CFPS First Anniversary
This month its the one year anniversary Blog of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society! Because this is a subject about which many people feel so strongly, I think the CFPS Blog was always going to be ‘pushing at an open door’ in terms of levels of interest. But I have been taken aback by quite how extensive this interest has been. The site’s had over 6,700 views, with people appearing to find it especially useful when there are significant news items to report. Interestingly, though, its not just being used by locally based people to keep a tab on events they can attend, or developments which potentially directly affect the environment in which they work and live. Its also now read in other parts of the world, including (in descending order of significance) the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, India, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and in other countries too in more modest numbers. On reflection, this is not so surprising: Canterbury is a proud World Heritage city, and threats to its setting should therefore be expected to concern people from across the globe Furthermore the University itself rightly prides itself on the cosmopolitan character if its ‘community’ extending all over the world, and some of this interest reflects the extent to which people with UKC links are keen to follow developments from many different places.
I’ve also had feedback that people appreciate the seasonal and historical imagery the Blog has sought to disseminate. With ‘home grown’ snaps I have made my own efforts throughout the year to communicate something of the natural beauty and charm of this place, and give a sense of how it is enjoyed throughout the year. But I have also been able to draw on the work of others, a rewarding, intriguing and a great learning experience. I want to take this chance to thank all the people who have generously shared their pictures and thoughts with me in the past year, all united by recognition of the urgency and importance of the cause.
What better way to underscore the importance of this co-operative effort that to showcase here very high quality images from the past and present? First, the image above was taken nearly two years ago (April 2011) by a University of Kent student, Edwin Quast. But its appeal is surely enduring. It captures so well the magical light and sense of tranquility that pervades the unspoilt fields around dusk and dawn in the spring . It is no surprise that it went on to win an award last year, as part of the “365 Projects” supported through Kent Creative Art. This remarkable community initiative has successfully captured with meaningful and resonant photography the places, people and situations which matter to local people.
Second, the specialness of the Southern Slopes is not only to do with its character as a historically significant beautiful and peaceful landscape. Its also about the wildlife which can be found there. I was delighted to find out recently that the university community has in its midst a very gifted wildlife photographer, Mark Kilner, who has kindly given me permission to mark the CFPS anniversary with some of his recent Southern Slopes photographs. His wonderful picture of a treecreeper, below is an example of a bird I had long expected to find here (given the character of the habitat), but have never actually succeeded in spotting! .Further Southern Slopes photographs from Mark follow below (please also take a moment to visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/markkilner/ ) .
Since the last CFPS Blog at the beginning of the month, the following developments are worth reporting:
- The most successful Save Chaucer Fields quiz night evertook place, with attendance and fundraising levels breaking existing records
- The informal Goods Shed musical event took place the following weekend, featuring local traditional band Roystercatchers. This raised further funds, but also succeeded in spreading awareness of the cause, whilst entertaining numerous invitees, shoppers and diners
- People from the “University community”, including current and former staff and students, have submitted pro-unspoilt Southern Slopes “ideas” under the “Kent@ 50” initiative (see links in earlier Blog). In response to my own personal submission, I was told that the idea would not be taken forward because it “conflicts with other University policies and plans”. Believing this to refer to the Chaucer Conference Centre plans, I have written back to suggest that these plans cannot be assumed to be executable. That’s because (a) they demonstrably conflict with local government (CCC) landscape and open space policies, which could lead to the withholding of planning permission; (b) because the pending village green application (with KCC) may be successful; and/or (c) because the University may sensibly choose to voluntarily withdraw these plans in response to community and expert sentiment and opinion (as it did with the 2011 plans). I have therefore suggested that my “idea” and the numerous related pro-Southern Slopes “ideas” submitted by other members of the “University community” be retained, pending the outcome of these processes.
In addition,the Village Green preliminary hearing took place this week at the International Franciscan Studies Centre. There was good attendance from the public. The need for this hearing, prior to the long awaited public inquiry, had arisen out of a disagreement between the village green applicants (local people who have used the fields freely for decades) and the objector (the University authorities) about the time frame relating to which evidence may be considered relevant at the inquiry. Basically, the former would now prefer to be able to draw upon evidence over more than four decades, whereas the University authoriities are seeking to limit the evidence to the period 1991 – 2011. This is a complex legal issue, and the barristers for each party presented their cases to an expert Inspector from Kent County Council.
The KCC Inspector will now review their arguments, and recommend a decision concerning the legally appropriate time frame to the relevant KCC committee (the regulation committee). It is only once that committee has taken the decision that the public inquiry itself can begin with a clear frame of reference. Since the May 2013 KCC elections will need to have taken place for the regulation committee to be properly constituted, the public inquiry itself can not take place before later in the summer, months later than originally planned. Further time will then be needed for the inquiry report to be written and a recommendation made to the KCC regulation committee concerning whether or not Village Green status should be granted. The overall result is that the outcome of the Village Green Application will not be known for many months.
These legal twists and turns were unforseeable when this Blog began.My view is that the delays which follow from them are on balance a good thing for friends of the unspoilt Southern Slopes. That’s because while frustratingly complex, it affords more time for awareness of the true value of this beautiful place to continue to heighten, and allows the University a further opportunity to reconsider its position. It now faces a mass of compelling evidence and argument from an enormous number of people currently collaborating to protect the fields for the future,and committed to continue to do so in the years ahead.
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society