Four things worth noting

Dear all

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 001

1. Keynes III Planning Application approved (5 February)

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 022

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 065

Canterbury Christ Church students filming on the Fields, February 2013

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 061

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

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

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 041

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

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

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

3. Kent @50

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

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

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

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 057

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

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

4. Upcoming events

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

Feb 2013 including film studies christ church 042

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

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

9 march 2013 SCF quiz

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

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Advertisements

Chaucer Fields – the case for opposing Keynes III and other matters

Dear all

Note: If too busy to read this long Blog in full , please scroll down to the section entitled

“The Keynes III proposal: rationales for Planning objections”!

Autumn foraging preamble

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, late autumn

Chaucer Fields now have that late autumn feel. Some trees have lost their leaves entirely, such as one of the English Oaks next to the ancient pathway leading from the Cathedral to Blean Church (see above).While others, particularly the Red Oaks in Beverley Boughs, are variously showing interesting combinations of colours (see below).

Autumn colours,  view of Beverley Boughs from within Dover Down field

This time of year is also a good one for foragers. The most obvious opportunities to gather nature’s bounty have passed with the blackberry and apple crop well and truly over for some time. But even now, there are at least three other ways in which we can all share what our fields have to offer. First, the abundant hawthorn berries may be on their last legs, but can still be gathered for culinary purposes! Second, sweet chestnuts such as those which can be found at the heart of the fields – where Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres join (next to the old cart track where the hedges meet) – are excellent in casseroles! And thirdly, foraging is not necessarily only about food. For example, at this time of year,  the several horse chestnuts on the fields offer local children conkers galore!

Some chestnuts are still around and can be foraged for cooking

It would be fun to write more about each of these – and I have some tried and tested recipes up my sleeve involving the edible ingredients mentioned above if anyone is interested! However, more immediately important is to make sure people are aware of unfolding developments in relation to the current Planning Application process. Please recall, as reported in a previous Blog,  that the University chose this summer to promote both the Keynes III undergraduate student accommodation blocks and the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel  plan (the enlarged hotel proposal) together  – at the private preview and public exhibition events in September). But then it chose to  separate them for the purposes of the Planning Application process. We have a planning application for Keynes III now pending and with the Council. There’ll be a seperate one, probably in March 2013 or soon thereafter, for the Chaucer Conference Centre/Hotel.

The Templeman Library Development (yes – it is relevant!)

To make matters yet more complicated, there is currently also a Planning Application with Canterbury City Council for what seem  – to me at least – to be well thought out and imaginative plans for the Templeman Library, for which the University should be applauded. Others are expected to follow shortly in relation to other planned development on Campus, but because the University has failed to develop a Master Plan, the timing of these other plans is unknown (an avoidable problem – see below).   Concerning the Templeman, it is now beginning to emerge that this plan envisages not only the most obvious forms of capacity expansion you would expect for a modern library of this kind. Also planned under the flexible mode being proposed is a new capacity for hosting conferences outside term time (using a 250-seater lecture theatre, 8 seminar rooms for break out sessions. These would be used for teaching (and study space overspill) in term times, but at other times they  will not be needed for internal needs, and can be used for conferencing, with a range of catering facilities conveniently on hand ).

This weakens the case for the conference element of the proposed mass Conference complex anywhere on campus, and suggests the need for more modest facilities to enhance the University’s conference ‘offer’.  A good deal of any future demand existing in the District for such a facility could now be met by intelligently combining the use of the Templeman’s exciting new planned facilities with the great variety of accommodation and conferencing options already available on other parts of campus. This includes, for example, those at Darwin college, and excellent facilities for residential conferencing at Chaucer College, which seem to be under-utilised,  currently used from time to time for spill-over redirected from within the University. (Perhaps some expansion of the conferencing capability of Chaucer College could also be re-considered, although I understand the scope for this is limited because the Japanese foundation which runs this establishment does not wish to develop on a large scale. But a modest enhancement, in partnership with the University, could be considered.)

There are also possibilities off campus. There are  a range of sites in the city in which the University could readily consider investing, but has apparently chosen to overlook to date. But let’s also not lose site of the offer of excellent independent operators in the city, with whom the University already has contracts, like Cathedral Lodge. Conferencing needs currently not met by the existing ad hoc arrangements could be met by more systematic, carefully planned and extensive partnership arrangements. This would leave only a residual need, which could be met by  more modest conference development on a much smaller scale than that proposed under the ‘Chaucer Conference Centre’ plans.

Chestnut tree at the heart of Chaucer Fields

The essential point is that we can only understand conferencing needs by taking into account the full range of University-related existing facilities and contracting arrangements, on campus and off it. And crucially it seems to me these collaborative ways of increasing capacity were not  reviewed in the report being used to justify the claim that a massive development is now required. This is hardly surprising, since the report was written by marketing group “Hotel Solutions”, a London-based multi-national consultancy, without the inclination, time or local knowledge needed to identify, let alone analyse, such partnership possibilities.

But – back to the Library specifically: The Library Planning application is case CA//12/01831, which can be found on the Council’s Planning Application website or go straight to the proposals by following this link. The University is commendably conducted this as a very open process of engagement with the University community itself, and involved a mature ongoing dialogue with Canterbury City Council. This is a refreshing contrast with its handling of Chaucer Fields. It is good news for those of us who believe in transparent governance and decision making, and shows the University is, when it chooses. able of engaging with the community and the Council in a mature way. I’ll be writing to Canterbury City Council in to support the Library proposals, subject  to the condition that a publicly shared Master Plan to put this development in the context of the Campus as a whole, is urgently made available (see below).  By the way, I will also suggest when I write how important it will be to make sure the needs of University students and staff are not compromised by external conference use of library space, since the learning and research needs of University people must always be fundamental, and study space has been a key issue in the past. Anyway, the deadline for written representations on this particular application is 19 november – so please do make your views known if you feel this is appropriate, by reviewing the case materials, and writing to development control at Canterbury City Council (see address below).

The obvious, urgent need for a Clear, Comprehensive UKC Campus Master Plan

It is  frankly a no-brainer that  these and other University-led developments, which are closely related and functionally affect each other on and off the increasingly diverse and complex UKC campus, need to be scrutinised together. This is the only way that their inter-dependencies can efficiently and effectively be taken into account and managed to good effect. The example of the joint emerging conferencing capabilities discussed above evidently illustrates the case for a much more joined-up and publicly transparent planning approach. It makes you realise that a clear and comprehensive Master Plan of the University’s various emerging and pending development projects is now needed as a matter of urgency, so that these sorts of connections can be made explicit and analysed in the round.  At the moment, by withholding a clear statement of what its overall (on and off campus) development intentions are at present, the University is not only needlessly perpetuating uncertainty about the future in its own community and the host community too, especially in places abutting the edges of campus  It is also risking its reputation for transparency in decision making.

And aside from the obvious economic and technocratic reasons for looking at pending and current developments jointly, there is also an important “micro political” dimension to all this. That is in the sense that absent a Master Plan, the impression seems to be being left to some observers that ‘back room deals’, as opposed to publicly justifed and defended decisions, are playing an unhealthy role in driving priorities. At the moment, there are even unsubstantiated rumours circulating that  plans for  buildings on campus are being developed under a veil of secrecy and deliberately left vague, so that those who want such facilities developed are ‘on side’ with the Chaucer Conference Centre proposals. This is apparently believed to be on the understanding that if they don’t ‘rock the boat’ in relation to those proposals, they are more likely to see their favoured facilities build. I do not know if there is any truth in these claims. But I do know that this state of affairs is avoidable via a transparent Master Plan.

Inside Beverley Boughs, November 2012

In summary, I think the main advantages of a shared and inclusive Master Plan indicating clearly the current plans of the University, would be that:

  • the dangers of  inward looking, anti-democratic patterns of communication driving development priorites could be minimised, – and be seen to be minimised; and
  • the University’s reputation as a public institution with responsibilities for communicating with relevant communities about its activities would be salvaged

I believe such an open approach is actually the least we should expect in the twenty first century from a powerful local nonprofit institution. Let’s remember it is an exempt charity benefitting from a myriad of tax and other policy privileges and subsidies, and meant to be accountable to a wide range of stakeholders: its approach to planning should reflect this.

University “Statement of Consultation” made available

Unfortunately, the closest we get to engagement with the democratic process in relation to Chaucer Fields at the moment (that is, until its treatment in Canterbury City Council’s District Plan is revealed, and elected Councillor’s vote upon this case in Planning) is the documentation prepared for the Keynes III Planning Application.  Despite its surface focus on Keynes III, as we’ll see below, it does relate to Chaucer Fields too. As part of its efforts to defend its approach in the context of the statutory planning process, the University has now had no option but to submit a report of the recent promotion events and ‘consultation’ available to Canterbury City  Council, who in turn have posted it on the case website. Although the planning applications are now split, this first application refers to the consultation in relation to both elements. This document has materialised some time after all the other required documents were posted (with no explanation for the delay, incidentally). Strangely, it has not, at the time of writing this Blog been made available on the University’s own Corporate Communications website relating to developments If you want to review it, it can be now be found alongside the myriad other planning materials needed for the Planning Application, CA//12/01887, at Canterbury City Council’s Planning website

It has to be said that this is a peculiar and partial document. It adopts an uninformative approach, noting the events, reproducing materials already otherwise available to boost the size of the report, and with just one table reporting on the feedback received, which was presumably the point of the exercisel  Please do form your own view about how useful this is if you have time by reading the report in full. But in my opinion it is yet another opportunity missed. Why? The report’s authors had a chance to communicate clearly its rationale for the modified approach, interpret as well as report on the findings, and express in a balanced way what they have learned from the host community as a result.

I believe they have demonstrably failed to do all this. First no explanation as to why the University have not re-situated the conference centre/hotel proposals, as well as those relating to student accommodation blocks,  away from Chaucer Fields is offered. The document simply parrots  the mantra ‘the University remains of the opinion that the Chaucer Fields site represents the most appropriate location within the campus to deliver a conference hotel’ (Executive Summary, op cit, p. 0). The problem is that this is asserted  without any explanation or explicit line of reasoning as to why it believes this currently unspoilt place must be ‘developed’! This weakness in the University’s position has also been recognised by the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee – see the previous Blog. There is also still no explanation of any sort as to why the premise that the developments needed to be co-located has been abandoned. (In 2011, it was emphasised that both components must be developed side by side, but there is silence in this report concerning what has changed since then)

Looking east from western part of Dover Down field

Second, there is no recognition on the collapse of feedback from the local community. The number of responses over time has collapsed from around 260 in 2011 (the “Local Dialogue” report on the original proposals)  to just short of 100 now, and less than a third of those refer to the Chaucer Fields site. The report is even presented as ‘successfully raising awareness’. But given the thousands of leaflets distributed, and the efforts of the University’s Corporate Communications website to present the case, this is a very poor level of engagement.  I personally think  the low response levels likely reflects the extent of community’s disillusionment with, and distrust of, University-led consultation in relation to the Chaucer Fields site, as inherited from last year. Based on the 2011 experience, many have reasoned that there is little point in responding –  when the University is expected to simply disregard what it is told about community sentiment, because it appears bent on ‘developing’ Chaucer Fields, and potentially the wider Southern Slopes.

Third, as noted above, the only material on the content of this limited feedback, expressed in reductionist tabular format,  is presented in an eccentric fashion. And unfortunately, unlike the “Local Dialogue” report, in which, commendably, respondent’s own words were made available in full in a supporting appendix, the reader has no way of assessing these comments in the round with this document.

Take a look at the table below. It extracts from the ‘Statement of Consultation’ summary table the feedback received as reported specifically in relation to the hotel/conference proposals (see the full report for material on Keynes III). It is noticeable that even the two responses categorised as ‘supporting’ the ‘Chaucer Fields Conference Hotel Proposals’ are actually referring to the idea that a need for such facilities exists in the abstract, rather than expressing a belief  that they should be build in this particular place. In fact, the only explicit response in favour of this place is categorised as ‘partial support’, because it requires ‘proof that no other site is available’. Yet – as previous CFPS Blogs have shown, of course, no such evidence has been forthcoming from the University (also, see below for the suggestion that this oversight should be considered  grounds for withholding Planning Permission).

Source: Statement of Consultation submitted with Keynes III Planning Application, p. 5

Additionally, other statements cited as representing  ‘partial support’ for the ‘Chaucer Conference Hotel Proposals’ in fact  essentially express reasons for basic opposition to it! This includes two respondents who explicitly rejected the Chaucer fields site  by commenting that ‘the building should be to the north or on the sport fields’. I too would agree with exploring those options properly (see below) – although would recognise the need to insist on the replacement of any lost sports fields, And I would hardly be judged as in ‘partial support’ of this plan!

As acknowledged earlier, any attempt to re-interpret these findings is going to be fraught, because, unlike in 2011, we don’t know what respondents actually said. But we can have a reasonable stab  at doing this in an indicative way.  I would suggest a more defensible figure of the proportion who have on balance been persuaded, recategorising responses like the example given, would be something closer 20%. So – on this more balanced reading, the exercise seems to have  found that around 80% of those who engaged were against the proposal. If we then factor in the point already made about the evident resistance to participating in a University-led consultation at all from precisely some of the people who are most opposed to it, the figure would begin to become comparable with earlier  findings of widespread, systematic and deep opposition to Chaucer Fields development. For example, it would be in line with the community feedback found in the “Local Dialogue” report of 2011 mentioned above, where a review of the Appendix of actual responses reveals principled opposition at over 90%.

The Keynes III proposal: rationales for  Planning objections

It has been emphasised in the above that the promoters of the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slopes ‘development’ option can take no comfort at all from the feedback they received during September’s events. Indeed, the opposite is true: the evidence confirms the remarkable extent of opposition and resistance to the loss of this unspoilt space in the host community.

However, I would concede that significant numbers of people in the local community currently feel very differently about the Keynes III proposals. As you will recall if you have followed this issue this development, previously part of the Chaucer Fields megasite, is now proposed for construction elsewhere. If allowed to proceed,it would be situated north of University road, next to the recent Keynes extension already functioning, and so not on Chaucer Fields itself . Why, then, might you be concerned about this?

In this regard, can you first of all be encouraged to review the position set out by SCF on this matter. If you live locally, you may have received their November newsletter through the mail. Otherwise, their clear statement has now been uploaded onto the landing page of their website (see Blogroll, above). You can see here that SCF themselves are not opposing the Keynes III development –  essentially simply because it is away from Chaucer Fields, and not on  the currently unspoilt part of the Southern slopes (south of University road).

I believe, however, that there are potential grounds for objecting to the proposal. As reported in an earlier Blog, it seems obvious to me what the scheme’s promoters are trying to do: get the “Keynes III” proposals accepted early in 2013,  so as to allow it to start construction on the project around March 2013 (as per the timetable discussed in earlier Blogs). At around this moment, my guess is that it would then intend to submit the Chaucer Conference Centre proposal, claiming that no alternative sites were available. This  not least because the onset of Keynes III’s construction would at precisely that moment be demonstrably ruling  out the option of using that space for this development!

But there is an alternative. If ‘Keynes III’ were not to proceed, modest conference facilities could readily be built  north of University road, at, or close to, the site which is now being specified for ‘Keynes III’, adjacent to or overlapping with the proposed ‘business’ or ‘science’ park instead. But how would student accommodation needs then be met? I personally favour a combination of Giles Lane car park and Park Woods, although there are many other alternative ways of using sites, or combining them to meet accommodation needs  which the University has evidently failed to explore (see below).

If you are thinking on the same lines – and many people do seem to be on the same page with this issue –  the problem we face is that presenting the case in this ‘common sense’ way does not go with the grain of what are considered relevant ‘considerations’ in the Planning process. So, a way needs to be found to express this argument in a way which is, in fact,  potentially compatible with Planning ‘considerations’.

Looking northwards from the bottom of Dover Down field, sunny november day

I believe there are five reasons which may be worth proposing, and which could conceivably be seen as relevant by the planning authority (Canterbury City Council).  Three of these build on the suggestions set out in this and earlier Blogs, and the first two are, I believe, in line with the thinking of the Canterbury Society (see Blogroll);the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee (representing expert opinion across the District); and principles recently set out by Natural England (see its submission to the latest consultation). The other two of them are more novel.  I would welcome comments from readers as to the value of these potential objections, and also whether there are other considerations which should be taken into account as well. For example, I have not had a chance to look in detail at heritage and environmental considerations, because of the impenetrable and non-navigatable character of the relevant documentation. But there may well be reasons here for contesting the University’s case here too.

So, here are the five reasons:

1. The University has demonstrably failed in its Keynes III application to make a convincing case that alternative, more appropriate sites, including those earmarked in the District Plan cannot meet the need for student accommodation 

This holds true in two senses.

First, it is because each of the alternatives, presented in turn and in isolation from one another, involve unsubstantiated assertions about cost and logistical feasibility. Indeed, there is very little here beyond the superficial material presented to the Council in the 2011 Planning Application, to which the Council reasonably responded in its draft report that a much more searching analysis was clearly needed. Given that keeping with development on some of the alternative sites would allow the development to stay within the constraints of the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework, which requires developments to stay on already spoilt and developed land, other than in truly exceptional circumstances. The Keynes III proposal is on an unspoilt green field site, albeit without high local amenity value, and the case for exceptionality has simply not been made. So, development here would be incompatible with both the NPPF and the District Plan.

Second, the University has failed to consider possible approaches which involve the provision of the necessary accommodation by combining developments across more than one alternative site: it has failed to ‘join up’ its analysis. For example, the last CFPS Blog suggested that if part of the development were located at Giles Lane Car Park, and part were located at Park Wood, the problems associated with each site when considered in isolation could be offset against one another to overcome the difficulties emphasised by the University. But this particular combination of possible sites was just one, perhaps the most obvious, example. The University should have looked at the full range of combinations in an effort to develop options which do not violate the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.

2. The University should not be granted planning permission for Keynes III or related applications until it has shared with its own University community (including staff and students), Canterbury City Council, and the local community a comprehensive, clearly specified, publicly defensible and professionally presented Master Plan for development purposes.

Planning decisions on the Canterbury campus are increasingly related to one another in numerous complex ways as the University seeks to diversify its resources and widen its reach. In this context, development decision making which is not properly joined up by a Master Plan, and seen to be coherently interrelated, will  increasingly evolved in ad hoc, fragmented, piecemeal and inefficient ways.  As long as the University fails to share a comprehensive overview of its plans with its own employees and students, and with local people, this pattern will steadily worsen.

3. The Keynes III development cannot reasonably be considered out of the context of a more developed account of the plans for a ‘business innovation park’ or ‘science park’ north of University road, near to Beverley Farm and the Canterbury Innovation Centre in its immediate vicinity.

At the moment, it is unclear to almost everyone what this ‘park’ will involve, and there is certainly little information in the public domain. If the ‘park’ is intended to allow for the development of commercial activity and trading only indirectly related to the University’s mission, then inside this ‘park’  is the obvious site for any revenue-maximising hotel element of the proposal, which would be dealing with transient visitors. (Keith Mander has explicitly stated to the CCAC, in minutes available for public scrutiny, that the purpose of the hotel element of the proposal is nothing more than income generation). On the other hand, activity related directly to the University’s core mission – student residential facilities (to the extent they involve supportive infrastructure for, and nurturance of, committed students over several years) and conference facilities (used for the advancement of learning rather than for commercial gain) would logically be located outside the business innovation park. The University needs to be much clearer about how its plans relate to these key distinctions, and the boundaries of, and focus of, the intended ‘park’, which are currently chronically unclear.

4. The University’s claims about the level and nature of demand for student accommodation which underpin the Keynes III Planning Application do not adequately account for the true characteristics of its current  student body, nor the likely effects of the new  fee environment on domestic undergraduates’ choices.

Regarding the former, while it seems to be implicitly claimed that the University should act as if it were purely a ‘residential University’ when it makes planning assumptions, this representation of its functioning has become a misleading simplification. Significant numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students are local people or are at least within commuting distance, and are choosing to live at home while studying in Canterbury (for example, residing elsewhere in the District, in other parts of Kent, or in South London). They neither required campus accommodation, nor make claims on accommodation in Canterbury, and are therefore not a ‘problem’ to the extent the University assert, although those who use cars obviously add to pressure on parking space. As to the new fee environment, the monolithic ‘residential University’ assumption may be becoming increasingly out of date. With the costs encountered by potential students rising, we can expect increasing numbers to choose to reside at home and commute to limit living costs. The University should recognise that reality in making planning assumptions.

5. The Keynes III development may involve the loss of land, some of  which can be described as ‘playing fields’. By apparently failing to make commitments to secure ‘like with like’ provision, the University may be violating national regulations.

Current and future users of the open space set to be occupied by Keynes III – including University students and staff pursuing sports and recreational activity, as well as local people, would be adversely affected by the development. While this land does not seem to exhibit the same intense patterns of amenity use as the Southern Slopes further south, it may involve significant activity from planning perspective. Its development could be incompatible with Sports and Recreation policies both nationally and locally.

If you agree with me in relation to some or all of these reasons, please do consider expressing your view to Canterbury City Council over the next 10 days If doing this, please remember to:

  • include your address on the letter or email
  • Refer to the case number, to repeat, this is CA//12/01887
  • Set out clearly those reasons you believe mean that Planning Permission should not be granted
  • Address your letter or email to development.control@canterbury.gov.uk  as well as to Katie.Miller@canterbury.gov.uk
  • Make sure you send your letter or email before 26 November (a week on monday)

As I say, please do get in touch  – chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com –  if you believe other grounds for objecting are also relevant, and those perspectives can then be made available to the CFPS readership

Kent Union Community Zone Initiative

So much for the Keynes III Planning Application. I’ve also got some news relating to students. You’ll be aware that in the past, individual students and some individual student societies have been keen supporters of efforts to protect and respect these fields. Many continue to express their commitment. However, there’s now a chance that this important support can feed into a stance on the issue from Kent Union, the union representing students at the University of Kent
Ayla Rose Jay, a newly elected ‘Your Community’ committee zone member at Kent Union, is taking the initiative here, as some of you may have noticed on the SCF Facebook site (See Blogroll, above).  She has put forward the idea that Kent Union should move from not articulating any view on the matter  – its position at the moment – to actively campaigning to save Chaucer Fields (and protect the Southern Slopes). Sometime in  the week of  26th November there will be an “All Student Vote” in which the students will get the chance to vote YES in support of the Union campaigning to save Chaucer Fields. If this all Student Vote is successful, it will become Union Policy to actively lobby for the saving of Chaucer Fields, which could wield a lot of weight for the cause.
Over the next two weeks Ayla and fellow students  will be campaigning  to get the message out there and encourage the students to vote. In my opinion, they  face a seriously uphill struggle for at least four reasons. First,  my impression is in terms of its priorities, practices and routines, Kent Union in recent years seems to have concentrated on service delivery. With a few exceptions, it has tended not to facilitate engagement with   issues which do not relate in some immediate and obvious way to the consumption of education, leisure or retail services. This is of course important work, but it does mean that activism of the type Ayla is so bravely seeking to catalyse is perhaps not currently embedded in the Union’s modus operandi and culture as strongly as it is in other Universities, or indeed historically.  Second, only a relatively small proportion of students apparently actually vote for their representatives in the well established Kent Union officer election process. So it is going to be very difficult to encourage voting on a much less familiar issue as a one-off! Third, this is a busy time of year for many students, and many are preoccupied with coursework and assignments. Fourthly, the issues are really complex, and I have found learned professors and experts on public policy find it very difficult to understand and reflect confidently upon them. For younger minds with less experience, this must seem truly daunting!
Nevertheless, it is surely worth a try. And we know from the surveys of public opinion regarding the balance between open green space and ‘development’ commissioned from Ipsos Mori by Canterbury City Council that the student population in Canterbury (across all local higher education institutions) tends to share many of the same aspirations to respect and nurture our open space as non-students in the community . Also, in my opinion  involvement in these sorts of efforts is really worthwhile, even if the desired outcomes may be incredibly difficult to achieve. I think we all should be grateful to Ayla and her colleagues, and try to offer appropriate advice and support as best we can.
Upcoming Fundraising Event – Colloboration between CFPS and SCF

Most of the above has been pretty heavy stuff! But I can end the Blog on a lighter note with confirmation of a collaborative community event which we hope wil attract anyone who cares about this issue, be they residents, staff, students or visitors. From 7.30pm onwards on 8 December, we are holding an English Ceilidh at St Stephen’s school. (We call it an ‘English Ceilidh’ to emphasise that the music and style of dancing is predominantly English rather than Gaelic, although of course the word ‘Ceilidh’ is Gaelic).  Please come along to support the cause, and have fun – the dancing is great to join in, but is not compulsory! You can still enjoy great company, and listen to traditional music (mainly English, with a bit of Irish thrown in) from local group Roystercatcher(s). Please see the image below, and if you can, download it at  Christmas Event 2012 and display it prominently! But a couple of things to add to that:

  • Do email me (chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com)  if you haven’t managed to get a ticket from the people listed below, they are all very busy and may not always be available. Please send me a message at  including a contact phone number and the number of tickets, and I’ll pass on your request by email to the SCF Fighting Fund team
  • Please note that Murray’s General Store at the Good’s Shed near Canterbury West train station will be offering a 10% discount on all beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) purchased for your consumption at this event. I recommend sharing one of the local beer kegs, but there are plenty of other options.  To qualify, all you need do is show Lee or his colleagues your Ceilidh ticket!
  • If this is a new sort of event for you, don’t be deterred. It will be presided over by a ‘caller’ with over 20 years experience, and you will pick up the dances as you go along!

That’s all for now
best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Guest Blog – an American student’s perspective

Introduction

Welcome to the first “Guest Blog” from the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society!  We start with a contribution from Justinian Dispenza, an American student who was studying for a year in Canterbury in  2010-11. Justinian was one of a group of  students, from Britain and abroad, who took the initiative in efforts to highlight the environmental value of unspoilt Chaucer Fields. A Film Studies student here for a year from Indiana University, Justinian applied his skills in two ways to draw attention to the situation. His Hedgerow Havoc video, when posted on YouTube, secured hundreds of hits,  bringing humour and a sense of fun to the campaign, and helped catalyse large numbers of students to take part in the Chinese Lantern Event of February 2011. If you haven’t seen this clip, you can it now  by clicking here: Hedgerow Havoc . Second, Justinian went on to capture the event itself on video, another YouTube film which has meant that people who were not there at the time have been made aware of what happened that evening  [see Blog Roll, right].

 

Justinian being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012

 

Justinian  developed  an interest in environmental issues at school through involvement in recycling projects. He has subsequently worked with several British and US-based international environmental NGOs as volunteer and paid staff, including the Sierra Club student’s coalition, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and People & Planet. In relation to Chaucer Fields, as the Blog captures, he is committed to the cause for the long term, and is spreading the word amongst peers in Indiana, and other Universities. He is hoping to work in Environmental media in the UK or elsewhere in Europe when he graduates in 2013.   Justinian is currently visiting Canterbury again – including Chaucer Fields of course (see photos). He is using the city as a base for wider European forays, combining visits to old friends, touristic travelling and  the  take up of volunteering opportunities in organic agriculture. He sees these efforts as part and parcel of his commitment to environmental respect and social justice.

Justinian not being serious, Roper’s Twitchell, August 2012

JUSTINIAN’S GUEST BLOG

Chaucer fields. They are home to dog walkers, runners, cyclists, frisbee players, picnic makers, amateur photographers, tree climbers of all ages, and everything in between.  But, is it even more than that: It is so much more.  These fields, and the Southern Slopes of which they are part, are in my experience one of the major reasons for international students choosing to study at the Universiy of Kent.

As an international student, I had many options to study all over the world and had a list of 5 or so programs that accepted me.  I come from a small town in the USA and I grew up around parks, picnics, and the great outdoors although Indiana’s great outdoors are significantly flatter than the natural beauty you have in the UK! So  when I got the brochure from the University of Kent and saw the aerial shots of the University, its massive “green belt”  – clearly seperating it from the city, yet with Canterbury at the same time within easy reach –  I instantly knew that this place was going right up near the top on my list.  Universities in the US tend not to  have green belts: concrete and tarmac usually dominate.

I have always felt that the UK is at least five years ahead of the United States on progressive thinking and environmental responsibility and foresight.  And this thinking, of which the British should be proud, is bound up with real actions and practices. I am constantly telling my friends back in the USA how amazing it to witness people of all ages banding together here protect something they believe to be worth fighting for.

To make this post even more topical, I found out recently that my favourite spot of small woodland left on Indiana’s campus had been bulldozed without warning to expand our University’s School of Business. This last bit of unspoilt forest was taken and destroyed without so much as a blink of an eye from the general student population. Unfortunately, those of us who would like to have tried to stop it were either out of town, or too few to stop the bulldozers.  In the USA, we have been so quick to pave everything, cut ourselves off from  our natural suroundings and turn them into sterile short grass parks, interspersed with  Mcdonalds-style catering and consumption opportunities.   For those of you who don’t know, “managing nature” in America often means putting a fence around a piece of land and spraying it with pesticide every couple weeks.

Since England isn’t much bigger than my home state of Indiana and has 6 times the population –  and the South East is especially densely populated – I am convinced that the effects of losing a green space such as this would so much more devastating. It would hit hard wildlife, local nature lovers, and have knock on effects on the health and well being of locals, University staff and students alike.

Here in Canterbury, you have already fought with more vigour and strength than I have ever seen back home and it has been an inspiration to me and my Indiana friends  who have been following the development of this campaign. There is no danger of the passivity I reported in Indiana in your part of the world. The momentum behind the Chaucer Fields campaign just seems to keep on gathering. But – if  Chaucer Fields were to be been turned into a concrete revenue generation opportunity for the University in spite of this, what would have been done?  There is simply no going back. You never hear of someone tearing down a hotel to plant a garden.  Fight for this green space with everything you have.  I only wish as many of my American colleagues were as passionate about saving green space!!

PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP THE FIELDS AND SLOPES.  This thriving expanse of green space shared by so many really, really must be kept so that future generations from Britain, the USA and all over the world may share in its beauty. Ideally, the University of Kent should have a re-think on the matter, and recognise it is in its own interests to nurture and respect this wonderful place. It should develop ways to meet student accommodation needs, on or off campus, which don’t do so much damage, and  which do not severely erode its environmental reputation, and undermine its green credentials. This is counter productive, since it will obviously discourage environmentally aware students like me from choosing to study here.

Table: People & Planet’s Universities Green League table, People & Planet

Year University of Kent Christ Church University
2007 50th 93rd
2008 48th 81st
2009 21st 70th
2010 89th 56th
2011 94th 31st
2012 107 th 33rd

Source: data from subpages for relevant years at  http://peopleandplanet.org/

Where am I coming from with this? As the data of well respected NGO People & Planet –  with whom I have been involved for a couple of years now –  show, the University of Kent’s lack of  green sensibility  has already demonstrably lead to a collapse in its national environmental management &  performance rating. This has unfolded especially over the past four years. There are also devils in the detail. It may be significant that its relative position has also dramatically weakened locally, as other institutions close by have improved their positions. For example, see the Table above comparing the University of Kent with Christ Church University. It now seems to me its green reputation is going to deteriorate fast at international level too, and adverse knock-on effects in terms of recruitment will follow.  That is, unless it listens to its students, staff, and local people and withdraws the ‘development’ plans in the interests of all. 

Making the most of Chaucer Fields

Dear all

Over the past three weeks or so, we have witnessed a great appetite to appreciate Chaucer Fields. There’s been  the usual day to day use of the fields of course – when people  use this precious green space for leisure and  recreation (especially walking, running and cycling), while also appreciating their environment and landscape – just as they have done for decades. But I’m happy to be able to report on a couple of other less routine happenings.

First, at the end of may, the importance of this place from an inter-generational perspective was underlined by a special event in collaboration with the Oaks nursery (next to Keynes college). The older children of the Oaks nursery have long  been accustomed to enjoying and learning about nature with walks on the Southern Slopes. Indeed, the ability to do this is one of the many features of the University’s nursery that makes it such a special place (and of course, helps to attract staff and mature students with young children to the University in the first place). However, at the end of last month, more unusually, one such  outing had a musical accompaniment! On a baking hot day, after a walk through the woods on the Southern Slopes to the East of Chaucer Fields, the children followed the sound of music, and were led to the heart of Chaucer Fields in a shady spot surrounded by hedges and Oak trees. They were then introduced one by one to a range of acoustic instruments  – including melodeon, bagpipes, drums and banjo – and enthusiastically danced and  clapped to traditional tunes, as well as playing on sundry percussion alongside the musicians (Whistable’s Dead Horse musicianers plus a guest drummer).

Musical procession at the heart of Chaucer Fields

The music was drawn from the English traditional repertoire, including eighteenth century folk tunes like “Speed the Plough”  – which would have been familiar to the people who looked after this land for many, many generations (long before the University existed). A procession then followed back to the Oaks with the medieval aspect of Beverley Farm dominating on the North side, and stunning views over the city to the South. This well worn route (which I suggested in an earlier ‘heritage’ Blog might be called ‘Penitence Peramble’) allowed the children to enjoy the music, fresh air, panoramic historical views, while witnessing nature at close quarters. No one seemed to get bored! The plans is to organise similar events  in the near future.

Picnickers viewed from above

Second, after a successful Save Chaucer Fields quiz night on 9 June (see below), a picnic went ahead as planned, accompanied by  ‘classic’ Chaucer Fields picnic activities, including tree climbing, frisbee and an open musical session (see left for a view of part of the picnic from an unusual angle!). We were all especially pleased that UKC students played such an important role here (and several  had also contributed to the quiz night –  although not quite managing to win, giving the other competitors a good run for their money).

Some of those involved (see below) hold leadership positions amongst the most dynamic of the University’s student societies, are very knowledgeable about biodiversity and conservation issues, and will be with us for 2012/13. We are all looking forward to moving together with them on the Chaucer Fields agenda in the months ahead.

Students and friends at June picnic 2012

There was also an intriguing  UKC society  represented in our midst, practicising on the fields: the Capoiera Society. Capoiera is a  martial art form that involves dance and music, which grew out of the melding of African slave and Brazilian traditions.

Capoiera practice on Chaucer Fields

Obviously you won’t get much of an impression of that from just a couple of  photos like this (left)! But if you are interested to learn more, do let me know (see email address below). I’d be glad to  pass this on to the group’s organisers.

More capoiera practice on Chaucer Fields

Last but not least: the SCF Quiz night! This was great fun, but also successful. With excellent attendance and generosity, over £400 was raised for the SCF Fighting Fund, resources which are desperately needed to pay for legal advice and support to help protect Chaucer Fields from ‘development’.

At the event, we also received two key pieces of information from David Smith, chair of the Save Chaucer Fields coalition. First, you may recall (as reported in an earlier Blog) that, at  the Chaucer Fields UCU meeting, Keith Mander (Head of Estates, and co-architect of the ‘development’ proposals) revealed publicly for the first time that the University is now exploring off-campus development options. However,  since then  the University has indicated to Canterbury City Council that it does not consider the status of its Chaucer Fields planning application to have changed. That is, its ‘development’ plans here  are only ‘on hold’ temporarily. (This is in the face of the uncertainty created by the ongoing Village Green Application process. This Application seems to be worrying the scheme’s financial backers).

We must, I am afraid to have to confirm, expect a re-submission of the Planning Application if and when the for-profit  financiers think a predictable potential revenue stream has been reestablished (even it it is now going to be more than a year later that the University had originally indicated….).

Second, David informed us that Kent County Council have said that the next important moment in the Village Green Application process (for the Southern Slopes as a whole) will be September this year. At that time, following the ongoing internal review of the evidence already gathered earlier this year, KCC will decide whether:

  •  to reject the Application (the outcome apparently expected  by Keith Mander);
  • to accept it (the ideal outcome for the community); or
  • to launch a public enquiry (because more evidence is considered needed to make a decision).

It seems likely that the third option may well be chosen, but we will have to wait until September to find out.

Let me finish with a plea. This Blog is now reaching increasingly large numbers of people, but we need to keep raising awarenesss of this issue, especially in readiness for the events set to unfold from autumn onwards. Can you please email me, at chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com, with the contact details for anyone you feel I could usefully  add to the emailing list. They will then receive an email notice whenever a new CFPS Blog has been written, and be kept in the loop on key relevant news and developments.

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society