A CFPS Blog hasn’t been published for some time – nearly 2 months in fact! Sorry about that. I’ll focus on one main issue: the draft District Plan; but also at the bottom is an update on the opportunity to find out more about the archaeological dig now ongoing to prepare the ground for the Keynes III development. I’ll intersperse with some pictures mainly from the last picnic, beating of the bounds; but also how the fields have looked recently; and the repaired bench, where some of the best views over the landscape can be had. The weather has been a bit gloomy today, hopefully the images will add a bit of brightness to a drab and grey day!
Local (District) Plan: Consultation, University Master Plan draft policy, SHLAA sites
Today is the day on which the consultation over Canterbury City Council (CCC)’s District Plan and associated policy formally begins, please click on CCC Planning Consultation Page for more . Most readers will be aware that this is the most significant policy document in relation to planning, place, landscape and environment to emerge at local government for Canterbury, Whitstable, Herne Bay, and all the villages for years, and will be the main frame of reference for decision making for the next two decades. Accordingly, its substantive content and priorities are absolutely crucial for the quality of life and environment of local communities well into the future (and long beyond the timeframe of local and national elections).It is good to know that local people and interested parties have a relatively generous timeframe for responding to the plan – until the end of August. This seems proportionate, given the significance of the document.
This process of engagement is very much needed. That’s because, in general, the Local Plan is highly controversial, not least because the claims made within it about the scale of housing need are contested by many informed observers. It also provides an opportunity for anyone who believes the cases for concentrated house building on several key greenfield sites have not been sufficiently made, and that the deleterious potential consequences of proceeding with them have not been recognised, to express their views (individually, and through local groups, including residents’ associations, and environmental and heritage groups).
I have my own provisional views on these general issues, and will submit a representation to the process in due course, But for now, I simply feel the need to be much better informed. If you are in the same boat, you may consider attending an upcoming event: the Canterbury Society is organising a “Local Plan Open Meeting” at the United Reformed Church Hall in Watling Street at 7.30 pm on Tuesday 25 June. Attenders will have the chance to pose questions to both the political and delivery leadership of CCC (John Gilbey and Colin Carmichael). This is an open meeting, all are welcome. please do try to come if you can.
How are Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes treated in the draft Local Plan? In my opinion, there’s one very sensible but under-reported policy proposal in the Plan, which goes with the grain of a suggestion made on this Blog last year, in turn picking up on an idea long promoted by the Canterbury Society and other knowledgeable local groups. CCC is proposing that the University be required to develop and publicly present a Master Plan for campus development.(see draft policy EMP7 UKC masterplan. for the precise wording used at present ).
This is good news for both the host and university communities, because it would mean the piecemeal, ad hoc and disjointed approach taken in recent years, shying away from rational comparison of alternative options, and eschewing systematic critical scrutiny, would in future be considered unacceptable. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how the original 2011 Chaucer Fields proposals, and arguably even the 2012 Keynes III proposals, could have been countenanced if such a strategic framework document had existed. In my view, it is just a shame that it may take the strong arm of local government mandate, rather than the University’s own responsible voluntary initiative, to ensure this level of transparency and accountability is set in place for the future (for the benefit of both communities).
Various other aspects of the District Plan and the associated appraisals are clearly potentially relevant for the future of Southern Slopes too. But the single most obvious and direct implication is how CCC have responded to the University’s suggestion that the land could be used for extensive residential housing development, a proposal in the system from several years ago, even while the Chaucer Conference Centre etc proposals were also being mooted (this is confused and confusing; see CFPS discusson of the SHLAA for an earlier attempt to clarify). Despite the University of Kent’s offer, for now at least it seems that CCCare intending to rule out this proposal.
Why the provisional rejection? This seems to be because CCC have affirmed their recognition, following a ‘technical’ analysis by AMEC consultants (see SHLAA-sites-Analysis), that the unspoilt land here is of real landscape and environmental significance for the District (an analysis consistent also with the values implicit in the draft landscape appraisal documents accompanying the District Plan)
This can be contrasted with the submission written by the heads of the University Estates department, and submitted to CCC last year, as part of the earlier round of intelligence gathering to inform the District Plan. This bizarrely inward looking document (which was not considered or signed off by the University Council prior to submission) finds no room at all to account for landscape, environmental or social considerations. It is framed entirely as if the ‘business case’ of the University, narrowly construed in reductionist terms, is all that matters (Click Submission to the CCC Local Plan 131112 REDACTED for the publicly available version of the Estates department’s submission, obtained by Chaucer Fielder through a Freedom of Information request, ).
Coming back to the AMECreport, personally I would have liked to see more recognition given to the benefits of the unspoilt land here as local green open space with demonstrably very high amenity, recreational and leisure value for both the host and University communities. However, the fact that CCC does give significant weight at least to landscape and environmental considerations in this context is encouraging.
Moreover, if these characteristics are considered important in deciding about whether development is permissible for residential housing proposals, they would also need to be recognised as important if any future planning application for a conference centre/hotel or student accommodation does materialise in the months ahead. (This is also hinted at in the material elsewhere in the draft Local Plan on tourism). Otherwise, the policy in relation to the character and value of this land could be characterised as inconsistent and incoherent.
Indeed, it could be speculated that the expected planning application for a University conference centre/hotel etc has itself failed to materialise as forecast because of how the residential housing suggestion is dealt with in the draft Local Plan. That’s to say, perhaps we have seen no application because the pro-development group in the University has itself finally understood that decision making in this setting is now demonstrably not just about their narrowly construed ‘the business case’, but must also factor in other, broader criteria which relate to the public interest. (Although it is the future rather than the current local plan which we are considering, it is relevant because it send a clear message about CCC’s general ‘direction of policy travel’ to both current and future developers).
We could also expect that the situation could be evolving internally in terms of the balance of power between leading individual figures in the University’s power structures.The views of the main public champion of the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal and co-author of the aforementioned Estates Department submission, Professor Keith Mander, are becoming less relevant as he is soon to be replaced.
However, for now this must all remain speculation. It is still quite possible that the University will still submit a planning application for the Chaucer Conference Centre in the months ahead:its track record is not encouraging, after all. Moreover, it is also still possible that the Southern Slopes, while rejected provisionally as a site for mass residential housing development at this stage, could come back onto the agenda in a later, revised version of the plan.
It needs to be remembered that this is still a draft, and further development sites could theoretically be added between now and the finalisation of the Plan. It may well be that a coalition of developer and pro-developer interests in the University could seek to exert pressure on CCC to reconsider, even though it has already articulated clear reasons for rejecting the site for development. Those of us who wish to see the Southern Slopes continue to be respected and protected as unspoilt space,will need to be vigilant,continuing to monitor planning applications and the trajectory of the Local Plan as it moves from its current draft status towards the finalised version in the month ahead.
Archaeological Developments at Keynes III: Date for your Diaries
In the last Blog, I alerted readers to the significance of the ongoing excavations of the Canterbury Archeaological Trust (CAT) on the Keynes III site, which seem likely to be running for a good deal of the summer period. I am pleased to report that CAT are arranging for an open day on Thursday 25th July. This will be an exciting opportunity to learn more about our local pre-history. There will be tours of the site, and a chance to look at the finds. CAT want as many people as possible to attend. Please do get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate. .
All best wishes
Chaucer Fields Picnic society
Postscript: Some of you attended and enjoyed the Roystercatcher’s ceilidh, raising funds for the Save Chaucer Fields group, last november. I am pleased to let you know there’ll be an informal Roystercatchers ceilidh this saturday 22 June, 7pm-9pm, St Dunstans church hall. Entry is only £3, and although not an SCF-CFPS fundraising event, it will be a chance to meet friends from the fields and catch up on news. Please find here a practice ceilidh poster june 2013. Please email email@example.com if you would like to come along.