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.

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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

Next picnic date (21 Sept), District Plan deadline (30 Aug) & CAT Open Day

Dear all

I hope you are having  a good august. As you’ll have seen first hand, or may have picked up from the SCF Facebook site, the grass has now been cut, and the hay has been made!  So the fields are very much in late summer mode – for example, see image of Dover Down field below. This Blog will pick  up some of the threads of the last one, and is interspersed with some recent snaps from the fields:

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Southern part of Dover Down field looking north, Chaucer Fields, late August 2013

Draft District Plan consultation deadline looms

A reminder:  The deadline for sending in your responses to Canterbury City Council (CCC) in relation to the proposed local plan, which has enormous implications for the character of our landscape and environment for years to come, is the end this month (5pm Friday 30 August). In an earlier Blog I included a link to the relevant website. However, it is clear that some people have found understanding and navigating the specific route for responding presented via this portal to be  opaque and excessively complicated.

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Cathedral framed by Cade’s carvet hedge, southwards view from recently restored bench close to Innovation centre bus stop, august 2013

I was pleased to learn earlier this week that local community groups are sensibly suggesting that people  can respond in a much simpler and less time consuming way:  CCC should still take your feedback into account to the same extent as if you had followed the tortuous portal approach.

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Unspoilt  Southern Slopes, between Bushy Acres and Eliot pathway, August 2013

What is this simpler approach? In what follows I have drawn upon and supplemented the guidance of one of the leading community groups the material relating most obviously to the situation regarding chaucer fields, the unspoilt southern slopes and the University. They rightly emphasise you shouldn’t feel the need  to make a detailed or complicated response: a simple snail mail  letter or e-mail will do. But it’s a good idea to say which particular enumerated and named policies you’re referring to, where this is possible:

  • ·         Write to or email CCC if you agree with the proposal that the University of Kent should be required to produce a Masterplan for its campus, which maintains its campus character, respects the setting of the site in the wider countryside, and includes a landscape strategy, write to say that you support policy EMP7.
  • ·        Write to or email CCC If you agree with the proposals to protect the environment, including views across the city from the University slopes, and protecting open spaces, write to say that you support policies HE2, LB2 and OS8
  •        Write to or email CCC if you welcome  the provisional decision not to consider the Southern Slopes as a potential site for housing development (200-300 houses) because this would dramatically violate Sustainability Objectives (Evidence base:  the  SHLAA-sites-Analysis conducted by AMEC for CCC in 2012)

 You can send your comments by post to Planning Policy Team, Planning and Regeneration, Canterbury City Council, Military Road, Canterbury, CT11YW; or by e-mailing planning.policy@canterbury.gov.uk

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A juvenile jay foraging in apple tree dating back to Mount’s nursery days, southern part of Bushy Acres, august 2013

CAT Open Day, archaeological excavations

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Ross from CAT discusses evidence of burial at the Keynes III/Turing excavation

I attended this fascinating event in the morning. Expert CAT staff were on hand to share their wealth of knowledge about how what is being found on the Keynes III/Turing college site adds to our understanding of how our ancestors were living 2-3 millenia ago. A highly informative guided tour of the site was provided.  Amongst the highlights for me on the day were:

  • learning that the place was a local centre for our ancestors throughout the entire iron age, although there was also modest evidence of settlement as early as the bronze age. It would have been a hive of activity  at the same time that Bigbury camp, just a few miles away near Harbledown (well known internationally as the place for a key military struggle between local people and the invading forces of emperor Claudius in 54 AD) was also famously flourishing
  • finding out that the site hosted differentiated areas for habitation (evidenced, for example, by pottery and charcoal from fire pits) and working life (including textiles: in particular numerous loom weights have been found). There is also ample evidence of burial and material relating to  funeral pyres, suggesting  that sacramental ceremonies would also have been performed here
  • confirming that the people who inhabited the site were involved in trade and transactions with others from outside the area, and even beyond England. Kent has long been proud of its role as a vanguard of civilisation in the British Isles from before the common era, a status documented by contemporary Roman writers. A beautiful horse-design coin originating from the North West of continental Europe, then part of the Roman empire (perhaps from what is now Belgium or France), probably about two thousand years old,has been unearthed  on the Keynes III/Turing site (see image).  Our iron age ancestors in this place were apparently systematically engaging in monetized commerce with our continental neighbours when other parts of the country were still relatively insular and isolated!
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Pre-Roman invasion coin from continental Europe found at Keynes III/Turing excavation

Please see the CAT project site for more on this project in general. At the time of writing information on the success of  the open day has not yet been posted, but  hopefully an update will appear soon.

Next CFPS Picnic: Date confirmed

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Meadow Brown  basks in mid day sunshine, Bushy Acres, August 2013

I am delighted to announce that discussions on the timing of the collaborative picnic involving CFPS with local civil society groups has progressed, and we have now agreed a date: PM SATURDAY 21st September. Please put the date in your diaries now. I’ll report more detail on the plans in a future blog in terms of timing and content, but it’ll include all the usual CFPS activities (socialising, formal  games, informal play, musical  entertainment etc) and more besides.

Enjoy the rest  of your week!

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

July CFPS Blog – from prehistoric ancestors to UKC alumni

Dear all

Midsummer time

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Bushy Acres Field midsummer view, July 2013

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

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

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

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

CAT Open Day, Keynes III site

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

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

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

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

Other notes

A couple of  other reminders and information points:

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope to see you on thursday!

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Late coming June 2013 CFPS Blog

Dear all

A CFPS Blog hasn’t been published for some time – nearly 2 months in fact! Sorry about that. I’ll focus on one main issue: the draft District Plan; but also at the bottom is an update on the opportunity to find out more about the archaeological dig now ongoing to prepare the ground for the Keynes III development. I’ll intersperse with some pictures mainly from the last picnic, beating of the bounds; but also how the fields have looked recently; and the repaired bench, where some of the best views over  the landscape can be had.  The weather has been a bit gloomy today, hopefully the images  will add a bit of brightness to a drab and grey day!

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May blossom on an old Southern Slopes apple tree, presumably dating from Mount’s Nursery days in the mid 20th century (long before the University existed)

Local (District) Plan: Consultation, University Master Plan draft policy, SHLAA sites

Today is the day on which the consultation over Canterbury City Council (CCC)’s District Plan and associated policy formally begins, please click on CCC Planning Consultation Page for more . Most readers will be aware that this is the most significant policy document in relation to planning, place, landscape and environment to emerge at local government for Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay, and all the villages for years, and will be the main frame of reference for decision making  for the next two decades. Accordingly, its substantive content and priorities are absolutely crucial for the quality of life and environment of local communities well into the future  (and long beyond the timeframe of local and national elections).It is good to know that local people and interested parties have a  relatively generous timeframe for responding to the plan – until the end of August. This seems proportionate, given the significance of the document.

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Picknickers on Dover Down field, Chaucer fields ,5th may 2013

This process of engagement  is very much needed. That’s because, in general, the Local Plan is highly controversial, not least because  the claims made within it about the scale of housing need are contested by many informed observers. It also provides an opportunity for anyone who believes the cases for concentrated house building on several key greenfield sites have not been sufficiently  made, and that the deleterious potential consequences of proceeding with them have not been recognised, to express their views (individually, and through local groups, including residents’ associations, and environmental and heritage groups).

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Richard Navarro and fellow musicians of all ages, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

I have my own provisional views on these general issues, and will submit a representation to the process in due course, But for now, I simply feel the need to be much better informed. If you are in the same boat, you may consider attending an upcoming event: the Canterbury Society is organising  a “Local Plan Open Meeting” at the United Reformed Church Hall in Watling Street at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 25 June. Attenders will have the chance to pose questions to both the political and delivery leadership of CCC (John Gilbey and Colin Carmichael). This is an open meeting, all are welcome. please do try  to come if  you can.

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Impromptu football game on Dover  Down field, Chaucer fields, at picnic, 5th may 2013

How are Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes treated in the draft Local Plan? In my opinion, there’s one very sensible but under-reported policy proposal in the Plan, which goes with the grain of a suggestion made on this Blog last year, in turn picking up on an idea long promoted by the Canterbury Society and other knowledgeable local groups. CCC is proposing that the University be required to develop and publicly present a Master Plan for campus development.(see draft policy EMP7 UKC masterplan. for the precise wording used at present ).

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Climbing an oak tree, Dover down field, picnic 5th may 2013

This is good news for both the host and university communities, because it would mean the piecemeal, ad hoc and disjointed approach taken in recent years, shying away from rational comparison of alternative options, and eschewing systematic critical scrutiny, would in future be considered unacceptable. Indeed, it is very difficult  to see how the original  2011 Chaucer Fields proposals, and arguably even the 2012 Keynes III proposals, could  have been countenanced if such a strategic framework document had existed. In my view, it is just a shame that it may take the strong arm of local government mandate, rather than the University’s  own responsible voluntary initiative, to ensure this level of transparency and accountability is set in place for the future (for the benefit of both communities).

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Bounds-beating St Dunstan’s parishioners, lead by Reverend Mark Ball,  trying to clarify location of ancient boundary with St Stephen’s parish , 5th may 2013

Various other aspects of the District Plan and the associated appraisals are clearly potentially relevant for the future of Southern Slopes too. But the single most obvious and direct implication is how CCC have responded to the University’s suggestion that the land could be used for extensive residential housing development, a proposal in the system from several years ago, even while the Chaucer Conference Centre etc proposals were also being mooted (this is confused and confusing; see CFPS discusson of  the SHLAA for an earlier attempt to clarify). Despite the University of Kent’s offer, for now at least it seems that CCCare intending to rule out this proposal.

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Young picnic enthusiast explaining significance of picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Why the provisional rejection?  This seems to be because CCC have affirmed their recognition, following a ‘technical’ analysis by AMEC consultants (see SHLAA-sites-Analysis), that the unspoilt land here is of real landscape and environmental  significance for the District (an analysis consistent also with the values implicit in the draft landscape appraisal documents accompanying the District Plan)

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English bagpipes, Dover down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may

This can be contrasted with the submission written by the heads of the University Estates department, and submitted to CCC last  year, as part of the earlier round of intelligence gathering to inform the District Plan. This bizarrely inward looking document (which was not considered or signed off by the University Council prior to submission) finds no room at all to account for landscape, environmental or social considerations. It is framed entirely as if the ‘business case’ of the University,  narrowly construed in reductionist terms, is all that matters (Click Submission to the CCC Local Plan 131112 REDACTED for the publicly available version of the Estates department’s submission, obtained  by Chaucer Fielder through a Freedom of Information request, ).

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Young picnic enthusiast still explaining picnic to passing dog-walker, 5th may

Coming back to the AMECreport, personally I would have liked to see more recognition given  to the benefits of the unspoilt land here as local green open space with demonstrably very high amenity, recreational and leisure value for both the host and University communities. However,  the fact that CCC does give significant weight at least to landscape and environmental considerations in this context  is encouraging.

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Picnickers and St Dunstan’s bounds-beaters cross paths, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, 5th may 2013

Moreover, if these characteristics are considered important in deciding about whether development is permissible for residential housing proposals, they would also need to be recognised as important if any future planning application for a conference centre/hotel or student accommodation does materialise in the months ahead. (This is also hinted at in the material elsewhere in the draft Local Plan on tourism). Otherwise, the policy in relation to the character and value of this land could be characterised as inconsistent and incoherent.

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Buttercups, and may flower (hawthorn) in Jack Cade’s carvet, Bushy Acres, Chaucer fields, early June 2013

Indeed, it could be speculated that the expected planning application for a University conference centre/hotel etc has itself failed to materialise as forecast because of how the residential housing suggestion is dealt with in the draft Local Plan. That’s to say, perhaps we have seen no application because the pro-development group in the University has itself finally understood that decision making in this setting is now demonstrably not  just about their narrowly construed ‘the business case’, but must also factor in other, broader criteria which relate to the public interest. (Although it is the future rather than the current local plan which we are considering, it is relevant because it send a clear message about CCC’s general ‘direction of policy travel’ to both current and future developers).

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Cathedral view with Southern Slopes, prior to recent bench repair, early spring 2013

We could also expect that the situation could be evolving internally in terms of the balance of power between leading individual figures in the University’s power structures.The views of the main public champion of the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal and co-author of the aforementioned Estates Department submission, Professor Keith Mander, are becoming less relevant as he is soon to be replaced.

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Cathedral view and Southern Slopes, with new bench, later in  spring 2013 (with thanks to the front line staff of the Estates Department for the repair, and looking after the place)

However, for now this must all remain speculation. It is still quite possible that the University will still submit a planning application for  the Chaucer Conference Centre in the months ahead:its track record is not encouraging, after all.  Moreover, it is also still possible that the Southern Slopes, while rejected provisionally as a site for mass residential housing development at this stage, could come back onto the agenda in a later, revised version of the plan.

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Cathedral and Marlowe theatre viewed from Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

It needs to be remembered that this is still a draft, and further development sites could theoretically be added between now and the finalisation of the Plan. It may well be that a coalition of developer and pro-developer interests in the University could seek to  exert  pressure  on CCC to reconsider, even though it has already articulated clear reasons for rejecting the site for development. Those of us who wish to see the Southern Slopes continue to be respected and protected as unspoilt space,will need to be vigilant,continuing to monitor planning applications and the trajectory of the Local Plan as it moves from its current draft status towards the finalised version in the month ahead.

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Chilling and climbing trees, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields picnic 5th may 2013

Archaeological Developments at Keynes III: Date for your Diaries

In the last Blog, I alerted readers to the significance of the ongoing excavations of the  Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) on the Keynes III site, which seem likely to be running for a good deal of the summer period.  I am pleased to report that CAT are arranging for an open day on Thursday 25th July.  This will be an exciting opportunity to learn more about our local pre-history. There will be tours of the site, and a chance to look at the finds. CAT want as many people as possible to attend. Please do get in touch by emailing chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com if you would like to participate.  .

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Blackcap at bottom of Bushy Acres field, southern part of Chaucer Fields, June 2013

All best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic society

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Favourite climbing oak in sea of buttercups, Dover Down field, Chaucer fields, June 2013

Postscript: Some of you attended and enjoyed the Roystercatcher’s ceilidh, raising funds for the Save Chaucer Fields group, last november. I am pleased to let you know there’ll be an informal Roystercatchers ceilidh this saturday 22 June, 7pm-9pm, St Dunstans church hall. Entry is only £3, and although not an SCF-CFPS fundraising event, it will be a chance to meet friends from the fields and catch up on news. Please find here a practice ceilidh poster june 2013. Please email roystercatchers@gmail.com  if you would like to come along.

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

One White Sugar University Road view

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

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

No news: expected Chaucer Conference Centre planning application

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

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

Unspoilt Southern  Slopes Imagery 

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

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

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

A Pesticide Free Zone

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

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Small Copper,  Dover Down Field, late may 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working on the Keynes III site, mid April 2013

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

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Honey bee, Dover Down field, mid april 2013

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

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

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

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

Kent Union election for sabbatical officers 2013/14

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

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

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

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

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

Bee, Dover Down field

Honey Bee, Dover Down field, end of may 2012

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

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

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

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

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan's church, June 2012

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

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

Beating bounds from Foxworthy

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Belated welcome – 2013

Dear all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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