This is undoubtedly one of the best times of year to enjoy the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes. The grass is lush and verdant, the deciduous trees are visibly springing to life with new foliage, and the hedgerows are full of blossom, most dramatically hawthorn (see above). Perhaps the best time of day to appreciate the fields is when this visual display is joined with the sound of birdsong, as day breaks. In a future Blog, I intend to upload recordings of the spring dawn chorus. But for now I’ll intersperse the Blog in the usual way with photographs which try to capture some of the beauty of the Slopes in April, and show in simple ways how they can be enjoyed by children.
Its been a while since the last Blog appeared. A key reason for this has simply been a lack of major news to report. Of course the unspoilt fields continued to be used by local residents, visitors and the university community; but in policy terms, the first few months of 2014 have continued the ‘waiting game’ described in earlier Blogs as having characterised much of 2013. But as we move towards the summer, important local policy news is now beginning to emerge. I’ll first of all summarise the situation on that, and then report an informal happening which will take place on the fields next month – the latest in our series of musical picnics.
1. Policy development – draft District Plan submission finalised
As you will recall from earlier Blogs, Canterbury City Council’s emerging new Local Plan is fundamentally important for everyone who is concerned about the balance between ‘development’ and other priorities. That’s because the Plan’s content and specific policies will be the key reference point in determining where and how building is to be encouraged or permitted, and where it is to be discouraged or prohibited for decades to come. It is crucial to recognise that the future of those parts of our landscape which are currently unspoilt and valued as such by local people for heritage, recreational and environmental reasons is at stake here: policy commitments to protect and respect such special places made in this document are going to be absolutely crucial in the years ahead.
As expected, in recent months the remarkably high value attached by communities to the Southern Slopes as unspoilt shared green space emerged strongly from the local consultation process. Numerous submissions stressing the importance of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as a whole were forthcoming from individuals and knowledgeable local groups.
The good news is that the mass of evidence and argument put forward in this way has now been taken seriously by Canterbury City Council in specifying the content of the District Plan. Drawing on both lay submissions and advice from planning and landscape experts, earlier this month CCC officials initially suggested that Councillors needed to consider incorporating specific protections for the Slopes.
And this is precisely what has happened as the Plan has proceeded through the relevant decision making committees. It has been amended to explicitly recognise the value of the fields. And it has been good to witness that the issue has been treated as an entirely non-partisan one, uniting all strands of political opinion. First the CCC Overview Committee recommended the adoption of ‘open space’ protection for the Slopes; then the CCC Executive Committee followed, although reframing the proposed protections as a matter of ‘green gap’ policy (because the land is technically outside the ‘urban envelope’, these policies are the more appropriate ones);and finally on 24th april, the full Council endorsed this ‘green gap’ status for the Southern Slopes as part of its general approval of the Plan as a whole.This has taken shape despite a late formal objection to these protections being made by University management, as reported at the final Council meeting (although the substantive grounds for this objection are not currently known).
The idea of a ‘green gap’ here resonates well with strongly held local sentiment that the fields should be suitably protected as a highly significant ‘green buffer’, ‘green belt’ or ‘green lung’ benefitting both local residents and the University community at large. More specifically and formally, this status (Policy OS5) would mean that any ‘development’ which “significantly affect[s] the open character of the Green Gap, or lead to coalescence between existing settlements”; or which would result in “new isolated and obtrusive development within the Green Gap” would be explicitly prohibited.
This is all very encouraging news. However, it is important to stress that the draft Local Plan incorporating these green gap protections for the Southern Slopes is not yet legally adopted policy. There are several further steps to be completed. Most importantly, these include a 6 week period during which interested parties are entitled to make representations concerning the Plan’s legality and “soundness” . The Plan also then needs to be scrutinised and signed off at national level by the Planning Inspectorate (an executive agency of the Department for Communites & Local Government). The Inspectorate will undertake a detailed and thorough review of the CCC Plan, supporting policies, and the representations received during the recent and upcoming consultations.
2. Collaborative Musical Picnic – 3.30pm onwards 11th May
On a less “heavy” note I am pleased to announce that plans for our next picnic are now well advanced! This informal happening is jointly facilitated by CFPS and the Abbots Mill Project (see Blogroll, top right). It is being actively supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group, Greenpeace Canterbury, and by environmental representatives from the UCU (the University of Kent’s main staff union) and from Kent Union (the student’s union). We hope you’ll come if you live locally: 3.30pm onwards, sunday 11th may.
- bring a rug etc, as the grass is rather long and can be damp in places
- bring your own refreshments (and bags to take away rubbish)
- bring props for games: popular in the past have been frisbees, kites, football, rounders and cricket (on those parts of the fields where the grass has been cut)
- bring musical instruments if you feel inclined to play
Of course, many of the popular play activities undertaken on the fields at picnics and other times don’t require you to bring anything: including tree climbing, “it” and other tag games, hide & seek and exploratory games – for children, but also anyone who is young at heart.
Alongside these ‘do it yourself’ activities, there’ll be the chance to:
- learn about local environmental issues from the groups mentioned above;
- listen to local acoustic musicians, including Richard Navarro, Jules Madjar (Canterbury Buskers Collective), Ivan Thompson (Hullabaloo etc), Katy Windsor, Frances Knight, and some musicians and singers from Roystercatchers;
- join a procession involving Dead Horse Morris’s “Jack in the Green”, the “incredible walking ivy bush” making a (reincarnated) return appearance after a couple of years;
- hear Mark Lawson’s fabulous tales – another return visit, back by popular demand.
The Jack will have already welcomed the rising sun on mayday, and paraded the streets of Whitstable during may day celebrations earlier in the week. The Jack is made of ivy gathered from various parts of the District, including ivy gathered from the Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields. His constitution and participation symbolises how respect for green space is a shared priority for local people from across the local area
Let’s hope the weather is good to us!
Hope to see you at the picnic
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society