2017: one step forward, two steps back

Festive greetings!

It is once again time to offer seasonal greetings to readers of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! As has become customary, we use the evocative image of “Balloons over Canterbury” to communicate the idea that our fields are a fundamental  part of our city’s aesthetic, social and environmental heritage, treasured by the local and University communities alike. With its wartime provenance, the image emphasises not only the deep historical roots of this widely shared and valued commitment – stretching back to before the University was established –  but also the extent to which recognition of such a wonderful legacy is especially important at times of threat, discord and uncertainty

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It would have been great to have been positioned to kick off the Blog with a picture more suggestive of harmony and tranquillity. Readers will have noticed that in recent months, there have been some signs that the University authorities were at last beginning to register the significance of this place as an unspoilt shared green space to its own community, and of course way beyond that. However, sadly the most recent Statement to be released, last month, shows that a major opportunity has been missed by the University authorities to catch up with the thinking of the host community, expert knowledge, and the perspectives of their own people (staff and students), by unconditionally ruling out development on the fields in perpetuity.

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So, the fight must continue. This is because the latest Statement explicitly tries to keep development of the fields on the agenda: as we shall see, it  seeks to leave the University authorities an entry point to pursue development here in the future (an implied ‘window’ from the late 2020s onwards, a possibility discussed in the previous Blog). This is really a form of  denial in two senses: it involves the persistence of a dismissive attitude to the evidence on the Southern Slopes’ value as unspoilt shared green space; and it exhibits indifference to the extent to which development here would undermine the entire coherence and logic of the emerging campus Master Plan.  In this sense, 2017 has been a year of confusion and inconsistency on the part of the University authorities,  and as a result, we find ourselves in the “one step forward, two steps back” situation which gives the current Blog its title.

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In the rest of this Blog, we first explain how a step has been taken forward with the latest stages in the ongoing “incremental” Masterplan development process. But we then have to point out how the latest document to be released “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” embodies the extent to which the University authorities are, in spite of this, ultimately still failing to make a break with the troubled recent past regarding Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (or, to use Masterplan language, “Parklands”).  The Blog is interspersed with some recent images of the fields in the usual way.

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Stepping Forwards…

Credit where credit’s due. As part of the latest consultation exercise initiated in the summer, working through its external consultants (CMA Planning and John Leatherland limited), and facilitated by its own central Corporate Communications Directorate, the University first of all provided opportunities for relevant external expert input into the development of a “Spatial Vision” via a Workshop (see previous Blog for more details). Significantly, this led to a major gain in transparency with the August publication of the Workshop Report which clearly demonstrates the durability of the long held commitment amongst stakeholders to preserving Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space by explicitly ruling out any development there.  As the previous Blog showed, this report demonstrated unambiguous affirmation of the collective view that no buildings should ever be located here.  Such key stakeholders as representatives of Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council, local civil society organisations, and the President of Kent Union (the union for University of Kent students) all affirmed this position.

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Second, apparently in response to the incredulity expressed at the time that the process has not involved the University’s own staff, an additional, internal, event was  convened the following month. At the request of staff participants, this was also then openly published as the “Staff Focus Group” report , representing a positive move in terms of communication and freedom of information.  The Focus Group ranged over a number of issues relating to the Master Plan, but for brevity’s sake, we will focus here only on the directly relevant material. Below, for ease of reference, we reproduce in full the passage relating specifically to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes.

“there should be no development on the Southern Slopes – to do so would be inconsistent with notions of consolidation and intensification of the Campus heart [a core principle of the Masterplan]; it would also be seen as provocative and misguided by local residents as well as staff, students, local public authorities and relevant charities and societies, who evidently value the enviromental/heritage character of the landscape and the wide range of activities it permits in its unspoilt form. It would be deeply counter-productive to ongoing efforts to foster strong ties between the University and these constituencies to continue to threaten it with development” (Staff Focus Group, p. 5)

The statement captures the staff group’s shared commitment towards the unspoilt fields and slopes, and demonstrates an awareness of how the issue has become a high stakes one, deeply interwoven with the University’s reputation and image. It is also important to register here that this statement exhibits common cause from attendees coming from across a diverse set of University’s departments, with participants included academic staff as well as senior non-academic staff members. As such it goes beyond the motion in favour of protecting the fields agreed over 5 years ago in a vote of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), because the latter is primarily an organisation for academic staff (see this CFPS Blog from spring 2012 for more details)

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This affirmative material from both the external expert working group and the internal staff focus group has now  been reproduced in the “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” published last month. This report also strengthens further the case for the protection of Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes via the incorporation of additional written comments, over and above those put forward at the august and september events. Unsurprisingly, there is “strong endorsement” for “not building on Parklands” from the St Michael’s Road Residents’ Association (p. 18), representing many residents who live closest to the fields. But there is also amplification here of the point by Kent Wildlife Trust, expressing  their “concern that development does not appear to be ruled out for the area of Chaucer Fields, semi-natural grassland of high cultural value to the local residents and not without nature conservation interest. There is no mention of the Ancient Woodland on the site or the Local Wildlife Site, both requiring protection within the planning system” (op cit., p. 31; emphases added).  This is important because KWT is a  highly regarded charity which operates at the county level,  and this feedback builds on concerns it had already expressed at earlier consultations.

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…then stepping backwards again!

However, unfortunately, these advances are then effectively negated by the way in which the University authorities choose to respond to these views within the same Consultation Statement report. In this document, the Expert Workshop’s recognition of the high value of the unspoilt fields/slopes are greeted with vague, non-committal language – the words “noted” and “acknowledged” recurring at various points in the tables which juxtapose community comments and University authority responses. This is weak and uninformative, showing that while the articulated views have been logged, there is no sense of learning from the process in terms of reflecting on the significance of these commitments, or showing any willingness to express the consequences in actual policies and practices . An opportunity to respect the views put forward, and rule out development on the fields, has been squandered.

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More worrying still, the dismissive nature of the University authorities’ response to the analysis expressed in the Staff Focus group, as quoted above, goes even further. Here, the response does not merely avoiding saying anything with meaning and substance. It actively confirms, in no uncertain terms,  that old habits of thought  – and potentially action –  are still driving the process. The key passage here is as follows:

“Some development of the Southern Slopes may be necessary, including providing funding for landscape enhancements. to be explored in the Options” (op cit, p. 26, response bullet point 2)

The chosen tone and form of words in this response is deeply disappointing. Not only does it fail to rule out development on the Southern Slopes, but it actively confirms that it could be carried through as a possibility into the next stage of Masterplan development, presumably in keeping with the idea of a ‘window’ for building projects here emerging from the late 2020s onwards (see the previous Blog). Second, not even a cursory attempt is made to provide a rationale for this potential decision, in the context of the Masterplan’s philosophy and proposed principles, or indeed at any level (in contrast to the “responses” offered in relation to much of the other feedback elsewhere in the Step 1 Consultation Statement). This undermines the credibility of the wider process, because it seems to show that that the University authorities either unable or unwilling to take their own Masterplan’ s principles and processes seriously.

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Third, in the turn of phrase “may be necessary”  – with no attempt at explanation –  we see the authors of the University authorities’ response retreating symbolically from any meaningful notion of collaborative engagement at all.  It suggests the University authorities are, even now, trying to unilaterally take a superordinate position in relation to other stakeholders, including in relation to Canterbury City Council. This is damaging because it is at the level of this elected local authority were the planning process vests  statutory responsibility for determining matters of need and necessity, as embodied through the District Plan process. In this way, we sadly seem to see the University authorities’ old, pre-Masterplan, top down and paternalistic  “sense of entitlement”  reappearing.  Fourth, the use of the phrase “landscape enhancements”, as discussed in an earlier Blog, seems to be discursive cover for the construction of buildings: it is obfuscatory, and is ultimately just development expressed in more fuzzy language, to give the University authorities a potential licence to build as they please.

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It is important to remember that it is this arcane style of making policy, mixing up ambiguity and evasiveness,  which led to the chaotic ad hoc pattern of campus development in the past. It is a throwback formulation which exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of how things can and must change under the new planning framework. It entirely misses the  point of the Masterplan process in seeking to move towards a clearer, properly meaningful and responsive style of engagement, and to avoid arbitrary, ad hoc and unaccountable decision making.  This is, then, potential repeating of the mistakes of the past is the very situation which the Staff Focus Group warned the University it should make every effort to avoid, if it is to develop a more constructive relationship with the host community and its own staff and students in relation to campus development in the future (see “Staff Focus Group report”, p. 3, comment 3)

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A final note: timing and prospects

Where does all this leave us? If we look at the overall process plans as presented at recent events, we have a series of further delays in getting beyond stage 1: by now, we were expecting to have seen not just a Stage 1 Consultation Statement, but also the publication of a range of Stage 2 “Option Studies”, and for a consultation on these “Options” to be have already been completed! These next steps were originally timed to allow a draft, single Framework Masterplan to be in place for further consultation from January 2018, leading to further consultation,  finalisation and publication in late spring/summer, and adoption by Canterbury City Council  – and linkage to the all important District Plan – in September 2018.  Presumably the slippage in moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 means that this none of this will be achieved on time.

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Yet however the timelines is revised, the year ahead will be an crucial period for the fields. It is during 2018 that we will see whether the University authorities continue to operate in denial, pushing blindly for potential development, as they see fit, of the Southern Slopes; or whether they finally show themselves capable of recognising the damage that is being done by keeping this option in play. for there is still a chance to rule out development here. If it were to do this, it would bring the approach properly back  into line with the Masterplan’s own philosophy and principles; and demonstrate recognition of  the commitments and values of the University community, the host community, and  local public authorities. It is upon whose goodwill and trust of all these stakeholders, after all, that the University’s future ultimately depends.

Stay vigilant! Watch this space! Happy christmas and new year to all!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

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Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #3

This is the third of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department, which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers.  ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may choose to provide. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below was put forward by Professor Christopher Rootes, a leading international expert on the political and social aspects of environmental issues, and a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images relate to musical  picnics ad events which have unfolded on the fields over recent years.

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Beginning of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

I welcome the proposals in the CMP to preserve the landscape values of the campus, and to establish design principles to guide the design qualities of new / replacement buildings. Thus the plan promises to preserve the strongest positive appeal of the estate (its green landscapes and views over the city) and to mitigate the weakest (the poor design quality and functionality of most existing buildings). In particular, I applaud the statement (p.59): ‘Whilst advocating the enhancement of the University’s relationship with the City, special care should be taken to preserve the character of the University as satellite of the City, and to nurture the views of historic Canterbury, which are one of the most delightful features of the Campus.’ That said, the specific proposals too often show little appreciation of the qualities of the existing campus and would impose a ‘rationalisation’ that is in many respects subversive of those qualities.

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The CMP recognises that ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting. Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury.’ These, surely, are invaluable assets that should be preserved. The ‘spaces to be considered for development’ include almost all the remaining woodland remnants in and around the central campus. Yet it is these that most enhance the central campus and give relief from the unattractive buildings that neighbour / surround them. The woodland fringe to the north of Giles Lane and along Parkwood Road, and the copse between Jarman and Keynes are a few examples – ‘rationalising’ these spaces, or building on them, would greatly diminish the visual appeal of those parts of the campus, and the sense of well-being that they presently impart. Likewise, further development in the green space to the south of the Library (between Eliot and Rutherford) would compromise one of the iconic views of the cathedral from the campus.

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I find it very odd that existing green spaces are considered ‘too homogenous’, yet the plan is to give the university greater ‘identity’ by ‘rationalising’ it. In fact, there is a considerable variety of green spaces on the campus, and it is mostly the relatively recently planted ones that could be said to be ‘too homogenous’. Preserving diversity is important, but it could be enhanced by better landscaping of some of the recently planted areas rather than wholesale redevelopment. The correlation between ‘quality of place’ and ‘university performance’ as presented in the draft is almost certainly spurious. The main driver of ‘performance’ (measured here by rank order in a league table) is academic performance in teaching and research, and in student recruitment; Kent’s lower ranking than its peer group mainly reflects early decisions about subject mix and subsequent investment in academic development. Moreover, giving the lie to the claimed correlation, the university has been rising in the rankings without any notable improvement in ‘quality of place’. The idea that the hideously over-developed urban space of Lancaster gives it greater ‘quality of place’ than Kent now is, to me, laughable. Kent has, as the CMP’s remarks about its greenness and landscape setting make clear, unique advantages that make such comparisons meaningless.

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I really do not understand the enthusiasm in the CMP for Jarman Square (existing or enlarged) and a new ‘Darwin Square’. The existing hard-landscaped space around Jarman is, to me, one of the least attractive places on the campus, and I struggle to see it as either very useful or even potentially attractive, especially in Kent’s term-time weather. Squares were, historically, parade grounds and, unless someone is envisaging an improbable revival of revolutionary student activity, such spaces really do not deserve a place on a modern university campus. Better by far to develop new, smaller, more intimate spaces to which students and staff might develop attachment and which they might actually use.  I really do not see the need for ‘formal, ceremonial spaces’.

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The idea that the Darwin Square will be associated with a ‘new eastern pedestrian entrance to the campus’ is mystifying, particularly because the narrowness and steepness of, and heavy traffic on, St Stephen’s Hill make this a very unsuitable point for a new principal entrance. I am also sceptical of the value of a central street fronted by shops and cafes. Universities are not shopping centres and do not seem likely to become so, and cafes and restaurants (notably poor at Kent) are better located in quieter and more ‘defensible’ nooks in various places on the campus.

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The ambition ‘to build a reputation ‘The Best Garden Campus in the U.K.’’ is familiar – it was tried some 25 years ago and was responsible for much of the poor / mediocre landscaping and planting from which the campus now suffers. It would be much better to preserve and enhance the woodlands, to make Kent the UK’s best woodland campus. Now, that could be truly magnificent.

jamming musicians Jeremy photoThe thing I find most disturbing in the CMP is the proposals for the ‘Parklands’. The landscape value of the historic buildings is admitted, but the significance of their historic status and their relationship to the historic relationship between the site and the city and Cathedral is not. The area between Beverley Farmhouse and the city is especially sensitive in this respect, sited as it is as the northern end of what remains of the ancient trackway from the Cathedral to Blean Woods. For this reason, I am opposed to any suggestion that ‘the Parklands will also provide a location for the continued development of new buildings and other facilities as and when appropriate.’ Such development simply cannot be compatible with the preservation of the key landscape and cultural values of the site. I would be very skeptical that ‘Such buildings will be designed as ‘landscape buildings’ or ‘pavilions in the landscape’; that might work in formal gardens, but on a hilly, partly wooded site such as thus where views over the city are of such value, it would be much better, surely, to preserve these sites and to lightly manage to improve their existing landscape value. The area formerly referred to as ‘the Southern slopes’ also has clear value as a green buffer between the city and the university, and is highly prized as a local green space in a part of the city that is otherwise relatively deprived in that respect. The preservation and enhancement of such unimproved green space should be a high priority for the university and the city.

Concrete Lung (Navarro & Power) live on site!

The hugely popular song “Concrete Lung” (See BlogRoll) performed live on site by locally renowned musician Richard Navarro and BBC Folk award winner Brendan Power

One disappointing aspect of the CMP is its lack of clear proposal for cross-campus cycle routes. Even within the core campus, it is difficult to get from one end to the other in the time between lectures and seminars, and for those of us who are dependent on bicycles, this is an obvious area for urgent improvement.

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I have refrained from commenting on the CMP’s proposals for the ‘Northern lands’, partly because I know this presently undeveloped area less well, but also because the proposals appear to be so contrary to a variety of planning guidelines – e.g., those against ribbon development (as development along the Tyler Hill Link Road would be); those protecting existing footpaths and cycleways (of which the Crab and Winkle Way is a nationally important example); those protecting the landscape setting of historic buildings (sucha s the church of St Cosmus and St Damien in the Blean). I would be surprised if planners would permit any such development on or accessed via the Tyler Hill Link Road. Developments on the existing fields closer to and accessible from Parkwood Road would seem much more likely to gain planning permission.

End of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #2

This is the second of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD), which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers,  ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may make available. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below was put forward by Dr William Rowlandson, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, who has acted on green/environmental issues for the main staff trade union, the University & College Union (UCU).  Dr Rowlandson is a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images from the fields are of Butterflies,  all taken on the fields over the past five years. In the light of today’s landmark report from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology that we are facing ongoing, accelerating problems of decline, it is an obvious and apposite step to highlight the unspoilt fields’ value and beauty in this  sense. This is  just one of many of its advantages for wildlife, witnessed and cherished  daily by members of the University and local communities.

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Beginning of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

 I applaud the plans for the Campus Heart. The need for development of this central area is well articulated: a central thoroughfare, a more identifiable entrance, replacing or refurbishment of existing buildings. All, to me, seems fine. The plans for The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings are based upon some misdirected apprehensions, and are very concerning. The university is ‘blessed with an abundance of green spaces’ (37). ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting’ 39). It is heartening to see that recognised. However, ‘the green spaces within the campus are rather homogenous and repetitious, and this lack of variety means that the university under-achieves in terms of its campus character and personality’ (37). This is troublesome. Surely the value of green spaces is that they are, precisely, green spaces. There is mention of vulnerability to inclement weather. Well trees are a perfect cover for bad weather. It would seem ludicrous to remove the woodland.

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‘Access to green space is available but their use is not encouraged’ (37). There are excellent paths through all the woodland. If people like to walk in the woodland then they need no encouragement. That these wooded spaces ‘lack animation or passive surveillance’ and ‘are not perceived as safe’ (37) is again precisely because they are woodland. That is their charm. One cannot set up security cameras in dense wood.

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Here we move to the very troublesome bit: ‘Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury. These have an as yet unfulfilled potential to become great assets for the University and the surrounding communities’ (39). The woodland and field system are already great assets. Adaptation of their central feature as woodland and field system is not improvement. It is adaptation. It is development. A woodland is not improved by cutting back trees. A field is not improved by building in it. They cease to be what they are and become something different.

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‘Currently many of the existing areas of green landscape are ‘organic’ in nature, and are ill-defined and under-used whilst lacking variety. Much of this landscape is protected as woodland from development or adaptation’ (56). It is revealing that the fields and woods are seen as unfulfilled potential. This is a dangerous ideological position akin to seeing untapped oil reserves in the arctic as unfulfilled potential or shale gas as crying out for fracking. Have any of the architects or the university planners sat quietly alone in the woods in the Northern Land Holdings? If so they may well perceive a very dynamic environment that beautifully reflects seasonal changes and demonstrates great biodiversity. I also refute the notion that competitor universities have an edge over Kent because of exploitation of their natural land. If anything, I think that Kent can raise its profile as a green university by developing the Campus Heart whilst leaving the wilder aspects of the campus wild.

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If the university is keen, as stated, to preserve good relations with the city and the community, then the plans to build on the treasured so-called ‘Chaucer Fields’ betray a very different ambition. It suggests effectively trampling on many years of local opposition to the planned development in the valuable southern slopes. My conclusion is that the plans for the Campus Heart are good. I find the tone of the narrative with regard The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings very troubling, and indicative of a ruthless and ill-sighted desire for financial return over environmental and ecological concerns.

End of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

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Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #1

Since the last CFPS Blog, when our fields were at the height of their midsummer splendour, with uncut grass, buzzing insects, and trees and hedgerows brimming with natural life and energy, things have moved on.  As we now move away from summer, the trees are just beginning to feel autumnal, and the atmosphere has gradually adopted a lower key.

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Meanwhile, a very different feel characterises the time horizons of policy and planning at the level of the University institutions and the world they inhabit. Things are slowly hotting up! The deadline for consultation over the “Conceptual Master Plan” proposed earlier in the summer (see previous Blogs) –  announced belatedly towards the end of august –  has now passed. And we are  entering a period during which the University authorities will need to decide how to respond to the feedback they have received. How will they learn from this evidence and argument? Which of the  “concepts” will they retain, and which will they jettison in the light of this information? This is, of course, just the latest round of feedback concerning the views of the local and University communities concerning the future of the fields in particular: both communities have, repeatedly  over the past five years, made clear that they are committed to the retention of this land as unspoilt shared green space,  a “green gap” or “green lung” for the enjoyment and appreciation of all. Crucially, this is also a  commitment recognised by  elected local representatives , at Canterbury City Council, in the draft District Plan.

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The current Master Plan process, however, looks at the campus as a whole. It is interesting to see that this agenda  has already provided momentum for the formation of a new, Blean-based group, seeking to situate both the University of Kent’s Canterbury master plan and that of Canterbury Christ Church in a broader political context, both locally and nationally. Readers of this Blog are encouraged to visit their “University Challenged” site, reflect on its implications and relevance to them, and potentially contribute to the debate as it takes shape there. It should be underlined that what is in focus here is the entirely of the University’s Canterbury land holdings, extending hundreds of acres far to the North (beyond Park Wood, sports pitches, and Brotherhood Wood ) and over to the East (fields and woods beyond St Stephen’s hill/Canterbury Hill). This is way beyond  the familiar blue-sign demarcated area (which the casual observer might reasonably assume constituted the relevant area.) This follows from the University authorities’ decision to quietly but systematically acquire vast swathes of  agricultural land in recent years.

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So, a new climate of questioning and challenge may be emerging. This must be a healthy , and indeed rather overdue development. Powerful institutions of all types, whether Universities, corporations or national media conglomerates will, after all, tend to resist learning from their mistakes, become self-referential and pursue narrow institutional interests, unless exposed to critical scrutiny and held to account for their plans and actions. Commentary and critique emerging  from affected local people  can and should be integral to that  process, alongside the role of the local media, and in our case, Canterbury’s extraordinary concentration of associations, charities and NGOs with relevant expertise (for example, the specialist knowledge of the Canterbury Society, and the front line everyday experience of  myriad community and environmental groups – see CFPS Blogroll examples).

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Against this backdrop, this Blog  – and further Blogs which will soon follow – will give a flavour of just a segment of the feedback submitted to the University’s Corporate Communications department  over the past couple of months. It will present comments from some respondents from  the local / University communities who are committed to the retention of the fields as unspoilt shared green space. Of course, such respondents also hold  views about other aspects of the Conceptual Master Plan too. The contributions will be presented here uncut, exactly as they were directly expressed to the University authorities, so covering feedback on the entire Conceptual Master Plan. Material relating directly to the fields, however, will be highlighted in bold for ease of navigation.

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In terms of the overall picture that will emerge in the weeks ahead, it is worth noting that attempts are currently being made by residents associations working with the University authorities  to ensure that the  the aggregate results of the exercise, when collated, can be shared, and presented in a fair and balanced way. Let us hope that the University authorities agree to communicate openly, transparently and in a spirit of real collaboration.  In the meantime, the perspectives offered in this series of Blogs may give a preliminary sense of the flavour of some of the issues which will be at stake.

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Rather than the usual seasonal, close-to-real time photos, the images from the fields interspersed with this text for these Blogs will be thematic, drawing together material gathered over the past 5 or so years by the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society.  As you may have already noticed, the joy of tree climbing is the theme for this Blog, but the ones to follow will focus on other aspects of life on the unspoilt fields. All will be revealed!

best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Beginning of Feedback Example #1

The Conceptual Master Plan contains some sensible and welcome ideas, especially  where the University’s willingness to follow the consultant’s recommended design principles is manifested in the ideational proposals: so, concentrating development in the centre of campus, enhancing a sense of place through better signage and structure, recognising the green asset value of the campus, and protecting the views from campus of the Cathedral and cityscape are all sound ideas. However, there are six major problems too.

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First, central campus’s potential to better meet conferencing needs is not considered, but it is arbitrarily assumed that ‘parklands’ is an appropriate site. This undermines the whole logic of the conceptual plan (see sixth point below). Second, the proposals in relation to the Crab & Winkle seem to exhibit a lack of understanding of the landscape, and are apparently disconnected from the reality of how this route is used in practice, and how it is valued and enjoyed in everyday use (without the need for costly hands on ‘development’) in its current form.

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Third, the fuzzy representations of building possibilities on some parts of campus implies the loss of significant swathes of woodland, and alarmingly when presenting the proposals the consultants admitted in this context that they were not sufficiently familiar with the campus to be aware of these consequences (University officials remained silent on this point). Fourth, there is bizarrely little consideration of the situation regarding already-developed Park Wood, where there is scope for heightened meeting of accommodation need (hence relieving pressure on other sites) by efficient replacement of existing delapidated and poorly designed stock.

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Fifth, the plans are weak on the issue of parking. The opportunity for imaginative thinking here, including underground options for parking zones, is left unrealised. (To anticipate the routine response that the costs of this are prohibitive: why is this a standard option for meeting parking needs in many other situations where space pressure is intense? Also note that underground parking goes with the logic of the plan in relation to consolidation of a quasi-urban core).

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Sixth, the plan’s contemplation of the idea of situating development (a “conferencing hotel” and two other structures) on chaucer fields and the southern slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”) is a disastrous misjudgement. There are several reasons for this. It undermines the integrity of the conceptual plan, because it demonstrably violates that plan’s own design principles in relation to strategic views, spatial concentration of development, and green asset recognition and protection  – priorities that give the plan coherence. It therefore makes the exercise look cynical, ad hoc and inconsistent – fundamental historical problems which the whole notion of the Master Plan was meant to address. Furthermore, the “Parklands” element directly contradicts the priorities and values of the local (geographical) community, the University community, and expert opinion made known to the University authorities on several occasions over the past 5 years across a range of consultative, legal and planning arenas. In addition, it also contradicts the democratically mandated designation of this space as a green gap in the draft District Plan – a designation which has made clear that preservation of this place as unspoilt shared green space is a priority not just for immediate residents and the university community, but for the District as a whole.

lateapr later batch 2014 tree climber 3

It must be concluded that to carry this element of the proposals forward into the substantive Master Plan would be inconsistent with the basic function of that Plan; spectacularly undermine any claims University authorities might wish to make as to their good stewardship of one of the most attractive of English university campuses; and damage profoundly the University authorities’ relationship with each of the aforementioned geographical, workplace and expert communities.

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End of Feedback Example #1