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

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Modified proposal image plus event details released by University Estates

Dear all

This has to be short as I only have a few moments, but as promised, I am passing on new information concerning the University’s  revised  proposals as soon as I am able. Please go to the link Revised Chaucer Fields proposals 2012 to see how new proposals are being presented, and for more information on consultation events in a couple of weeks time.

As you can see, it is hard to come to an informed view as relatively little can be ascertained from what is presented here. It raises more questions than it answers. However, I am afraid to say the initial signs are extremely disturbing. An image from the above link is reproduced within the Blog below. There are apparently some concessions – most obviously, in terms of leaving hedgerows in place. But this is of little value, because the landscape and environmental context associated with the hedgerows would appear to be utterly transformed. It seems to be the case that the integrity of the ‘green buffer’ (or ‘green lung’) would be fundamentally undermined, and most of the negative social, heritage and environmental consequences now well understood to be associated with the previous scheme would be as appalling as before.

Image of revised development released by University of Kent, 10 September 2012

At the same time there may be a range of additional damage and harms. Bizarrely, the total size of the new development may be a similar size or even larger than the 2011 proposals, with the overall extent of sprawl apparently actually worsened!

If these images are not misleading, it would seem that the University Estates Department simply doesn’t “get it”. They apparently remain in denial about the fundamental  reasons why the host community and experts from civil society at local and national level –  as well as staff and students from the University itself – are opposed to this scheme.

I’ll have more to say about this in due course. But in the meantime,

  • please keep an eye of the Save Chaucer Fields websites (including Facebook) – see Blog Roll (right hand side) for the links.
  • please note that there are two ‘consultation events’ planned, now styled as ‘public exhibitions’. As reported earlier one will take place on 22 September, but a second will be staged on 24 September. Both are on campus – please click on the University link above for more details of exact timing and venue.

Hope to see you on 11th September for the Village Green meeting  – Westgate Hall, 1pm onwards (see previous two Blogs for more details).

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields  Picnic Society