Picnic time approaching… plus Consultation, District Plan Green Gap status and Signage update

This Blog has been “rested” for a while, buts its time to rejoin! There are three reasons for this. First, after several months of unexplained delay, the Consultation Report on the Conceptual Master Plan, covering the consultation of summer 2016, was finally published a few weeks ago. So, there’s some news to report on that. And also further news concerning  the proposed “Green Gap” status (updating the details in the last Blog.)

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Second, regular users of the fields may have noticed the change in wording on the signage which demarcates this land, words that are also reproduced on the signs used at other points on the edge of the campus. What little is known about this is worth sharing.  Third, it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to picnics, including on these fields, to take advantage of the sunshine and good weather in this extraordinarily beautiful, currently unspoilt shared green space. As evidence presented in various contexts by many local people and groups over the past few years has shown –  in responding to planning applications, earlier consultations, and when compiling the vast body of material needed to make the case for village green status –  this is a customary form of leisure and recreation here which goes back for decades. It reflects deep community attachment and commitment to this unspoilt green space. Indeed, given the  historical record of using this place as a spot to view, linger and appreciate the Cathedral and cityscape – a practice  long pre-dating the University’s founding –  we can speak of this as a truly time honoured  tradition (see the “History Matters” CFPS Blog).

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So, once again I am delighted to confirm the annual collaborative picnic which symbolises this precious legacy, organised jointly with Greenpeace Canterbuy and the Abbot’s Mill Project, and supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blog Roll on the right of this text for further details). More information on what happens at the picnics come at the end of the Blog! You could skip straight to that, if you would rather find out about the latest news at the picnic itself. But please do consider reading the detailed updates on the Conceptual Master Plan Consultation, Green Gap status, and signage change issues, presented in what follows first, if you have a little time. As ever, images are interspersed to make it more digestible. This time, they are photographs taken on a short walk yesterday.

Campus Conceptual Master Plan Consultation Report

This report, published by the University’s Corporate Communications Directorate, can  be found here. It is not a particularly attractive read, but it seems reasonable for the University to claim that the process of developing the Master Plan and undertaking a consultation has been “welcomed”. This is  formally true, and reflects civility on the part of those consulted. On the other hand, of course, it could be pointed out that the University is not really positioned to claim any credit for this: it has been expressly specified as a requirement  by Canterbury City Council (CCC) –  the relevant local planning authority –  and it is hard to see on what grounds it could be resisted by the University authorities.  And especially because developments on campus in recent years have been haphazard and at times even appeared chaotic and shambolic, there has  been a steady build up of public pressure to take this obvious step –  and to take it transparently.   Ad hoc and piecemeal ‘business as usual’ is simply no longer acceptable.

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What do we learn? The report demonstrates a mixture of  reactions from consultees, and publishes the full set of responses in its voluminous appendices. This transparency is certainly a point in its favour. So, for example, there are 16 pages covering responses from “local groups” (Appendix 5A, pp. 61 – 76).  We can see the opposition to building south of University Road on the Southern Slopes clearly stated by local residents’ associations, one of which even supplied evocative photographs of the fields. But these are not the only relevant concerns from organisations. We also see explicit recognition from the influential Canterbury Society (see Blogroll) that this sentiment is much more widely shared: ‘people in the City feel like the Chaucer Fields should be kept undeveloped and not built upon’. At the same time, two highly respected local charities, orientating themselves towards the overall style and process of the consultation, highlight major concerns. The Kent Wildlife Trust and Council for the Protection of Rural England both use robust language in respectively challenging the University authorities on their failure to attend to the biodiversity dimension in developing the Conceptual Masterplan;  and highlighting apparent incompetence, mistakes and oversights in the way the University undertook the consultation process.

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Appendix 5B then  reports written feedback from individual people – over 81 pages (pp 77 – 158). Once again, it is striking to see how many such consultees have felt moved to write expressing their strong and implacable opposition to the potential loss of the Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes green gap. Large numbers of respondents point out that if the building of a “Parklands” conferencing hotel and other units were  to proceed there, as posited in the Conceptual Master Plan,  unspoilt shared green space, with extraordinary heritage, social, aesthetic and environment value, would be lost forever to both the local and university communities.

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These sentiments are perhaps predictable, reacting as to they do conferencing hotel proposals which have essentially been carried over from earlier in the decade,  cosmetically reframed now within a Conceptual Master Plan with comforting imagery, the soft focus, fuzzy language of  “enhanced landscape” and narratives deploying the vocabulary of “green assets”. So is this consultation document just telling us what we already know, that there is little or no support for the ‘development’ of the fields from either the university or local communities? In a sense, yes. But it can also be read positively by those who value the fields as generating  new evidence in support of the durability of this sentiment, sorely tested by already being expressed on multiple occasions for several years. In other words, it reaffirms and underlines the enduring strength of these values, and the level of attachment and commitment to this landscape and place amongst local and university people. It is remarkable that many people still had the energy to raise this issue for the umpteenth time, having repeatedly done so already, year after year, on a massive scale in relation to earlier versions of ‘development’ proposals. This is a tribute to the resilience of the local and university communities in the face of consultation fatigue. 

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Indeed, the resistance to Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields despoilment emerges as  amongst the most vehemently expressed views in the entire document, as acknowledged in the main body of the document (Table 5, pp. 20 -21, Main Report): The other major issue emerging here is confirmation of the extent of opposition to ‘developing’ agricultural land purchased by the University to the North of the core campus, proximate to Blean and the Crab & Winkle Way (“Northern Land Holdings”) by situating car parks, sports facilities/buildings and a range of permanent strutures and units  (again, often using soft language – this time, ‘hubs’ – to downplay the extent to which land use would no longer be essentially agricultural in character, and involve significant and irreversible development)

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It is also worth emphasising another finding revealed by this process not in writing, but in relation to the face to face feedback witnessed at the various  events convened as part of the process. Table 2 (pp. 12 – 14, Main Report) lists a number of ‘presentations’ and ‘exhibitions’ conducted. Most of these events were not well attended, perhaps relating to a lack of effective communication about them (see the remarks above, as per the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s response).  However, at the  events that were best attended – for University Staff on campus, and in Blean village hall –  audiences once again reasserted their resistance and opposition, and sometimes with real anger.  The narratives adopted by the University authority representatives and architectural consultants were greeted with marked incredulity by many attendees at these events.  Why?  There were probably three main reasons for this reaction.

  • the narratives demonstrated a lack of basic familiarity with,  and understanding of, the character and topography of the relevant local landscapes
  • they showed a lack of awareness of the sheer strength and evidence base for pro-unspoilt space community sentiment, and
  • the narratives also suggested that the  ‘landscape enhancements’  in question (in practice, of course, nothing but development –  since we are referring to hotel buildings, other built units, car parks, facilities of various forms  etc) were something audiences didn’t need to be so concerned about, because they weren’t envisaged to take place in the immediate timeframe of the existing Estates Plan (the University Council, in signing off the Estates Plan 2015-2025, has nowhere  endorsed, or indicated funding for, the proposed hotel or other developments).

 

This third feature of the narrative  was experienced as patronising , because it appears to assume that, while the University authorities ‘think ahead’, the university and local communities are characterised by either transience or short sightedness, an unwillingness or inability to think more than 8 years ahead (a lack of concern for developments after 2025).   This disregard for forward thinking public concern is not only directly at odds with the notion that there should be a long term District Plan at all (in lie with national policy expectations,the timeframe for the ’emerging’ CCC District Plan runs to 2031, 6 years after the current Estates Plan expires). In relation to chaucer fields/the southern slopes, the revealed assumption of myopia or transience is also out of line with one of the  core findings of the village green enquiry –  that meaningful local residential communities, with durable, collective shared practices, commitments and beliefs – and therefore, capable of taking the long view –  do exist in relation to this place.

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The next steps in the process are referred to in the documentation. It is suggested the University will work ‘collaboratively’ with CCC over a period of several months to move towards the substantive Master Plan. In relation to Chaucer Fields, we know that CCC already responded to the overwhelming nature of local (and university) community sentiment in favour of protecting the fields with the “Green Gap status” proposal. Even if this particular protection cannot be included in the new District Plan for technical reasons, we can and should expect CCC to take a strong and clear position on this issue in these upcoming discussions: the key point is that the principle of protection and respect for this space has been publicly affirmed and agreed by CCC, even if “Green gap status” proposal fell on a technicality. This is a point the following section will now consider.

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“Green Gap status” not permitted as District Plan moves towards adoption

In the last Blog, it was reported that the proposal supported by CCC, that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes be given “green gap” status in the District Plan, was, in response to claims-making by the University authorities’ hired legal consultants,  being challenged by the Planning Inspectorate on technical-procedural grounds (not substantive grounds, as reported in the local press). As expected, further to this initial response, this proposed “green gap” provision has now been removed, as part of the latest step in moving towards District Plan adoption. This is a technocratic “modification” needed to ensure the Plan will be ‘sound and legally compliant’.  Full details can be found here at CCC’s official update on the Plan.

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On the face of it, this seems like a setback for those who wish to see the unspoilt fields protected and respected. However, it is important to stress two considerations to make clear that it also has advantages. First, the very process of CCC even considering this status, and then taking the enormous step of proposing it be built into the District Plan, shows that the political will is there at local Council level to commit to the unspoilt fields. Even if ultimately overturned on a technicality, this does not reverse the fact that CCC have boldy come forward and defended the values of the community on this issue, or alter the motivation that lay behind this proposed protection. Second, in order to deflect the “need” for this protection, the University legal advisers who argued for its removal had to build their case, in part, on the claim that existing protections as expressed in CCC documents (including internal papers and documents relating to CCC meetings) were already shown to be so extensive in relation to this landscape that additional policies, such as the “green gap”, were not “needed.”  The University is thus potentially “locked in” to recognition of the value of the unspoilt landscape by its own legal consultants’ position taking in relation to this issue in the future. It has itself been forced to chart and acknowledge in its submissions to the Planning Inspectorate the high salience and significance of existing protections, already in place, and additional to any “green gap” status. It would be incoherent, inconsistent, and create an impression of disregard for due process to claim at a future date that such existing protections can be readily dispensed with.

Signage update

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Observant users of the fields may have noticed early last month that the form of words used on the demarcation signs has now changed: the image above shows the new language, where the one below shows the older formulation.

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This can be read in a number of ways. Is it a strengthening of the role of the relevant elected public authorities (in this case, Kent County Council) over the University, insisting on greater clarity on the publics’ right to use ‘rights of way’ crossing the land in our county? On the other hand, it could be seen as clearing the ground  in the longer term for a situation in which access here and in other places where the University owns land will be more strictly circumscribed, driving a strict wedge between allowable and forbidden use.  A world of narrow pathways and functional ‘desire lines’ to and from workplaces in the context of a looming hotel complex,  a range of other buildings and facilities, and car parks, all  erected on a previously unspoilt landscape where roaming had previously been the norm. In other words, this is a scenario in which the free sharing of  land around the University, for recreation and leisure by the university and local communities, is over time constrained and then ultimately brought to a halt in the name of ‘development’ (or, ‘enhanced landscape’).

The University authorities have indicated they have taken this initiative as a result of ‘legal advice’, but it is not in the public domain what form that advice took, or the nature of the agenda in asking for it. The most benign and optimistic explanation, more in line with the first reading, is that it is a response to the fact the cyclists, walkers and others, particularly those trying to ‘find their way’ onto the Crab & Winkle route, had often found the older signage confusing, and this is a way to rectify this. However, only time will tell whether a more controlling intention to restrict non-public right-based of way activities into the future is  part of the thinking too.

 

Upcoming Picnic – Sunday 16th July midday onwards   

And so to the picnic – this will be the sixth collaborative one since the CFPS was formed in 2011.  The event is always great fun, with every one is slightly different from its predecessors. However, certain key features always endure – sharing food and drink in a truly beautiful setting, appreciating both the nature surroundings and the proximate cityscape; play for families, ranging from impromptu tree climbing, hide and seek to more organised activities, such as football, kite flying, rounders and dodgeball; conversation and socialising, finding out about people, places and gossip, crossing the boundaries between the local and university communities; and last but not least, music, ranging from a small stage with amplification for those inclined, to more casual jamming and swopping of tunes and musical ideas.

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This year, we are delighted to highlight two special features of the event, each linking back to the support base for the fields as it has been nurtured and grown over the years. First, Richard Navarro will be playing once more! A regular at earlier picnics, and someone who did a lot to raise awareness of the cause with his Joni Mitchell inspired Concrete Lung , touring and other commitments meant Richard was missed at recent gatherings. However, he will join us this time, fresh from a recent highly successful tour of Ireland.

Second, we will take the chance of the gathering to convene a group to informally talk about ways forward in protecting, respecting and enhancing the local landscape (the demarcated campus, and any adjacent/other land now acquired by the University). This will be in the light of what we have now learned about the University authorities’ agenda and intentions thus far (through the Master Plan process). This will be led by Dr William Rowlandson, green representative at the University of Kent for the University and Colleges Union. (See William’s response to the Conceptual Master Plan consultation here.) UCU has already been an important actor in confirming University staff’s commitment to protecting the fields (facilitating the motion leading to a strong vote in favour of protecting the fields as undeveloped green space shared with the local community in 2012), and there is potential for it in the context of this new initiative to take an wider role regarding the local environmental agenda too.

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We look forward to welcoming you to the picnic on sunday – 12.00 midday onwards! (Facebook users, see the event information from the Abbot’s Mill Project here).

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

The conferencing hotel master flaw

Our fields, the trees and woods that connect with them, and  the hedges which interweave with and cut across them in such a wonderful mosaic, are now moving in full ‘midsummer mode’. This is the time of year when the fields are in many ways most alive with insect life, while the dawn and dusk choruses of its birds are still striking. As ever, it is great to be able to see all this natural energy being witnessed and experienced by large numbers of people,against the spectacular back drop of views of the Cathedral, and of the wider cityscape.

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Whether walking, running, cycling, playing or pursuing pastimes and hobbies, this is a shared green asset of extraordinary value in its current unspoilt condition.  And of course – picnics are much favoured too! Indeed in  the customary way, I have interspersed some photos here from the most recent collaborative picnic between the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society, the Abbot’s Mill Project, and Canterbury Greenpeace. This took place on Dover Down field earlier this month. Many thanks to musicians from across the Canterbury District but also from as far afield as Spain for their contributions, including the Native Oyster Band, Double Crossing,  Robert Rawson, and Elderberry Wine.

 

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Ongoing Consultation process: University master plans for Canterbury campus

This Blog is being written as the consultation process in relation to the University’s new “Conceptual Master Plan” (developed under contract to the University by the London-based architects Farrells)  proceeds. This is intended as an ideational stepping stone towards the substantive, more specific Master Plan which the University is required to submit as part of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan finalisation process. Since the last Blog, some information on the timing of this process has been provided:

  • The ongoing Conceptual Master Plan consultation process, although no deadline has been formally specified, is expected to continue until the end of this month, and possibly into August
  • There will then be “further technical and design work”, which means translating the Conceptual Master Plan into the substantive one required by Canterbury City Council for District Plan purposes. This will take place over the second part of the summer.
  • A (substantive) Master Plan draft will be presented for consultation in ‘the autumn’. (no date yet released)
  • In ‘spring 2017’, a final version will be submitted to Canterbury City Council (again, no actual date released).

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What is already known about the Conceptual Master Plan? Material can be found at https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/

You are urged to look at this for yourself. At a general level, there is much to be welcomed in these documents. For example, in terms of the suggestion that significant development activity can and should be concentrated on the central campus, which, it is argued, must be shaped to foster a more coherent and well structured sense of place.

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Crucially, an effort is also made by Farrells to develop publicly defensible “design principles” to ensure that this and other priorities can be followed through. These other values include recognition of the  overall contribution of the Canterbury campus as a green asset, and a heavily emphasis on the imperative of protecting the magnificent unspoilt vlews of the cityscape available from campus.  Interestingly, it is implied in the presentation of the materials that these “design principles”  are already adopted by the University authorities: at various points, ownership of them is stated on the University websites.

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In terms of more specific intentions, because it is at the conceptual stage, much is fuzzy and vague. Unfortunately, however, one aspect stands out a as a striking anomaly in the context of the aforementioned  “design principles”. This is the incorporation in the documents of the old idea of establishing a “Conferencing hotel” away from central campus  – in the heart of the currently unspoilt Chaucer Fields and wider Southern Slopes (now relabelled as part of “Parklands”). There is also an additional building situated to the North East of the fields, in this case without any at all explanation (south west of Keynes bus stop).

 

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On what basis can we say the notion that a “Conferencing hotel..could be considered”  on the fields (the form of words used during presentations on the plans) is an anomaly? This will be painfully obvious to members of the local community and the University community at large, but for the avoidance of doubt, the following observations can be made:

  • the intention to keep alive  the idea of developing on these fields is inconsistent with the Conceptual Master Plan (CMPS)’s own design principles, including the idea that development should be focussed ‘at the heart’ of the campus, and that it is crucial to “safeguard existing views of historic Canterbury”
  • the CMP’s idea of potentiually locating development on these  fields directly contradicts Canterbury City Council’s proposal to give the the fields enhanced protection as expressed through the “Green Gap” status specified in the pending District Plan
  • the idea of developing  on the fields in this way is conspicuously out of line with a wide range of established indicators of local and university community (staff and students) priorities and values. As such, if pursued in practice, it would be a massive own-goal to the University authorities in terms of managing its public face, and its internal and external relations. It would undermine the credibility of any claims it might wish to make about its willingness to listen to, and work with, these  communities.

 

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If this seems overstated, it is important to remember that the University authorities have repeatedly been told – through wide ranging, strong reactions to the 2011 Planning Application, voting in University-based arenas for staff and students, and a further consultation (which ultimately led to the Turing college (Keynes III) development north of University road) – that both  the local and University communities are committed to retaining this land as unspoilt shared green space. What is more, the plan for “Green Gap” status, mentioned above, shows how this commitment has been recognised and embraced at the level of the democratic body representing Canterbury District as a whole. That is to say, Chaucer Fields as unspoilt shared green space is seen by elected local government as of high value not just for Canterbury, but for Whitstable, Herne Bay, and the surrounding villages – it is a priority for the District as a whole, and not just a matter for Canterbury.

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Morever, the Village Green Application completed earlier this year generated a vast body of evidence that these priorities go hand in hand with recognition of the fields  in their current form as exactly the sort of  high value “green asset” which needs to be protected. As unspoilt shared green space, the land has been shown to have been used for recreation, leisure and other pursuits for many decades in a way which would be compromised and undermined by any such development. Indeed, lawyers acting for the University were forced to concede  this pattern of land use within the VGA process: Even though the overall outcome was not to grant village green status, that process incidentally generated a mass of material demonstrating the high value of the land in its current unspoilt state, which the University authorities had to accept.

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Do you agree that this aspect of the Conceptual Master Plan is a mistaken, retrograde idea? Whether you do or not,  please consider expressing your  view, and  your overall reaction to the Conceptual Master Plan, in the ongoing consultation. You can do this by going to https://www.kent.ac.uk/masterplan/contact.html or by emailing masterplan@kent.ac.uk

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To ensure that your view on the CMP will be  considered, it is probably wise to respond by the end of this month.
With best wishes
Chaucer Fielder
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

Campus Master Plan and Picnic News

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Chaucer Fields and the wider Southern Slopes are currently at one of their seasonal highpoints, reflecting all the vigour and freshness of late spring and early summer. The bluebells season is over, but dramatic displays of flower, both native –  in particular  mayflower (hawthorn) –  and non-native – especially, sweet chestnut blossom –  are amongst the most striking manifestations of all this life and energy. And the foliage of the many trees to be found here is tantalisingly fresh and lends the fields a feeling of promise and expectation  As usual, I’ve included recent photos in this Blog to capture some of the seasonal flavour of the moment.

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What’s next on the agenda for our fields, in the aftermath of the Village Green decision (see previous Blog?). We’ll report here an important development in the expression of the University’s evolving policy position which as significant implications for this place  – the first systematic initiative to share its plans for the Canterbury campus as a whole (including the unspoilt Slopes); and give some information on the traditional Chaucer Fields Picnic Society picnic, upcoming a little later in the year than usual.

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University Campus “Conceptual Masterplan” presentations

One of the likely requirements of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan – still under review after a series of delays, but likely to be settled and formalised within the next couple of years – is that the University publicly present a “Master Plan”. The rationale is to help alleviate some of the uncertainty suffered by both the local and University communities in recent years concerning intended patterns of development in the long run.

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After a period of  opacity  concerning whether or not the Estates Plan, signed off formally by the University Council at the end of 2015 after some revisions, would be made publicly available as part of the response to this expected legal requirement, it has now become clear that this will not happen. However, the good news is that the University is choosing to respond by engaging with both the staff component of its own community, and the wider constituency of local interests and experts. This is by sharing a draft of its “Conceptual Masterplan” as developed under contract by the well known London-based architects Farrells, and inviting feedback in the days and weeks ahead, through a series of consultation events.

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On a website launched over the last week. the University’s  corporate communications directorate suggests that the “Conceptual Masterplan….contains ideas on how best to develop our campus to meet the needs of the University as well as deliver long-term benefits to our local communities, and improve our intellectual, physical, economic and cultural connections with the city of Canterbury.”   The bulletin goes further to say that the University would like to encourage attendance, and to receive comments.

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At the time of writing it is known that the process will formally begin tonight with  presentations to Canterbury City Councillors; and that a presentation for local neighbourhood groups – essentially meaning the residents’ associations closest to campus – will follow tomorrow. There will then be a two-stage process of engagement with University staff: first, one of the responsible architects,  John Letherland, will present the plans at 2-3pm tomorrow in the Gulbenkian Cinema; and second, an exhibition, featuring highlights of the “conceptual masterplan”, with be available for viewing in the Colyer-Fergusson building from 2pm tomorrow until 4 pm on friday. Because the John Letherland presentation coincides with industrial action by the University and College Union (today and tomorrow),  a request has been made that the presentation be recorded so that members taking action may also benefit from access to this opportunity.

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Finally, it is also expected that there may be additional events allowing others to respond to the “conceptual masterplan” too. That is to say, presentations or exhibitions for the benefit of interested parties who have not already been included in the schedule specified thus far (people who are neither University staff, District Councillors nor involved with proximate residents associations) are likely to take place as well. When more information on these further processes are available it will be presented on this Blog.

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This consultation process is welcome in principle, and is being seen by many in a broadly positive light. However, it is important, to stress that it will only ultimately help to address the fundamental issues of transparency, uncertainty alleviation and the strengthening of relations between the University authorities, the wider University community and the local community, and achieve the right level of green asset protection under certain conditions.

  • Does the  content of the “Conceptual Master Plan” indicate in principle that the overwhelming consensus in favour of protecting the unspoilt environmental, natural  and green open space assets for which the University acts as a steward – including the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes – have at last been acknowledged? Are protections for these assets actively designed into the “conceptual” framework, or some supporting/related documentation,  to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated?
  • Are clear arrangements in place for specifying the relationship between the architect-led “Conceptual Master Plan” as currently under consultation and the ultimate, substantive “Master Plan”  – as expected to be required for the purposes of planning law under the pending District Plan – in the years ahead?
  • Are there well planned arrangements to ensure that the actual implementation of the substantive Master Plan proceeds in a transparent and inclusive way? Are there arenas in place to ensure that the University community and the local community are given clear, ongoing opportunities to shape the development process as it unfolds, and so avoid a relapse into ad hoc, occasional consultations which both exacerbate uncertainty, are run the risk of being dismissed as tokenistic?

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It is to be hoped that answers will begin to emerge in relation to the first of these considerations over the weeks ahead. However, it is still far from clear whether the second and third conditions will be met. The timeframe for these developments will be measured in years. It will only be if transparency is embedded in procedures and pursued in a sustained way, and if foresight and a genuine, enduring engagement by the University authorities with the communities upon which they depend demonstrably unfolds, that commentators will feel able to view this initiative as a meaningful step forward.

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Picnic News

On a lighter note,  everyday enjoyment and appreciation of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes continues to happen as it has done for decades (and probably centuries)! To celebrate and heighten awareness of these practices (now conceded as significant by the University in the context of the Village Green application), our usual picnic will take place this summer, albeit slightly later in the year than normal: 3rd July, 1 – 5pm.

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As usual, the picnic is in collaboration with Greenpeace Canterbury and the Abbots Mill project, and is supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group. We have already confirmed a good musical line up, including Richard Navarro and Double Crossing. Storytelling, as usual, is also planned. But these are a whole range of other options too.

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One advantage of  the later-than-usual timing is that the grass will almost certainly be cut!  This means that alongside the usual activities which can proceed however long the grass- tree climbing, hide and seek, kite flying, frisbee etc – there’ll be chances for more formal sports and pastimes. Cricket, football, rounders and martial arts are amongst the activities which over the years have been undertaken on the relatively flat part of the fields at the southern end, so let’s hope for good weather to allow these things to happen on the day.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

PS For those of you who use Facebook, please consider indicating your planned attendance/interest on the Abbot’s Mill events page (see Blogroll, above).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaucer fields – entry for Woodland Trust competition

Dear all

I hope you have had a good summer. There’s no major news to report –  one reason why this Blog hasn’t been active for a while. But do look at the Save Chaucer Field’s  group’s summary of the state of play from a couple of month’s back if you want to get up to speed. Its  here or go to their home page via the Blogroll, top right hand corner of this Blog.

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Common Blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

This lack of important news in recent weeks –  really since Canterbury City Council announced that the draft District Plan include green gap status for the fields –  doesn’t mean public interest has faded, however. Quite the opposite. For example, I am regularly asked where things stand, and a few days ago this website passed the 10,000 hits mark, with a readership which is not only local, as well as increasingly national and international.

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Azure Damselfly, Coenagrion puella, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, August 2014

One idea which might, however, be worth mentioning is that  this month I am putting forward one of our oak trees for national recognition! This is via  the Woodland Trust’s English Tree of the Year competition . (See also the Blogroll link for more information on the trust.)

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The excellent Woodland Trust, like many other national and local  green groups, has long been supportive of our cause, and this seemed like a natural thing to do. Many of you will instantly recognise the tree in question as the young to middle aged Oak tree in the southern section of  Dover Down field, close to Roper’s twitchell,next to one of the many pathways that criss cross the Southern Slopes, and often chosen by picnickers.

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I am sure it will not be an ancient, knarled, or historically significant as some other trees entered for this event! But I think we’ve got a case. Its exceptional character stems from its surroundings and the way it is appreciated by so very many people, all the time.

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The tree is striking, somewhat set part from other  around the field, and visible from many angles across the fields. Viewed from the north east  over Dover down field it foregrounds some of the best views of Canterbury Cathedral and its world heritage site. From the north west, in Bushy Acres,  it sits between Roper’s Twitchell (the double hedge) in front, with St Dunstan’s church behind.  And situated in what is now being  recognised  as the Southern Slopes ‘green buffer’, it is close enough to large numbers of people – students and staff on the University campus, and those living in the residential area to the south – to be enjoyed by the many who walk, run or ride past it every single day.

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And its not an oak everyone just passes by! It has acted as a social focal point  for organising picnics, providing shade in hot weather and cover when wet. It has clearly witnessed many a story and many a song!

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Students and friends at June picnic

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But most importantly to my mind, is its use by local children – not to mention adults – as convenient and accessible for climbing. The branches are positioned just right for any tentative 4 year old trying to get the hang of it, while more adventorous older people can and do climb 20 or even 30 feet up to gain excellent views across the landscape!

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Long may it continue – to use the cliche, for generations to come.  And I will let you know how we get on in this year’s competition!

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lateapr later batch 2014 062 All best

Chaucer Fielder

 

Picnic capers – May 2014

Dear all

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Sunday 11th May witnessed a picnic on Dover Down field, part of Chaucer Fields. Local people and members of the University of Kent community joined to celebrate the coming of summer – in a place most readers are of course well aware is one of Canterbury’s most accessible, beautiful unspoilt settings. Situated at the southern edge of the University’s campus, it is widely known that this has for decades acted as a ‘green buffer’ or ‘green gap’ for the benefit of both local residents and the University itself. The picnic is just the latest example of the many ways in which the immense value of this place is practically demonstrated by the actions of those who know and appreciate it.

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The occasion was jointly organised by the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society and the Abbots Mill Project, a prominent local social enterprise founded in 2010 (see Blogroll). Greenpeace Canterbury, the Save Chaucer Fields group, and representatives of University unions were also involved.The event followed a format building on similar occasions in recent  years. Participants chatted and shared food and drink; children played safely, getting exercise and fresh air running  across the fields, climbing trees, discovering flowers and bugs, and exploring the woods and hedges.There were also some organised activities led by parents and friends, including ball games.

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Musical entertainment was meanwhile provided  by local musicians, ranging from jazz to pop. The session included an appearance by Richard Navarro, and brought together an interesting  array of local instrumentalists, playing together for the first time.

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Story telling under one of the fields best-loved Oak trees was provided by Whistable’s  Mark Lawson, wearing authentic mediaeval garb.

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And there was  a  celebratory procession involving Dead Horse Morris’s Jack-in-the-Green (made with local ivy  from the fields themselves, and from in and around Whitstable, Tankerton and Chestfield). The Jack was accompanied by a piper playing bagpipes based on those played by the Miller in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This all helped to reinforce the Kentish flavour of what is clearly becoming an increasingly popular local tradition. With children  drawn to the spectacle of the  Jack and the sound of the piping,  a mini ‘pied piper’ procession spontaneously formed!

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All in all, a great way  to spend a summer’s  afternoon,and  future  events are already in the pipeline. Watch this space!

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Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

CFPS – 2013 in review courtesy of WordPress

Dear all

First of all, some archive pictures of wildlife and children from the fields at  sunnier times of year to brighten things up a bit!

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Blackcap, bottom of Bushy Acres , Eastern part of Chaucer Fields, June 2013

And I thought you might be interested to learn that the CFPS Blog seems to have been quite effective during 2013 in raising awareness and spreading the word about our fields:

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Speckled Wood, Pararge Aegeria [Lennaeus, 1758], “Beverley Boughs”, North western part of Chaucer Fields, early July 2013

Please see the  report below by clicking on the link from WordPress, who are the organisation providing the Blog template etc .

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Drumming on Chaucer Fields – Oaks nursery children, summer 2011

Adding the stats from 2013 to the previous periods (for which stats are available) now gives a grand total of over 9,000 visits by viewers from 70 countries since the Blog was initiated.

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Southern Hawker basking in the sun, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Happy New Year – and stay involved: 2014 will be a crunch time for our fields!

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Whitstable's Mark Lawson in storytelling action

Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action, Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields 2011

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[EXCERPT AND LINK FOR WORDPRESS REPORT]

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Waiting games …. hawks, hawkers, conkers, and roystercatchers

Dear all

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Looking north over fields & hedges from bottom of Dover Down field, october 2013

The fields have been incomparably enchanting on several days this month. The combination of ample rain and periods of warm unbroken sunshine, as summer turns to autumn, have produced a spectacular combination of active wildlife, luxuriously verdant grass, and infinite gradations of green, yellow and orange in foliage. Especially earlier in the mornings and as dusk approaches, the light has been spectacular, and it has been a privilege and pleasure to walk, cycle or run amidst the meadows and  hedgerows.

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Dewy morning, Bushy Acres, october 2013

I’ve got some recent photos interspersed in this blog in the usual way, although doubtless they can’t even begin to do justice to the scenery – you have to be there to experience the extraordinary semi-natural beauty of the landscape, and to witness all that it offers for people and wildlife. On the latter front – its great to know that dragonflies have been in abundance well into late october, and the fields have been frequented by a bird of prey, apparently breeding on the Eastern part of the Slopes in summer. I’ve been guided by Mark Kilner, the local wildlife photographer and expert, in identifying the types of dragonfly (they’re hawkers) and confirming the persistent presence of the sparrowhawk on the fields (we don’t yet have photos of these particular birds, but in the meantime see some of Mark’s sparrowhawk images from other places on his flickr site here)

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Cathedral backdrop and oak tree, Dover Down field, october 2013

This blog will also provide an update on the timing some of the key local government decision processes which are going to be critical in determining the future of this place in the years ahead. It looks like early 2014-early 2015 will be the time period  during which the destiny of the fields will begin to come clearer. I’ll finish with a further foraging note and  draw your attention to a new musical tribute to the fields which will be going public next month for the first time!

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Brown hawker sunbathing on Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Waiting Games: Village Green Application and Local District Plan

We have been experiencing  ‘waiting  games’ for some months in relation to the pending decisions by Kent County Council (KCC) and Canterbury City Council (CCC) regarding how the fields will be treated in the future in local public policy terms. And we know the University has been publicly silent on the issue for some months. This now seems set to continue: It therefore seems very unlikely that the University would choose to submit any further Chaucer Fields planning application over the next few months (for example, along the lines of the proposed “Chaucer Conference” hotel complex and accommodation blocks presented at their ‘consultation’ in 2012 – see the CFPS Blog of a year ago).

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St Dunstan’s church tower seen from Bushy Acres, october 2013

In relation to KCC, the Village Green Application – which, if successful, would protect the fields from predatory ‘development’ in perpetuity – has now been subjected to a further delay. As reported by  the Save Chaucer Fields Group (SCF), a preliminary report on the  scope of legitimate evidence – needed by KCC’s  regulation committee as a prior step to conducting a public inquiry – is to be published later than originally hoped. And this is still at the ground clearing stage, meaning that  the public inquiry itself is unlikely to begin until March or April 2014.

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Looking towards Beverley boughs from the bottom of Roper’s twitchell, october  2013

SCF also report that they are seeking to recruit further witnesses to strengthen the already powerful pro-protection case, and are seeking further donations, especially to cover legal costs relating to the inquiry. Please refer to their locally distributed Newletters or access the SCF Facebook page for fuller details, and offer as much support as you can.

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Southern Hawker basking in the sun, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

The other local government policy decisions – or more accurately, set of decisions – which  will be crucial to the future of the fields is the ongoing process of determining the contents of the CCC Local (District) Plan. This could, if policy makers choose,  potentially protect this place  for decades ahead, whatever the result of the Village Green Application. That’ll be the case if the final version ends up retaining or strengthening some of the proposed priorities  in the existing consultation draft. Amongst the relevant considerations are:

  • the draft LDP requirements emphasing  respect for the Stour Valley landscape of which the unspoilt Southern Slopes are an integral part (in its own right, and because of its topographical ecological connectivity with that wider landscape)
  • the LDP draft’s emphasis on Open Space, environmental sensitivity and account taking of  biodiversity and heritage. At the moment  the sorts of general sentiments being expressed in the draft  seem to be in line with at least implicit recognition of  the unspoilt Southern Slopes as a remarkable historical and green community asset.  (However, the policy commitment would be laudably strengthened if these considerations were made much more explicit and the Slopes were to be given fully protected special green community space status, capitalising on the value of the land as revealed by Canterbury Archeological trust and the work of various environmental consultancy firms for CCC in recent years ); and
  • the draft LDP’s explicit proposed requirement that the University of Kent recognise  its responsibility to  develop its Estate in a way that demonstably respects its own campus and the wider host community setting by producing a publicly defensible Master Plan. This implies a  decisive moved away from the outmoded, disjointed and fragmented approach taken by the Estates Department of the University to campus development in recent years. This has evidently damaged the University’s environmental and social reputation, and undermined the efforts of the University as a whole to strengthen its community relations.

As mentioned above, these are still draft policy proposals, although encouragingly, recognising the relevance of the the first two sets of priorities is in line with CCC’s provisional decision to reject the University’s application for the Southern Slopes to be considered as a site for mass residential housing development.. We don’t yet know  whether these commitments will be carried over into the final adopted policy framework or not. Each could in theory potentially be strengthened, weakened, or remain unchanged as the plan is finalised (and presumably, a range of vested interests have been, and will continue, to lobby vigorously to have any such constraints on a ‘development’ free-for-all diluted or abandoned).

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Top of Roper’s twitchell, Bell Harry tower in background

What’s the timetable here? Like the Village Green at KCC level, 2014 will potentially be a key year. CCC have confirmed this in specifing a timeline earlier in the summer in their document  Canterbury District Local Development  Scheme  which sets out the transition from draft LDP status to adopted LDP. December 2014 is specified there as the formal target date for LDP adoption, but in correspondence this month, the Planning Department have clarified there may be some slippage: There seems to be some uncertainty, although not nearly as much as in the Village Green Application process.  They have indicated that they  are currently working through all the comments received in the latest consultation round  which closed at the end of August. The actual timeline next year  partly depends on the national Planning Inspectorate itself (which must sign off all LDPs as appropriate and robust before they can be adopted). So it could be that early 2015, rather than december 2014, is the moment when the content of the final adopted LDP is actually settled.

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Detail of sunbathing Southern Hawker, Jack Cade’s carvet, october 2013

Foraging Update: chestnut time

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Sweet chestnuts, Dover Down field, october 2012

Meanwhile,  life goes on at the fields. The opportunities for members of the host and university community to harvest blackberries and apples from the unspoilt Southern Slopes have now passed, but others have come round. As thoughts turn to cold winter nights, for people relying on open fires or stoves for heating at home, plenty of kindling can be had from the wooded sections of the slopes. The two other obviously traditional ways in which nature’s bounty is still just about at a productive moment is in relation to chestnuts. Chaucer Fields and the broader Southern Slopes include some fine examples of both sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts.

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Sweet chestnuts waiting to be foraged, october 2012

Sweet chestnuts can be simply roasted in said fires, or cooked using other methods as part of recipes. Personally, I have used them for beef casseroles in the past, although haven’t yet got round to that this year! Drop me an email if you’d like the recipe! By contrast, the horse chestnut provide us with conkers, used by generations of  children for conker fights. As this game may be quite specific to the UK and Ireland, and this Blog now has a growing following of overseas readers, I thought I had better give a bit more information about this.

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Horse chestnut tree, Bushy Acres, October 2013

In “Conkers” a hole is drilled in a large, hard horse chestnut  – “conker” –  using a nail, gimletor small screwdriver. A piece of string is threaded through it about 25 cm (10 inches) long and large knot at one or both ends of the string secures the conker.

  • The game is played between two people, each with a conker. They take turns hitting each other’s conker using their own. One player lets the conker dangle on the full length of the string while the other player swings their conker and hits.
  • Scoring: The conker eventually breaking the other’s conker gains a point. This may be either the attacking conker or (more often) the defending one. A new conker is a none-er meaning that it has conquered none yet. If a none-er breaks another none-er then it becomes a one-er, if it was a one-er then it becomes a two-er etc.
  • In some regions the winning conker assimilates the previous score of the losing conker, as well as gaining the score from that particular game.Source: Adapted from Wikipedia  entry “Conkers”
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Horse chestnut with conker potential, Bushy Acres 2013

So, warmth, food and fun can currently all be had by taking advantage of what the Slopes currently have to offer…

And finally…. musical endnote

Music has long been an integral part of  the efforts to raise awareness about the  beauty and value of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as  unspoilt shared green space. Informal playing and jamming have been an important feature of many picnics; Richard Navarro and Brendan Power’s version of “Big Yellow Taxi” focussing on the fields received attention in the local  media, and a huge hit rate on youtube; and at the end of last year local acoustic group Roystercatchers helped raise funds for SCF  by running a ceilidh

Roystercatchers are now running their own regular ceilidhs in Whitstable and Canterbury (click here to see one of the dances). I mention this here because the next one – at 7pm, saturday 23rd November, St Stephens church hall, Hales Drive, Canterbury – potentially may feature the first even public performance of a  “Southern Slopes Song”. This has been written to pay homage to the beauty of the fields, and seeks to raise awareness of its threatened status.  If  you would like more information, to hear the song, and to join the ceilidh (no traditional dance experience required), simply email roystercatchers@gmail.com. They’ll be pleased to answer your questions, and tickets (£6 each) can be reserved for you in advance (the capacity of the hall is modest, this is advised to avoid disappointment). If the song isn’t ready for this particular event, it’ll be performed at another roystercatchers event in the near future instead.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society