Picnic report…& endorsement from “spatial” expert workshop for retention of unspoilt character of Southern slopes

What a great summer picnic! This event on Dover Down field, the 6th since the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society was formed,  and the 4th in collaboration with the Abbots Mill Project and Canterbury Greenpeace, was one of the best yet. All the usual ingredients were to be found. Blessed with pretty good weather, we had a strong turnout of people of all ages and backgrounds, including people and families from the local and university communities (some familiar faces, some new friends); the sharing of food, drink, serious conversation and gossip; playing and unstructured fun for children, including tree climbing, hide and seek and exploration of all the nooks and crannies of this wonderful unspoilt fields, woods and hedgerow setting; and entertainment from various musicians on the Greenpeace stage, including Richard Navarro, Jack Barrack Cade, Pete Hicks and Luke Dodson. Pictures from the picnic are interspersed here.


Semi-structured discussion of Masterplan

A further element in the picnic this year was a semi-structured discussion of the latest iteration of the Masterplan information, led by Dr William Rowlandson, the staff union (University and College Union)’s green representative. The discussion was shaped by the perspectives of people of different ages, with varying experiences of the fields, and from different roles and backgrounds in the local and university communities. Despite this striking diversity, it affirmed the value to all of the unspoilt fields and generated a clear consensus that buildings of any form on the fields should be strictly forbidden for the full duration of the pending Masterplan (to 2031) and indeed  beyond.


This conclusion was  hardly surprising, since the prevalence of this view in both communities has now been well documented on innumerable occasions in the University’s own consultation processes (most recently, see the last CFPS Blog summary of the 2016 Conceptual Masterplan consultation report ); as part of  Kent County Council and Canterbury City Council led processes (the village green application review and the planning/green gap proposals  respectively); and of course, the university staff and student affirmative votes on the issue.


However, it was still good to see this view underlined collectively with such clarity and force; to hear it being contextualised with interesting  ideas about how to enhance the green sustainability dimensions of other parts of the campus; and and to see it conjoined with the coming together of minds on what to look out for in the months ahead as the Masterplan process moves forward. There was shared tactical sentiment that it was crucial that both local and university communities watched, very closely, the University authorities’ words and actions as they unfold in the months ahead. Even if the process would likely be drawn out, complex and convoluted, it was agreed this vigilance was needed to ensure that any language used by the University authorities in seeking to portray itself as supportive of the host community and its own staff and students on this matter was not mere empty rhetoric or cynical spin.


What was needed, it was agreed, was meaningful, firm and unambiguous commitment to ensure the protection of the unspoilt Southern Slopes (“Parklands”) landscape for the full duration of the Masterplan period (to 2031, crucially including the period after 2025, when the current University Estates Plan expires). If the fuzzy, equivocal buzzwords and vague  evocations (“enhancement”, “green assets”, “pavilions” etc) used in the 2016 Conceptual Master Plan were retained and carried through  in the stages ahead without proper clarification, it was recognised this sort of elastic and unfocussed language  could potentially provide dangerous discursive cover for damaging development. Structures and buildings on the Southern Slopes could potentially be smuggled through in the years ahead, claiming such ‘development’ involved ‘landscape enhancement’ or the strengthening of ‘green assets’,  an outcome against which all there where wholly committed.


“Spatial Workshop” affirms need to protect Southern Slopes

Although not publicised at the time, it also emerged at the picnic that the University Corporate Communications department had convened, to take place a few days later, an expert invite-only  “spatial workshop” to discuss “place making”, “planning and environment”, “landscape and biodiversity” and “transport and movement”. A useful report of the event has now been made available, and can be seen here. This should be welcomed, and as the appendices show, it  turned out to involve a sensible balance of people with relevant authority, knowledge and experience –  with one exception.  Other than a handful of Estates staff,  a core constituency of the university community – its own academic and nonacademic staff, most obviously as represented through the UCU – had not even been invited. At the picnic and afterwards,  bewilderment was expressed on this glaring omission!


Luckily, the discussion at the picnic helped partially address this, because Richard Norman, one of the picnic attendees,  had been invited to the “spatial workshop” in his capacity as a residents’ association representative. Richard was positioned to draw on the wider set of views – from residents and staff alike – that he had encountered at the UCU-convened picnic discussion, in articulating a position at the “spatial workshop”. (There has subsequently been a belated attempt to address this issue by addressing an invite to university staff to attend a separate “focus group” to discuss the meeting report (this seems likely to happen in september, but the date has not yet been made known).. Once again, such a “focus group” is helpful, but it was nevertheless a shame that the opportunity was missed to formally include staff representation at the July event, and thus integrate their input more systematically into the process.)


What do we learn from the “Spatial Workshop” about expert and representative opinion regarding the appropriate place of the Southern Slopes/”Parklands” in the Master Plan? In fact, the report further adds to the massive stockpile of evidence concerning the strength of sentiment in favour of retaining these fields, woods and hedgerows as unspoilt space.  Two of the four groups which were organised at the event directly discussed this place. First,  Group 4, whose members included representatives of CCC, KCC, and local voluntary and amenity groups,  are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained and not built upon” (op cit, p. 8).  Second, Group 1, whose members included Ruth Wilkinson, the incoming President of Kent Union (the students’ union), CCC and parish council leaders, and Richard Norman (residents’ association) are reported as agreeing that “Parklands should be retained” (op cit, p. 6). However, it is important here to understand that the latter, vaguer phrase in relation to Group 1 cannot and should not be interpreted as expressing a different view from that expressed by Group 4: Richard was able to confirm that this Group were also unambiguously committed to the rejection of any idea of placing buildings or associated structures on the Southern Slopes too.



Recognising Shared Heritage: Towards a place on the agenda?

Finally, although not linking the matter directly to the Southern Slopes/”Parklands”, it is encouraging to see that elsewhere in the Worshop report, as part of the agenda for the  “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” two of the expert Groups (3 and  4) emphasised the need to look for opportunities to “reflect the historical landscape” (op cit, pp. 11 – 12). There is obvious and direct relevance here for Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes, because we know the extent to which the unspoilt landscape here reflects a particularly rich heritage, including its association with the wonderful Beverley Farmhouse; its enduring salience as a shared open viewing point of the cityscape (from long before the university existed); the legacy of field structures,  meadows and orchards (including apple trees still in place to the east); and  the existence on the land of part of the original, ancient “salt way” from the Cathedral to Whitstable (to the west). In Blogs written five years ago (see History Really Matters and Midsummer Notes: 6 Easy Ways to enhance Chaucer Fields as unspoilt Space) the potential not only to remember these things passively, but to bring them actively back to life by rescuscitating relevant language, including the original place names –  whilst also making new connections evoking local history – was proposed. Let’s hope that the existence of an explicit heritage strand in the “Emerging Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy” could help make some of these ideas real in the future.







Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #4

This is the fourth of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. It is a Guest Blog presenting, unedited, the 4th response from a well positioned member of the local/University community, as submitted to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD, which is organising the CMP consultation process). The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers, ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may choose to provide. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, the series of  Blogs hopes to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below has been put forward by Richard Norman, formally a professor of moral philosophy, and a very longstanding member of  the local community too. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  Although quite long, please do take the trouble to read it, as it is extremely thoughtful, full of interesting observations and bursting with intriguing suggestions! The interprersed images relate to birdlife witnessed on the fields over recent years.

Beginning of Professor Norman’s Feedback

First, I greatly welcome the initiative to begin a conversation between the University and its neighbours about the future of the campus and the University’s estate.  The recognition of the need to “ensure we deliver long-term benefits for our local communities, and improve our intellectual, physical, economic and cultural connections with the city of Canterbury”, is the right starting-point for an on-going dialogue, and I hope very much to see that dialogue continue.  I attended a presentation to local residents’ associations, and the spirit in which that meeting was conducted, both amicable and honest, augurs well for a new relationship between the University and local residents. I also welcome the overall approach of the Master plan – an attempt to develop the estate as a coherent pattern of spaces and buildings, rather than simply a collection of buildings sited in whatever locations happened to be available at the time.

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The rough division of the estate into three main components – the built heart of the campus, the southern parkland, and the northern landholdings – is a useful starting-point for thinking about the plan.  I think it leaves out some important features, and I’ll come back to this, but I’d like first to offer some comments on those three components.

The campus heart

I strongly concur with the core idea of creating two new entrance squares and a connecting boulevard.  The availability of the land which was formerly the day nursery next to Keynes, the eminently disposable nature of the Tanglewood buildings, and the beginnings of a space beside the School of Arts building, provide the scope for a West Square as a new ‘front door’ to the University.  Most visitors to the University come via St Thomas’s Hill, and the drive up the University Road with its unfolding vista of the city and the Stour valley is a huge asset but at present leads to a terrible anti-climax.  Instead it needs to arrive at an impressive new ‘gateway’, which in turn should be, as envisaged, the fulcrum of a pedestrian boulevard running westwards to Keynes and Turing colleges, and eastwards past the central buildings to the Registry and Darwin.  Grouped around and along this, the central buildings and spaces could acquire a much-improved coherent overall shape and character.


I would therefore support the suggestion that the “new gateway squares in the campus heart” would be the ideal “opportunity for early wins” (p.117).  The exact nature and location of the East Square would need to be thought through.  If it were to be located where it is proposed on the map, this would require the demolition of the existing main building of Darwin College in the near future.  There is a case for that, but there are other possibilities.  Rather than create a new entrance from St Stephen’s Hill, it might be easier to retain the existing entrance from Giles Lane and Darwin Road,  creating a new square which would incorporate the existing entrance to the Registry and the existing Visitor Reception.


The Southern “Parkland”

 This is of course the part of the estate of most immediate concern to neighbouring residents, and as such it offers the opportunity to move on from recent history.  The reiterated emphasis on retaining this area as parkland, and the recognition that the green setting is the University’s greatest asset, is greatly to be welcomed.  In this context it has to be said that the map showing a ‘conferencing hotel as a pavilion in the park’, located on the southern slopes, is needlessly provocative.  I appreciate that this is at present simply a ‘concept’ and that there are no immediate plans to proceed with such a development.  All the more reason, then, to leave it off the map.  I hope it will be recognised that the idea of building a conference centre on the southern slopes has come to epitomise an antagonistic relationship between the University and local residents.  If the new commitment to dialogue and cooperation is genuine – and I believe that it is – then by far the best way to foster that new relationship would be to drop talk of a conference centre in the fields.

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If there is still felt to be a need for a conference centre which could also cater to the need for short courses for a particular category of students, then I would suggest that the ideal place for it in the Parklands would be next to Beverley Farm.  The Design Principles on p.51 include a commitment to “reveal the historic narrative of the campus linking together its past, present and future”, and on p.94 it is noted that “very often the existing Parklands buildings are some of the most historic of all the campus buildings, such as Beverley Farmhouse…”.  It is an under-utilised asset.  There is great potential for linking it to a new conference centre on the northern side of University Road, imaginatively designed to blend in with the architecture of the historic farm building.

Another historical asset which was mentioned is the old Crab and Winkle railway line.  I am sceptical about this, not least because most of the line on the University estate is inaccessible in the tunnel.  There may be possibilities north of the tunnel, but the suggestions for using the railway embankment south of the tunnel are impractical (see below).  Better, I suggest, would be to enhance the Eliot footpath as the existing north-south axis.  The large pit to the right surrounded by trees at the start of the path, and the land immediately behind it, could be landscaped and improved.  The idea of an open air theatre in the so-called ‘bomb crater’ also has potential, though it would need to be a temporary facility as the pit becomes badly flooded in winter.

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There were, at the presentation, frequent references to ‘enhancing’ the parkland.  This would be good – but despite the allusions to Stowe and Capability Brown, building a conference centre is not the way to do it!  There are other and better ways.  There are references to “new green landscapes” which “might include… avenues of trees and fruit blossom” (p.56), and orchards are mentioned on p.61.  At the presentation one local resident suggested restoring the orchard in the south-east field on the southern slopes.  This, I think, is a great idea, and another example of the scope for drawing on the history of the area.  There are one or two old fruit trees still in that field, but mostly it has been replanted with other trees.  The oaks are flourishing but the horse chestnuts are in poor shape, badly affected by bleeding canker.  They could be removed and replaced by fruit trees in the central area of the field.  Recreating a traditional Kentish orchard, and designating it as a community orchard, would be an ideal way of forging the right sort of link with the local community, at the same time revealing the historical narrative of the campus.  Other enhancements could also be considered, such as some selective tree-planting (provided it doesn’t obstruct the view), and the improvement of the woodland at the top of the western field.  The important principle is that it should be enhanced as semi-natural parkland, not turned into something else.

 Wildflower meadows are proposed on pp.56 and 61, and these too would be an attractive enhancement of the parklands.  The field immediately below University Road on the southern slopes would make a wonderful wildflower meadow, further enhancing the already magnificent panorama.  Alternatively, wildflower borders on either side of University Road, from Beverly Farm to the West Gateway Square, would be a perfect approach to the new ‘front door’.  If projects such as an orchard and a wildflower meadow on the southern slopes were to be pursued, I believe that members of the local community would welcome an opportunity to be actively involved in promoting and achieving them.

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The Northern land holdings

I don’t have a great deal to say about these, but the basic idea of retaining the rural character of this part of the estate, and creating some judicially landscaped ‘rural business clusters’, sounds sensible.  Much will depend, however, on discussions with, and feedback from, Blean and Tyler Hill residents.

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Parkwood student accommodation

The Parkwood student accommdation doesn’t seem to fit into any of the three areas of the estate.  It is not part either of the central heart or the northern land holdings, and it needs to be considered in its own right.  Analogously to the central heart, it should be envisaged and developed as a student village with its own coherent village pattern, perhaps with an improved frontage looking onto the road and the sports fields.  Thought should also be given to the utilisation of Park Wood itself, the surviving woodland between the existing Parkwood accommodation and the Business School.  Additional student accommodation could be provided here in an attractive setting, consonant with the idea of a Garden Campus.

Car parks

It is suggested on p.57 that the car parks should be pushed to the edges of the estate instead of cluttering up the campus heart.  This point was briefly raised at the presentation, but after that it was scarcely mentioned.  I doubt whether that aim is achievable.  The brief reference to tunnelling into the hillside was implausible.  A better approach might be to accept that some at least of the existing car parks will remain in their present locations, and to look for ways of integrating them into the campus more successfully.  A possible approach might be to build on top of them, and hide them behind attractive frontages.  The aspiration to ‘tame’ the roads and make the campus more pedestrian-friendly is commendable, but it can be achieved in other ways.  The excellent bus services to the campus, especially to the bus stop and turning point near Keynes College, are a great success, and something to build on.  The fact is that University Road is and will continue to be the main vehicle access route to the campus, and it is best to plan around that.  If there is to be any new car parking it could perhaps be north of University Road near Turing College, keeping more cars out of the Campus Heart.

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Crab & Winkle Way and railway line

There are various references to making use of the Crab & Winkle cycle route between Canterbury and Whitstable which runs through the campus, and of the route of the old Crab & Winkle railway line.  These references are somewhat confusing and, in some respects, not properly thought through. It is suggested that the Crab & Winkle Way cycle path on the north side of the campus could be upgraded and widened from a pedestrian and cycle route to provide a route for vehicles from Tyler Hill Road (p.97).  This would be a bad idea.  It would blight the attractive route down the hill from Blean Church. There also appears to be a reference (though this is unclear) to making the disused railway line north of the tunnel into a new route between the central campus and Tyler Hill Road.  This certainly has potential.  The old track is extremely muddy and overgrown, and could be turned into a fine pedestrian and cycle route, but again making it a vehicle route would destroy the rural character of this land. There are also rather confusing references to the walking and cycling route between Canterbury and the University:

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Although it is a great asset, the Crab and Winkle Way follows a slightly circuitous route through existing residential streets which some residents find noisy and disruptive, especially when used by students late at night. The route utilises dimly lit alleyways and a tunnel which are not overlooked and which are intimidating after dark. In addition, the shared route is often quite narrow, and fast moving cyclists (downhill at least) are often a hazard to pedestrians.  (p.99)

I presume that this means the route along St Stephen’s Pathway, Hackington Place, Hackington Terrace, St Michael’s Road, and the Eliot pathway.  The recognition of the problem of night-time noise and disruption is welcome, but I am afraid that the suggested alternative, of acquiring the old railway embankment and turning it into a ‘tree-lined boulevard’ for a public transport system linking the campus to the north side of Canterbury West station, is a non-starter.  It would involve demolishing several houses in Beaconsfield Road and most of Hanover Place, and would in any case merely transfer the night-time noise from the front to the back of local houses.  Better to make the most of the existing pedestrian and cycle route, and tackle the problem of night-time noise in other ways which are already being explored.


I welcome the general approach of the Master Plan, the Design Principles on p.51, and the aspiration to create ‘the best garden campus in the UK’.  I hope that the further refinement of the Master Plan will fully take on board the feedback from the local community and will seek to enlist and harness the support of local people.

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End of Professor Norman’ Feedback

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #2

This is the second of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD), which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers,  ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may make available. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below was put forward by Dr William Rowlandson, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, who has acted on green/environmental issues for the main staff trade union, the University & College Union (UCU).  Dr Rowlandson is a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images from the fields are of Butterflies,  all taken on the fields over the past five years. In the light of today’s landmark report from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology that we are facing ongoing, accelerating problems of decline, it is an obvious and apposite step to highlight the unspoilt fields’ value and beauty in this  sense. This is  just one of many of its advantages for wildlife, witnessed and cherished  daily by members of the University and local communities.


Beginning of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

 I applaud the plans for the Campus Heart. The need for development of this central area is well articulated: a central thoroughfare, a more identifiable entrance, replacing or refurbishment of existing buildings. All, to me, seems fine. The plans for The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings are based upon some misdirected apprehensions, and are very concerning. The university is ‘blessed with an abundance of green spaces’ (37). ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting’ 39). It is heartening to see that recognised. However, ‘the green spaces within the campus are rather homogenous and repetitious, and this lack of variety means that the university under-achieves in terms of its campus character and personality’ (37). This is troublesome. Surely the value of green spaces is that they are, precisely, green spaces. There is mention of vulnerability to inclement weather. Well trees are a perfect cover for bad weather. It would seem ludicrous to remove the woodland.

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‘Access to green space is available but their use is not encouraged’ (37). There are excellent paths through all the woodland. If people like to walk in the woodland then they need no encouragement. That these wooded spaces ‘lack animation or passive surveillance’ and ‘are not perceived as safe’ (37) is again precisely because they are woodland. That is their charm. One cannot set up security cameras in dense wood.

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Here we move to the very troublesome bit: ‘Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury. These have an as yet unfulfilled potential to become great assets for the University and the surrounding communities’ (39). The woodland and field system are already great assets. Adaptation of their central feature as woodland and field system is not improvement. It is adaptation. It is development. A woodland is not improved by cutting back trees. A field is not improved by building in it. They cease to be what they are and become something different.

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‘Currently many of the existing areas of green landscape are ‘organic’ in nature, and are ill-defined and under-used whilst lacking variety. Much of this landscape is protected as woodland from development or adaptation’ (56). It is revealing that the fields and woods are seen as unfulfilled potential. This is a dangerous ideological position akin to seeing untapped oil reserves in the arctic as unfulfilled potential or shale gas as crying out for fracking. Have any of the architects or the university planners sat quietly alone in the woods in the Northern Land Holdings? If so they may well perceive a very dynamic environment that beautifully reflects seasonal changes and demonstrates great biodiversity. I also refute the notion that competitor universities have an edge over Kent because of exploitation of their natural land. If anything, I think that Kent can raise its profile as a green university by developing the Campus Heart whilst leaving the wilder aspects of the campus wild.

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If the university is keen, as stated, to preserve good relations with the city and the community, then the plans to build on the treasured so-called ‘Chaucer Fields’ betray a very different ambition. It suggests effectively trampling on many years of local opposition to the planned development in the valuable southern slopes. My conclusion is that the plans for the Campus Heart are good. I find the tone of the narrative with regard The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings very troubling, and indicative of a ruthless and ill-sighted desire for financial return over environmental and ecological concerns.

End of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

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Mid summer notes – 6 easy ways to enhance Chaucer Fields as unspoilt space

Hello  all

Mystery symbol….all will be revealed!

What’s that strange symbol hovering over the map of chaucer fields, you may ask? I’ll come on to that towards the end of the Blog, as I need to set the scene first…. and for people who haven’t had a chance to get up to the Southern Slopes recently, I’ve managed to take some snaps to capture how nature has changed, moving from early into mid summer, although I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked  there. I’ll intersperse these with the text to make it more interesting.

Drumming on Bushy Acres  – Oaks (University nursery) children, earlier this  summer

Its not just nature which is changing.  At this time of year, the pattern of use by younger users is about to change. As schools wind down, instead of the familiar sight of the Archbishop’s School pupils running around freely (both off and on the beaten tracks!) it will be local children of all ages on holiday who will often be seen out and about, safely playing amongst the trees and meadows. There are fewer University students around, and the number of children at the Oaks  – whose relishing of the fields I mentioned in an earlier Blog  (and see new photo above) –  is falling  back too, as staff take summer breaks.

Damselfly, Dover Down Field, July

Sienese lessons?

This Blog has been a while coming. The main reason I haven’t had much chance to witness happenings on the fields recently is  that I’ve been away –  lucky enough to have been participating in a research conference in (very hot) Siena.  I think my time there may be a new perspective to be gained from this visit. Siena’s a wonderful and intriguing place, where they certainly know how to respect and showcase their rich history, especially its medieval aspects. I was struck by the parallels with Canterbury:  fascinating heritage, a phenomenal Cathedral, the more general importance of tourism and higher education, a vibrant civil society, and great pride in the countryside that immediately surrounds the city, and helps to define it (and with art of all kinds often seeking to portray this as fundamental to the essence of the place). Its impressive the way they have avoided sprawl in order to respect their traditional setting, a fragile balance of man and nature.

Ripening apples, southern part of Bushy Acres, July

Like us, they recognise the significance of a contoured semi-natural landscape for people’s  quality of life. Crucially, this is neither just in terms of urban parks, nor  the woodlands and fields out in open country   – which are of course so precious but can be hard to reach, especially for younger and older people, or others whose mobility is limited. Equally, they understand that  the land between urban and rural, city and countryside, is fundamental. Accordingly there is particular appreciation of the value of the unspoilt slopes immediately surrounding the city, visible from within, easy to reach by foot or bicycle, and without which a great deal of the place’s appeal, charm and value would be lost. Perhaps more dramatic than our gentle southern slopes, but the basic idea of harmonious co-existence is comparable.

maturing horse chestnuts, Bushy Acres, July

Perhaps we could learn lessons from our Tuscan counterparts? We are both facing pressures for development from large corporations and financial growth oriented bureaucracies, but they seem somehow more confident in defending the value of what they have inherited from previous generations. We may not traditionally have worn our hearts on our sleeves to the same degree as the Sienese when it comes to our commitment  to heritage, urban and green. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have the resourcefulness to make the same point, in our own way

Classic summer image, Dover Down field, July

Green Belt, Local Green Space, District Plans

I think we can already move considerably in this direction, building on some of the Council’s best  policies, and encouraging them to strengthen those as we move towards a new District Plan in the months ahead. Let’s hope those developing the new Plan will be bold enough to consider formalising the ‘Green Belt’ status of the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields –  a no brainer for the overwhelming majority of local people.  There has been some talk of the potential value of the ‘Local Green Space’ concept (see National Policy Planning Framework, p. 18), but we would surely be wise to be cautious about this, as it seems to afford weaker protections than ‘Green Belt’ status.

Mystery oak tree climber, Chaucer fields, July

In the meantime, the old District Plan and its supporting materials still apply. Consider the fields in this context. Given the furore over the proposed destruction of this place, many of us have become more familiar than we ever expected to be with policies on open space, landscape, heritage and conservation. Drawing those threads together, and putting this in the context of how the land has been used for the views, for amenity, relaxation, appreciation of nature and recreational purposes over decades, we have all seen that a powerful case can be made for defending the fields as unspoilt community space. But if you look more closely at  some of the detailed,qualitative judgements used by the Council to attach value to places of interest and local significance, it starts to become clear that the fields could and should be actively enhanced, rather than just left alone, in the interests of the enormous range of people who appreciate them. The case for not only treasuring them, but proactively nurturing them, becomes utterly compelling.

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, Dover down field, July

Take the “Canterbury Conservation  Area Appraisal” adopted in 2010 to support the District Plan on matters of conservation and heritage. How is it relevant? As you can see if you follow the link, quite rightly, it singles out (p. 13) the view over the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields as one of just nine views given special status across the entire city. Note what it says about this view (p. 33): “Development in the foreground would adversely affect views of and from the city” (a statement actually confirmed by the University, but buried deep in the Environmental Impact Assessment, despite the scheme’s promoter’s subsequent attempts to  spin away this awkward fact in summaries and presentations).  The Appraisal then says that “the trees in the middle ground on the university slopes should be managed so they do not block the view of the Cathedral” and notes “the Cathedral dominates the roofscape of the city in this view”.

One of the best known Cathedral views on Chaucer Fields

From passivity to an active policy enhancement  of unspoilt Chaucer Fields?

Because Canterbury has such a rich heritage, there’s only room for a few sentences in the Area Appraisal itself on the Slopes. But there are two ways to build upon and strengthen this using already published material. First, we can turn to the reports written by expert consultants Jacobs Babtie for  the Council which now inform conservation and landscape policy. This offered general guidelines for the Stour Valley Slopes, whose importance is particularly applicable to Chaucer Fields and the Southern slopes, not least  because of amenity value and significance for views (as noted above from within the fields, and seen from above). The imperatives are clearly stated, and suggest the need for an active, enhancing approach including:

  • Strengthening and recreating the traditional field pattern
  • Conserving and restoring open grass slopes overlooking the city
  • Resisting further fragmentation and seek to create new woodland
  • Resisting  the introduction of dominant features on the visually sensitive ridgeline

Thus, if anything, the University is meant to be developing the ancient field mosiac of the fields, and enhancing the openess of the slopes – rather than destroying these aspects. (When the Planning Application was submitted, the Council’s internal responses as well as external responses like those of English Heritage and Kent CPRE were amongst the many pointing out this potential policy violation).

Comparing English and Red Oak leaves, Beverley Boughs, July

Second, we can seek insights into Council thinking about why places are valued by looking at the criteria used to signify the ‘character’ of places inside and around the city.  This is where the strange symbol shown at the top of the Blog comes in! The ‘key’ shown below is now used throughout the Canterbury Conservation Area Appraisal to summarise the ‘character’ of 20 Canterbury places (for example, being applied to St Dunstans, Nunnery Fields, Cathedral Precincts etc).

Symbols used by Canterbury City Council to indicate places of ‘character’

So, the symbol at the start of the Blog refers to the existence of a ‘special sense of place’! Why not take the next, logical step and recognise explicitly that most of the other qualities shown above go hand in hand with that- an overdue addition to the list of Canterbury’s  “character” locales? At the moment, their relevance has implicitly been recognised by local people who have tried to communicate why the place is important in the hundreds of letters written to the University (Local dialogue consultation), CCC (Planning),  KCC (Village Green Application), and local newspapers. In line with these strongly expressed values, why not make this explicit in policy terms, capitalising on what University staff, students, and local people of all ages and from all walks of life have told public and University authorities about what matters to them? And of course, this would fit well with the NPPF’s emphasis on protecting and enhancing places of special environmental and heritage significance to local people. (I’ve more or less directly followed the meaning of the symbols with the exception that I use the red dot/circle symbol not in relation to man made buildings, but in relation to semi-natural spots of interest with a ‘micro’ sense of place and tranquility which contribute to the more general overall sense of place identified above.)

Recognising the character of Chaucer fields explicitly for policy purposes

So, no one who has followed the debate on this land could now seriously contest its special status. The Canterbury Archeological Trust research undertaken for the University’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (chapter on cultural heritage) already strongly affirmed this from a historical perspective, and mountains of correspondence since have re-affirmed how this sentiment is now felt more strongly than ever. What about the other qualities associated by the Council with ‘character’?  I’ve even had a go at applying these criteria myself to the Heritage map drafted in an earlier Blog see below. Perhaps readers could let me know if they think I am missing any aspects of the value of the fields which can be summarised using these indicators. At least, this could be a useful start it trying to encapsulate in official language what people truly value.

Draft ‘character’ map using CCC criteria July 2012

With this in mind,  we should urge the Council on our behalf  to put pressure on the University to up its game, and recognise the relevance of these considerations. It could obviously make a start by shelving the misguided Chaucer Fields development proposals; but then it should go beyond its lack of  current management of this land to actively embrace and enhance the place as an unspoilt resource  (At the moment, it simply cuts the grass, and just one of the hedges, occasionally). Most obviously, it should be encouraged to respect existing local policies, and learn from others.

Beverley farmhouse viewed from its setting in Chaucer Fields

For example, the following proposals, all involving only a modest cost but securing major benefits, could easily be undertaken:

  • manage all relevant tree lines properly, so that the potential value of views is fully realised across the full range of positions within, above and around the fields;
  • undertake more regular hedge maintenance, extending systematic care and attention to all the hedges, so important in strengthening the field structure
  • establish a range of information panels on and around the fields, drawing passer-by’s attention to the heritage and environmental significance of this land as the setting both for both the Cathedral, and  for the medieval Beverley Farmhouse (see above). (The ‘interpretive panel’ project of the Kentish Stour Countryside project, raising awareness about Blean in and around those woods, could provide an excellent model. Indeed, the panels could cross refer to one another: the fields have historically been part of the connective tissue between the city and Blean woods, with the ancient path between Blean church and the Cathedral one part of Chaucer Field’s rich network of tracks)
  • Introduce systematic signage to direct people to unspoilt Chaucer Fields, raising the awareness of this space yet further amongst local people and visitors alike. In collaboration with the Council, walking, running and cycling across the fields could be easily integrated into the existing pattern of routes connecting Canterbury and other parts of the District, including Blean and Whitstable. As for road users, public transport through the bus network already brings passengers within easy reach of the fields, and simple measures like  re-naming the bus stops close by would foster wider awareness
  • recognise the night-time potential of the fields. Currently, the fields are  remarkable in being relatively free of light pollution at night, and an excellent spot for stargazing – yet  at the same time being very accessible to many because of the density of housing nearby. ‘Dark Skies Discovery’ status could be sought to encourage appreciation of the night skies (see  Dark Skies Discovery)
  • revive and extend  the 2008-09  ‘creative campus’ wildflower initiative on the fields at Jay’s corner, cruelly abandoned by University authorities (see http://www.kent.ac.uk/news/stories/wildflower/2009).  Why not make it an authentic outreach activity this time round, bringing together the University’s Conservation Society for whom it was so important last time, with local schools and local residents of all ages in a new spirit of co-operative respect for our heritage and environment?

wildflowers at Jay’s corner (abandoned ‘creative campus’ project), July

That’s all from me for now, I am sure as usual I have said too much already! You can look forward to some ‘Guest Blogs’ on this site in the weeks ahead, and a change of style…. so watch this space!

best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

PS if you have somehow missed the Save Chaucer Fields  June newsletter summary circulated in hard copy and uploaded on to the web, please go to the SCF website (see Blogroll, top right hand corner of this Blog). Its a very useful and informative summary of the state of play.