Emergency Blog UPDATED AFTER WESTGATE HALL EVENT

Dear all

This CFPS Blog necessarily takes a stark form! None of the usual colourful images!

[PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO GREEN FONT TEXT FOR UPDATE OF 6TH OCTOBER IN THE LIGHT OF WESTGATE HALL EVENT]

FURTHER UPDATE: THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

Its purpose is to provide information for those who wish to submit their feedback into the crucial step 2 of the University of Kent’s Masterplan consultation process, which is currently ongoing (the “Framework” Masterplan).

It is important that as many people as possible resist consultation fatigue and fatalism, and express their views. For the outcome is going to shape the landscape and environment inside and around the Canterbury campus for decades into the future.

The reasons this sort of elementary  information is needed here, sadly,  reflect multiple failures in the way the University authorities and their “Masterplan Team” are choosing to conduct the process. The most obvious failures are as follows:

  • Basic information on what is covered in the Masterplan at this crucial stage is only being made available to anyone who happens to be  able to attend one of 4 face to face events; or who was invited to a single “stakeholder” presentation last month. The former events  have been poorly advertised and  their content and method have not been explained, while the basis for invitation to the latter is obscure.
  • The “stakeholder presentation” was made publicly available temporarily on the Masterplan website. But it were then withdrawn  – with no explanation offered. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: THIS PRESENTATION, REVISED,  HAS NOW BEEN UPLOADED AGAIN TO THE MASTERPLAN SITE.  THIS IS AFTER PRESSURE FROM INTERESTED PARTIES, BUT STILL WITHOUT EXPLANATION FOR ITS EARLIER WITHDRAWAL 
  • The “Masterplan team” has failed to indicate whether or not student or alumni feedback on the plans at this stage is welcome. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: IT HAS BEEN BELATEDLY INDICATED THAT SUCH FEEDBACK IS PERMITTED, BUT NO EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THESE GROUPS IN THE USUAL WAY USING EMAIL LISTS ETC TO ACTIVELY ELICIT VIEWS
  • The  “Masterplan team” has also been unable or unwilling to indicate how the feedback it gathers at the 4 face to face events, and by email, will be used to inform the plan’s development. Unlike step 1, at which  a healthy and open dialogue with a range of stakeholders was beginning to emerge, with the current step 2 the process has become closed and  opaque. We are merely told there will be a ‘consultation statement’. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: AGAIN, UNDER PRESSURE, IT HAS BEEN INDICATED THAT THE CONSULTATION STATEMENT  FOR STAGE 2 WILL TAKE THE SAME FORM AS THE STAGE 1 STATEMENT. HOWEVER, THERE ARE NO WORKSHOPS AND FOCUS GROUPS IN STAGE 2, WHICH WERE KEY MOMENTS OF DIALOGUE IN STAGE 1 IN AFFIRMING THE SHARED AND STRONGLY HELD BELIEF AMONGST  THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY, LOCAL RESIDENTS AND LOCAL CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS THAT THE UNSPOILT FIELDS SHOULD NOT BE BUILT UPON. 

This combination of poor organisation, information hoarding, and opacity,  and the absence of any commitment to transparency and openness in sharing the results – AND NOW, TO ADD TO THE DYSFUNCTIONAL MIX, MOVING GOALPOSTS –   is simply not acceptable.

So to help shine a light on what is really happening, you can find some of the missing/withdrawn information here:

The above is a large multiple page file. If too large, two key pages in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes have been extracted for your convenience:

  • For a “before (unspoilt) &  after (developed)” comparison of “University Rise” which is the proposed “character area” relating to Chaucer Fields/ Southern Slopes, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: university rise p21of39
  • For a map showing “capital projects” which puts the “conferencing hotel” in context of other building projects proposed elsewhere on campus, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: hotel anomaly p37of39

Finally, a problem with the above materials is that they do not sufficiently highlight how the proposals have a cumulative effect,  involving the co-development of both the conferencing hotel “capital project” and overground car parks, in close proximity. To see this more clearly, and for an accompanying, short summary of the issues involved, go to the information document drawn up by the CFPS: Chaucer_Fields_green_heritage_revised_twice_district_plan_map_2sidescorrected-docx

Because of the opacity surrounding the pending ‘consultation statement’, it is important that where possible people making submissions share them with the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society. Please keep  a copy of any feedback form you submit at the Face to Face events (use a phone camera, perhaps?) . And please share any email you send to the Masterplan Team too (use cc or bcc):

Please use the email address:  chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com

UPDATE OF 8TH OCTOBER: PLEASE NOW MAKE SURE YOU EMAIL YOUR FEEDBACK BY THE BELATEDLY ANNOUNCED DEADLINE OF 26TH OCTOBER.

The CFPS is sorry to add a further layer of complexity to this already convoluted process. But there seems to be no other way of ensuring that the actual voices of people are expressed and heard openly, rather than being lost, stifled or deflected in a bland and uninformative ‘statement’ from the University authorities/Masterplan Team.

Finally, it is important that the voices of all are heard. This must include students and alumni. Please do offer your feedback, even though the Masterplan Team has not actively sought your views thus far .

Thank you for your help with this!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

**STOP PRESS – UPDATE POST  FACE TO FACE DISCUSSIONS AT WESTGATE HALL**

FURTHER UPDATE : THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

From the Westgate Hall event today (6th October), The following  key points stand out:

1. A positive point to start! By simply including a ‘students’ and ‘alumni’ category on the event’s feedback form (although the form itself is poorly designed see feedback form from westgate hall) the Masterplan Team have at last acknowledged that their perspectives are relevant. (If you want to use this form in  email responses, presumably you may do so: the Team seemed confused on this point, but have agreed to make it available on their website in the near future: please remember to copy your emails to chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com). Building on this, it will be important to push for a broadening of the consultation process to meaningfully include these key stakeholders. In particular, it is obviously ridiculous to expect alumni, based all over the globe, to attend consultation events over a few days in Blean, Tyler Hill or at the University campus.  The logical next step is for the consultation to systematically deploy other modes of communication. (However, if genuine outreach via non-face to face, electronic means is to proceed, it will be important to watch closely exactly how the process is conducted. Which information is provided as background? How are the core issues framed? And which questions are posed?)

2. More depressingly, the ‘intended direction of travel’,  in the run up to the final submission of the Masterplan to Canterbury City Council (in c. 2 months time) is  crystal clear from today’s event. The University authorities intend to force through the Conferencing Hotel on Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes if they possibly can by downplaying and belittling the opposition, and making unverified, vague claims about the extent of active endorsement. In particular:

  • To legitimise this steam roller approach, as per local media responses last week from a University spokesperson, as yet unidentified “experts” from the for-profit hotel sector and unknown segments of the business community are mysteriously being evoked and said to “know best”. Their perspectives and priorities (despite the obvious vested interest they have in any such development) are apparently intended to trump all others, whether inside the University community, or outside it.
  • To deflect and belittle opposition to the Conferencing Hotel (again, as per media statements),  “concerns” are ritualistically acknowledged, but claimed to be essentially limited to a small group of  local residents living in close proximity (implicitly identifying such people as self-interested NIMBYs)

As readers of the Blogs presented here over the past 7 years will know, portraying the situation this way is  a travesty, and involves a misrepresentation of the sentiment of the wider local residential community on this issue. It also attempts to airbrush out the extent of resistance to this destructive agenda within the University community and local civil society, and generally obscures more than it eludicates. 

Accordingly some challenges were made to the plans’ promoters today to create a reality check for this oddly circular and ill informed narrative. Some fairly straightforward questions were  posed to the Masterplan Team and its consultants. The results were as follows: 

  1. When advised that  local residents’ sentiments were not sensibly understood simply as narrow NIMBY-style “concerns”, but were clear and deeply held convictions within the local residential community across the City and wider District, there was a weak acknowledgement that some people not living directly alongside the Southern Slopes might hold oppositional views too. But when reminded that commitments to protect the fields as  unspoilt shared green space were also widely held yet more broadly –  through the University community at large (staff and students), in local civil society groups, and in local government itself – there was no acknowledgement at all. It can only be concluded that those involved are either unaware of, or essentially in denial about, the true situation in key respects –  despite the mass of affirmative evidence now available.
  2. When asked why  shadowy “experts” from “the hotel and conference sector” etc.  had not transparently fed their perspectives into stage 1 of the Masterplan process, in 2017, like other interested parties (via open consultation and contributions in workshops),  or why these obscure claims had not been tested through discussion and debate, no answer was given.
  3. When questioned on why “experts in the hotel business” and the “business community” had the competence to unilaterally determine a complex decision with many economic, social and environmental dimensions, no answer was forthcoming either. (It should also be remembered the University does not exist legally, constitutionally or ethically for financial gain or to pursue growth per se,  but instead is meant to be geared essentially towards achieving collectively agreed, nonprofit socio-educational objectives ) 
  4. When queried about the substantive basis for the claim  that a Conferencing Hotel on campus was  required, let alone that there was no alternative but to build it in the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slope green gap, there was obfuscation, with vague and elusive evocations of “the University believes…[etc]” instead of pointing to any clear evidential basis or defensible policy framework
  5. When challenged on which alternative sites for hotel development on campus had been considered, and for information on the grounds (economic, social, environmental etc) upon which these alternative sites had been dismissed by  so-called “experts” or their allies within the University authorities, no answer was forthcoming either.
  6. When asked why development was to be encouraged on the periphery of the campus, directly contradicting the core Masterplan purpose of concentrating development on central campus, no discernable response was forthcoming.   

The above characterisation of the University authorities’ position in evidence today, as involving denial, obfuscation and deflection,  might seem exaggerated. However, a sense of this position can even be gleaned by looking at their own texts. By simply reading and reflecting on the content of the “Hotel and Conference Centre flyer”( pro-CF-hotel propogandafrom westgate hall ) positioned alongside the table with feedback forms at the event, a flavour of this approach is apparent.  The patronising language deployed orally during  the event is echoed in this document (on page two). But it is also worth thinking about what  the use of images,  juxtaposed on the first page, tell us about the agenda of the University authorities.

The clear intention of this imagery is to foster fear-based deference and gratitude (“things might have been so much worse!”) because the 2018 proposal is not as appalling as the failed 2011 plan (inclusive of student accommodation tower blocks).  This is a nonsensical frame of reference: the failed first proposal is utterly irrelevant, and had to be withdrawn because it was a monstrosity and faced  mass opposition inside and outside the University. This was not a “benign”, voluntary decision by “listening”  University authorities, but an unavoidable withdrawal and humiliation for them because the proposal stood zero chance of getting planning permission. 

As ever, the only truly relevant comparison is with the unspoilt fields as they exist now. The question should always be  framed as: what are the considerations in choosing between the unspoilt woods and fields as shared green space on one hand; and any “development” which undermines this precious legacy on the other. In other words, do we want to retain the integrity of the green gap and all it embodies, or is it dispensable in the name of “development”? This way of looking at the issue is the only one which is defensible, given what we now know about the true nature of the local public interest after 7 years of debate, contention and controversy. 

Advertisements

2017: one step forward, two steps back

Festive greetings!

It is once again time to offer seasonal greetings to readers of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! As has become customary, we use the evocative image of “Balloons over Canterbury” to communicate the idea that our fields are a fundamental  part of our city’s aesthetic, social and environmental heritage, treasured by the local and University communities alike. With its wartime provenance, the image emphasises not only the deep historical roots of this widely shared and valued commitment – stretching back to before the University was established –  but also the extent to which recognition of such a wonderful legacy is especially important at times of threat, discord and uncertainty

balloons-over-canterbury

It would have been great to have been positioned to kick off the Blog with a picture more suggestive of harmony and tranquillity. Readers will have noticed that in recent months, there have been some signs that the University authorities were at last beginning to register the significance of this place as an unspoilt shared green space to its own community, and of course way beyond that. However, sadly the most recent Statement to be released, last month, shows that a major opportunity has been missed by the University authorities to catch up with the thinking of the host community, expert knowledge, and the perspectives of their own people (staff and students), by unconditionally ruling out development on the fields in perpetuity.

chaucerfieldsautumn 368cr

So, the fight must continue. This is because the latest Statement explicitly tries to keep development of the fields on the agenda: as we shall see, it  seeks to leave the University authorities an entry point to pursue development here in the future (an implied ‘window’ from the late 2020s onwards, a possibility discussed in the previous Blog). This is really a form of  denial in two senses: it involves the persistence of a dismissive attitude to the evidence on the Southern Slopes’ value as unspoilt shared green space; and it exhibits indifference to the extent to which development here would undermine the entire coherence and logic of the emerging campus Master Plan.  In this sense, 2017 has been a year of confusion and inconsistency on the part of the University authorities,  and as a result, we find ourselves in the “one step forward, two steps back” situation which gives the current Blog its title.

chaucerfieldsautumn 174

In the rest of this Blog, we first explain how a step has been taken forward with the latest stages in the ongoing “incremental” Masterplan development process. But we then have to point out how the latest document to be released “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” embodies the extent to which the University authorities are, in spite of this, ultimately still failing to make a break with the troubled recent past regarding Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (or, to use Masterplan language, “Parklands”).  The Blog is interspersed with some recent images of the fields in the usual way.

chaucerfieldsautumn 309

Stepping Forwards…

Credit where credit’s due. As part of the latest consultation exercise initiated in the summer, working through its external consultants (CMA Planning and John Leatherland limited), and facilitated by its own central Corporate Communications Directorate, the University first of all provided opportunities for relevant external expert input into the development of a “Spatial Vision” via a Workshop (see previous Blog for more details). Significantly, this led to a major gain in transparency with the August publication of the Workshop Report which clearly demonstrates the durability of the long held commitment amongst stakeholders to preserving Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space by explicitly ruling out any development there.  As the previous Blog showed, this report demonstrated unambiguous affirmation of the collective view that no buildings should ever be located here.  Such key stakeholders as representatives of Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council, local civil society organisations, and the President of Kent Union (the union for University of Kent students) all affirmed this position.

chaucerfieldsautumn 429

Second, apparently in response to the incredulity expressed at the time that the process has not involved the University’s own staff, an additional, internal, event was  convened the following month. At the request of staff participants, this was also then openly published as the “Staff Focus Group” report , representing a positive move in terms of communication and freedom of information.  The Focus Group ranged over a number of issues relating to the Master Plan, but for brevity’s sake, we will focus here only on the directly relevant material. Below, for ease of reference, we reproduce in full the passage relating specifically to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes.

“there should be no development on the Southern Slopes – to do so would be inconsistent with notions of consolidation and intensification of the Campus heart [a core principle of the Masterplan]; it would also be seen as provocative and misguided by local residents as well as staff, students, local public authorities and relevant charities and societies, who evidently value the enviromental/heritage character of the landscape and the wide range of activities it permits in its unspoilt form. It would be deeply counter-productive to ongoing efforts to foster strong ties between the University and these constituencies to continue to threaten it with development” (Staff Focus Group, p. 5)

The statement captures the staff group’s shared commitment towards the unspoilt fields and slopes, and demonstrates an awareness of how the issue has become a high stakes one, deeply interwoven with the University’s reputation and image. It is also important to register here that this statement exhibits common cause from attendees coming from across a diverse set of University’s departments, with participants included academic staff as well as senior non-academic staff members. As such it goes beyond the motion in favour of protecting the fields agreed over 5 years ago in a vote of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), because the latter is primarily an organisation for academic staff (see this CFPS Blog from spring 2012 for more details)

chaucerfieldsautumn 539

This affirmative material from both the external expert working group and the internal staff focus group has now  been reproduced in the “Canterbury Campus Masterplan/Step 1: Strategic Spatial Vision Consultation Statement” published last month. This report also strengthens further the case for the protection of Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes via the incorporation of additional written comments, over and above those put forward at the august and september events. Unsurprisingly, there is “strong endorsement” for “not building on Parklands” from the St Michael’s Road Residents’ Association (p. 18), representing many residents who live closest to the fields. But there is also amplification here of the point by Kent Wildlife Trust, expressing  their “concern that development does not appear to be ruled out for the area of Chaucer Fields, semi-natural grassland of high cultural value to the local residents and not without nature conservation interest. There is no mention of the Ancient Woodland on the site or the Local Wildlife Site, both requiring protection within the planning system” (op cit., p. 31; emphases added).  This is important because KWT is a  highly regarded charity which operates at the county level,  and this feedback builds on concerns it had already expressed at earlier consultations.

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 006

 

…then stepping backwards again!

However, unfortunately, these advances are then effectively negated by the way in which the University authorities choose to respond to these views within the same Consultation Statement report. In this document, the Expert Workshop’s recognition of the high value of the unspoilt fields/slopes are greeted with vague, non-committal language – the words “noted” and “acknowledged” recurring at various points in the tables which juxtapose community comments and University authority responses. This is weak and uninformative, showing that while the articulated views have been logged, there is no sense of learning from the process in terms of reflecting on the significance of these commitments, or showing any willingness to express the consequences in actual policies and practices . An opportunity to respect the views put forward, and rule out development on the fields, has been squandered.

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 035

More worrying still, the dismissive nature of the University authorities’ response to the analysis expressed in the Staff Focus group, as quoted above, goes even further. Here, the response does not merely avoiding saying anything with meaning and substance. It actively confirms, in no uncertain terms,  that old habits of thought  – and potentially action –  are still driving the process. The key passage here is as follows:

“Some development of the Southern Slopes may be necessary, including providing funding for landscape enhancements. to be explored in the Options” (op cit, p. 26, response bullet point 2)

The chosen tone and form of words in this response is deeply disappointing. Not only does it fail to rule out development on the Southern Slopes, but it actively confirms that it could be carried through as a possibility into the next stage of Masterplan development, presumably in keeping with the idea of a ‘window’ for building projects here emerging from the late 2020s onwards (see the previous Blog). Second, not even a cursory attempt is made to provide a rationale for this potential decision, in the context of the Masterplan’s philosophy and proposed principles, or indeed at any level (in contrast to the “responses” offered in relation to much of the other feedback elsewhere in the Step 1 Consultation Statement). This undermines the credibility of the wider process, because it seems to show that that the University authorities either unable or unwilling to take their own Masterplan’ s principles and processes seriously.

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 090

Third, in the turn of phrase “may be necessary”  – with no attempt at explanation –  we see the authors of the University authorities’ response retreating symbolically from any meaningful notion of collaborative engagement at all.  It suggests the University authorities are, even now, trying to unilaterally take a superordinate position in relation to other stakeholders, including in relation to Canterbury City Council. This is damaging because it is at the level of this elected local authority were the planning process vests  statutory responsibility for determining matters of need and necessity, as embodied through the District Plan process. In this way, we sadly seem to see the University authorities’ old, pre-Masterplan, top down and paternalistic  “sense of entitlement”  reappearing.  Fourth, the use of the phrase “landscape enhancements”, as discussed in an earlier Blog, seems to be discursive cover for the construction of buildings: it is obfuscatory, and is ultimately just development expressed in more fuzzy language, to give the University authorities a potential licence to build as they please.

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 138cr

It is important to remember that it is this arcane style of making policy, mixing up ambiguity and evasiveness,  which led to the chaotic ad hoc pattern of campus development in the past. It is a throwback formulation which exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of how things can and must change under the new planning framework. It entirely misses the  point of the Masterplan process in seeking to move towards a clearer, properly meaningful and responsive style of engagement, and to avoid arbitrary, ad hoc and unaccountable decision making.  This is, then, potential repeating of the mistakes of the past is the very situation which the Staff Focus Group warned the University it should make every effort to avoid, if it is to develop a more constructive relationship with the host community and its own staff and students in relation to campus development in the future (see “Staff Focus Group report”, p. 3, comment 3)

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 107cr

 

A final note: timing and prospects

Where does all this leave us? If we look at the overall process plans as presented at recent events, we have a series of further delays in getting beyond stage 1: by now, we were expecting to have seen not just a Stage 1 Consultation Statement, but also the publication of a range of Stage 2 “Option Studies”, and for a consultation on these “Options” to be have already been completed! These next steps were originally timed to allow a draft, single Framework Masterplan to be in place for further consultation from January 2018, leading to further consultation,  finalisation and publication in late spring/summer, and adoption by Canterbury City Council  – and linkage to the all important District Plan – in September 2018.  Presumably the slippage in moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 means that this none of this will be achieved on time.

chaucerfieldswinterandgrinchjk 204

Yet however the timelines is revised, the year ahead will be an crucial period for the fields. It is during 2018 that we will see whether the University authorities continue to operate in denial, pushing blindly for potential development, as they see fit, of the Southern Slopes; or whether they finally show themselves capable of recognising the damage that is being done by keeping this option in play. for there is still a chance to rule out development here. If it were to do this, it would bring the approach properly back  into line with the Masterplan’s own philosophy and principles; and demonstrate recognition of  the commitments and values of the University community, the host community, and  local public authorities. It is upon whose goodwill and trust of all these stakeholders, after all, that the University’s future ultimately depends.

Stay vigilant! Watch this space! Happy christmas and new year to all!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

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.

first

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.

william

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.

fifteenth

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.

second

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.

fourteenthnavarro

“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!

fifth

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.)

ninthrichard

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.

eleventh

 

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.

nineteenth

 

 

 

 

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).

hawketc tree2cropped

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.

chfields 203cr

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.

cropped-green-woodpecker-3.jpg

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.

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 026

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.

July batch 030

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.

temp all phots to 21 april 13 1376

 

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.

wicken etc 093

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.

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 069

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:

august to september chaucer fields 068

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.

Conclusion

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.

hawketc tree1cropped

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).

fordwich canoe coach & horses faversham cycle 023

 

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.

cfbutterfly-4cr

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.

 July-August batch 086BLUE BUTTER

‘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.

midapr 22014 230

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.

une 2014 batch incl CF wildlife 084

‘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.

CF&holidayprep 148

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

chfields 152cr

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.