less damaging than at Chaucer Fields. But we still need to establish this for certain through the planning application process.

Second, feedback from the local community and expert groups verifying this to be the situation should be seen as necessary, but not sufficient, to allow  ‘development’. The onus is still on the University to make available in digestible form for public scrutiny  its much cited, but never released,  ‘detailed’ and ‘extensive’ studies ruling out every other option on its massive Canterbury campus. Especially important to consider are its brown field and central campus sites, and those other places –  including in and around Park Wood –  where space would be readily available through some combination of new-build and demolition of existing poor quality, low density stock.

Indeed, by accepting in its new proposals that the student accommodation does not need to be directly co-located with the hotel/conference complex, the ‘land greediness’ of the proposals as a whole have diminished. Smaller parcels of land should now be coming into focus as options for development, which were not seriously considered before when it was claimed a single, 10 acre megasite was required.  So there is still a great deal of work to be done to convince us all that ‘Keynes III’  on Saw-Pett Field is necessarily a panacea.

Chiff-chaffs have been vocal around Dover Down field (where the Chaucer Conference would be situated) this summer. Were they just visiting, or will  they overwinter?                        Image courtesy of Kilbey/Kent Wildlife Trust/Woodland Trust

Building on these and other considerations it can be suggested that  the following three overarching questions are worth raising over the next few days. In each case, I’ve posed a question, and tried to clarify why I think the question is an important one for the community, the University, and perceptions of the University, in brackets afterwards. For sure a mass of other questions will also need to be raised – but the issues below are prominent amongst those that require a clear response.

1. When will University Estates make public its studies covering the alternative  ‘development’ options across campus?

(What about  other options further North and East on campus, while still well away from other beautiful or populated areas? Clearly Blean and Tyler Hill should also be protected from University sprawl and loss of local green space. But this still leaves other land closer to central campus and around/within Park Wood.  And what came of the off-campus options which were  apparently being explored earlier this year? These questions are still unanswered but remain fundamentally important. It is a no-brainer that it  is not possible to make a rational decision about either Keynes III or the Conference Centre, without having evaluated the full range of alternative options.)

2. If the scheme’s proposers have finally acknowledged the need to ‘listen the community’, why are they still proposing to ‘develop’ Chaucer Fields at all and violate the current democratically mandated District Plan? 

(Under the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework, the District Plan, agreed by elected representatives  (Canterbury City Council), lies at the heart of policy. It is crucial to stress that our District Plan explicitly recognises  Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as comprising an Area of High Landscape Value. But this is not all. Other democratically mandated policies also point to the Southern Slopes’ value from an ‘Open Spaces’ perspective. The evidence generated by the University’s own consultation, the Planning Application responses of 2011, and the Village Green statements and representations, have all systematically catalogued  the enormous open space value of the land in practical terms. So we can say for certain in late 2012 that the revised proposals are profoundly wrong headed from an Open Spaces policy point of view. This was actually much less clear cut when the original application was made, but the University seems to be in denial about the enormous body of evidence.)

House sparrows or ‘chums’, above, are on the RSPB’s ‘Red List’. Will they continue to nest in the hedges around Chaucer Fields if surrounded by concrete and multi-storey blocks, while subjected to continous disturbance, noise and air pollution?
Image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust/The Woodland Trust

3. Why has the proposed Conference Centre also not been  resituated, north of University Road or otherwise away from the unspoilt Southern Slopes?

(This really follows from the first question, which University authorities have yet to answer directly. It seems obvious in policy terms that  this would sit better with the ‘business park’ zoning of the land north of University road, already agreed by Canterbury City Council. Why reject this option? Its very unclear. But my own research on local attitudes here revealed that it is widely assumed in the community that the fixation of the leadership of Estates and commercial/hospitality services on these fields is driven by financial considerations to the exclusion of all other interests.

What are these supposed considerations? There are both revenue and asset aspects. First, the scheme’s promoters are believed to regard the panoramic views south of University road as a commodity  to be exploited for  financial gain [allowing higher rates to be charged to customers – perhaps a ‘panoramic view premium’, or pricing lower while claiming a ‘competitive’ advantage over other facilities.].

Second, the University proposers are believed by many to reason that, if planning permission is secured south of University road, they would achieve a massive ‘capital gain’ through dramatically enhancing the asset value of their land holdings close to the  edge of Canterbury’s urban development. The £2m+ reputedly invested in trying to market the idea of building on Chaucer Fields would then have been repaid as a successful act of speculation many times over. That’s because a very low price was paid historically for the land when a Compulsory Purchase Order originally enabled its acquisition by the University. This low price partly reflected the fact that land was then less scarce than it is now, and because of the general inflation that has developed since. But it may also be because and the Planning Inspectorate at the time clearly specified the condition that the land should be respected as open space, explicitly precluding ‘development’ of the type being proposed. If this open space requirement were to be compromised or jettisoned and planning permissions granted, the economic value of the site itself would rise astronomically. So would the value of adjacent Southern Slopes  land, because the market would believe the prospects for further ‘development’ of this land in the long run would have been enhanced. Perhaps the bankers who have been lined up to provide finance the Conference Centre are even factoring in these revenue and land asset value considerations in their profitability calculations?)

proposed view of Cathedral from meeting room, Chaucer Conference Centre                           source: Preview , 10th September, now publicly available from University website

Without answers from the University authorities, these community views remain speculative.  But in this context, the above slide from the ‘preview’ presentation showing a view from within the proposed Conference Centre is interesting. Compare this with what we currently enjoy.  A view now available to large numbers of people of all ages while actively enjoying recreation, play, exercise and fresh air for no charge would be lost. From spring 2016 onwards, the slide portrays how it  would be replaced by narrowly confined ones available  to affluent fee payers passively sitting in conference facilities or hotel rooms.

What will have changed? At the moment, the community and University people share and treasure a wonderful green buffer with unbroken panoramic views, still discernably continuous in spirit with the pattern inherited from previous generations (see image below). If the ‘development’ were to proceed, this remarkable legacy would have been squandered forever.

A relatively  unspoilt view as shared by earlier generations of Canterbury people

We must stop this disastrous situation unfolding. Let’s see what answers the University authorities can provide to these basic questions, and  the many other questions set to be posed by people committed to protecting Chaucer Fields in the next couple of months.

And a quick note to finish: if you can’t attend the University ‘exhibitions’ or submit your views to the ‘consultation’, not to worry.  Remember what happened last time round!  It is far more important that you are ready to submit your views in a form which is relevant to planning considerations when they truly matter: that is at the statutory Planning Application stage, as part of the local democratic process . This is likely to involve a 3 week period sometime between october and december. Watch the SCF pages and this CFPS Blog for more information on that!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society