CFPS First birthday

Dear all

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.

Wednesday 20/04/2011 - Chaucer Fields - Edwin Quast

Edwin Quast’s award winning “Chaucer Fields”, April 2011

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.

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Ed receiving his prize in 2012 from Faversham Festival’s Graham Gilbert in recognition of “Chaucer Fields”

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/ ) .

Treecreeper, Canterbury

Treecreeper, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, March 2013

News Update

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.
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Roystercatchers playing at the Goods Shed, 16 March 2013

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.

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Goldcrest, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, March 2013

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.

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Redwing, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, February 2013

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.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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Breaking news plus events update

Dear all

This Blog will break all records for brevity (did I hear a sigh of relief?!). First, I am simply passing directly on to you a statement received late yesterday from the Save Chaucer Fields group.

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A family strolling on the fields, later summer 2012

1. Breaking news: Village Green Application

“The Village Green Application due to commence on Monday 18th March has been adjourned. This is because a request that we made to have all of our evidence (which dates back some 60 years) considered at the Inquiry, was challenged by the University. As a result KCC [Kent County Council] and The Inspector have decided that the point of disagreement should be determined before the Inquiry can proceed. The point of disagreement will be examined by The Inspector at a one day hearing at The Franciscan Study Centre on Monday 18th March, and her recommendation will be considered by KCC who will then set a new date for the Public Inquiry”

(source: email correspondence from Save Chaucer Fields group, 28 February 2013 )

So: please retain Monday 18th March as a date in your diaries to attend at the Franciscan Study Centre if you are able, and we await the setting of the date for the adjourned, full inquiry. So, it seems proceedings will not take place as planned for the rest of the week. At this moment in time I don’t feel sufficiently informed to offer any  commentary or interpretation. But when I know more, I’ll of course pass this on to you.

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Dover  Down Field Cathedral view  spring 2012

2. Events update

Second,  we hope to see as many of you as possible at the two upcoming community events:

  • The Save Chaucer Fields quiz, st Dunstan’s Church Hall, 7pm, Saturday 9th March (see below/SCF Facebook page for more information)

9 march 2013 SCF quiz

  • For the  musical event on Saturday 16th March I can now reveal some more information: Venue =  The Goods Shed http://thegoodsshed.co.uk/  supported by: The Goods Shed management/Goods Shed restaurant/Murray’s General Store; Time =  2-3pm: Admission = No charge but opportunities to make donations for the SCF Fighting Fund: MusicRoystercatchers play traditional English tunes and dance music: Sustenance = subsidised refreshments from Murray’s General Store. There’s also all the other stuff the Goods Shed famously has to offer!
LESSER SPOTTED WOODPECKER

The diminutive lesser spotted woodpecker is sometimes see or heard around Chaucer Fields, although far less frequently than the greater spotted woodpecker or green woodpecker. (Image courtesy the Woodland Trust)

 Best wishes
Chaucer Fielder
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Four things worth noting

Dear all

As usual, a bit later than I had hoped. A small number of updates. The images are some fairly predictable seasonal ones from Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes (south of Beverley farm, east of Eliot path and west of Chaucer College). But perhaps less predictably, I ran into some Christ  Church University 3rd Year Film Studies using the setting to make a film, so I’ve included a group picture of them too. They have promised to give me the link for the film when it is completed, so of course I’ll pass it on.

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1. Keynes III Planning Application approved (5 February)

As expected, the student accommodation blocks on land north of Beverley farm and west of the existing Keynes college extension (‘Keynes II’) – between Giles Lane and University Road – received planning approval earlier this month. This was in line with the officer’s recommendation, as noted in the previous Blog. Keith Mander and  Tom Ritchie (Kent  Union President) spoke in favour of the proposal, and St Edmunds School, who occupy land close to the proposed site,  objected. The main issue to emerge at the meeting was the question of the impact on St Edmunds School, who apparently had not been consulted by the University about Keynes III (which seems bizarre).  Councillors explicitly dismissed some of the concerns raised (some with explanation and others without), although they simply did not discuss at all others. But they did acknowledge there was a legitimate worry about security, leading to a requirement to take this issue into account in handling boundary issues. This was reported in the local press.

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In my view, it was disappointing that Councillors chose not to pick up on the issue of site selection, despite the officer’s explicit ‘reservations’ about this question, originally set out in  in the context of the aborted 2011 application, and then restated once again in her report this year. Alternative options, including Park Woods and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking), were never thoroughly explored in a evidence-based way (separately or in combination), but dismissed by the University with unsubstantiated claims about cost and feasibility.

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Canterbury Christ Church students filming on the Fields, February 2013

Why was the University not challenged on this aspect? I don’t know the answer to that. But my sense is that the Development Management Committee’s silence on that issue may reflect the wish to avoid further delays in meeting the need for offering further student accommodation. A year had already been lost because of the bungled initial application in 2011, yet the issue had become one which is widely regarded as being in need of urgent resolution. Presumably, no one wants to be seen to causing a further delay at this stage!

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At the same time, we must hope lessons have been learned. In the longer run, if further accommodation needs emerge, and new proposals come through, the issue of site selection must surely be dealt with professionally and transparently. Any such proposals must be defended with an evidence-based approach. In my view, this would need to involve undertaking systematic and transparent evaluation of the full range of alternatives on and off campus in the context of a publicly negotiated Master Plan.

2. Kent Union’s approach after the all student vote

I am sometimes asked by members of the community what action Kent Union are taking in relation to Chaucer Fields?  This question is posed in the aftermath of the All Student Vote last November, which made it official Union policy to “Campaign to save Chaucer Fields”. In the SoS Forum (see previous Blog), ideas for follow through action were already informally shared between the community and the champions of the policy from within KU.

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I learned today that momentum for action is now formally coming to fruition at the level of  the relevant committee charged with implementing the policy (Kent Union’s  ‘community zone’), working with Kent Union’s President, Tom Ritchie. This is welcome news, and it seems we can look forward to some interesting initiatives in the months ahead. I’ll keep you up to date on these, as more information is released and as events unfold. 

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

UKC students promoting the protection of Chaucer Fields, 24 November 2012

3. Kent @50

Many of you will be aware that the University’s  50th anniversary is approaching (and I already reported how this can be put in a much longer historical context vis a vis the Southern Slopes in the last Blog). The University is currently asking members of the “University  community”, especially including former and existing staff and students, to submit ideas about this, please see:

http://www.kent.ac.uk/planningfor50/.

The “ideas” are being posted  on  a “painted wall”  using “wall wisher” or “padlet”, see below (use the link for a more legible, high resolution image)

You’ll note at present one mention of the fields, bottom left hand corner  “promise not to build on Chaucer Fields”. However I have been told by several people that they have submitted Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes related “ideas”,  framed much more positively and extensively than this rather bland statement. The ones I’ve seen tend to stress that  the value of the fields as a positive asset for all should be recognised, and urge the University to commit, in various ways,  to  protect and/or enhance them as beautiful, shared unspoilt space. Indeed, the current moment of anniversary planning is seen as an opportunity to link this issue to University imperatives both  to foster its own ‘community’, as well to develop healthy relations with the host community, .

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Early signs of spring, “Jack Cade’s carvet”

If you consider yourself to be a member of the “university community”, perhaps you would also think about submitting a fields-related “idea”?  If you do, please email me your submission. I am collecting these, so that justice can be done to the richness of people’s ideas. I have also opened an account with “wall wisher”, and eventually  intend to create a “parallel wall” which will showcase the many positive and creative ideas which now seem to be emerging on this matter.

4. Upcoming events

You’ll recall from previous Blogs that next month is highly significant for the fields – with the public inquiry running regarding the Village Green application at the Franciscan Studies Centre (week beginning 18 march). And while the University has chosen to be secretive about the timing of its current approach, it seems likely that a ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ proposal, presumably based upon the plans sketched out at the ‘exhibition’ event last september, may also be submitted to Canterbury City Council next month.

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The Save Chaucer Fields group really need financial support to help with cover the financial costs of dealing with both these processes. There are two events with which your involvement and support would be most appreciated – they’ll help to raise funds as well as being a great chance to have fun and socialise with like minded people. Based on experience, they will include people of all ages from outside the University, as well as University staff and students.

  •  On Saturday 9th March, 7.00 – 10.00 pm, there’ll be a Chaucer Fields quiz night at St Dunstan’s church hall, please see poster below for more details (and if you are a Facebook type of person, please see the SCF Facebook site). Please do buy your tickets in advance, so the organisers are ready i terms of catering and facilities.

9 march 2013 SCF quiz

  • On Saturday 16th March, mid to late afternoon, a  Fundraising musical event will take place at a venue to be revealed! It will be between the University and the city centre, which many of you will know…. Please make a note of this in your diary…. I’ll report more details in the next Blog!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society