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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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!

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Campus Master Plan and Picnic News

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Chaucer Fields and the wider Southern Slopes are currently at one of their seasonal highpoints, reflecting all the vigour and freshness of late spring and early summer. The bluebells season is over, but dramatic displays of flower, both native –  in particular  mayflower (hawthorn) –  and non-native – especially, sweet chestnut blossom –  are amongst the most striking manifestations of all this life and energy. And the foliage of the many trees to be found here is tantalisingly fresh and lends the fields a feeling of promise and expectation  As usual, I’ve included recent photos in this Blog to capture some of the seasonal flavour of the moment.

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What’s next on the agenda for our fields, in the aftermath of the Village Green decision (see previous Blog?). We’ll report here an important development in the expression of the University’s evolving policy position which as significant implications for this place  – the first systematic initiative to share its plans for the Canterbury campus as a whole (including the unspoilt Slopes); and give some information on the traditional Chaucer Fields Picnic Society picnic, upcoming a little later in the year than usual.

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University Campus “Conceptual Masterplan” presentations

One of the likely requirements of the pending Canterbury City Council District Plan – still under review after a series of delays, but likely to be settled and formalised within the next couple of years – is that the University publicly present a “Master Plan”. The rationale is to help alleviate some of the uncertainty suffered by both the local and University communities in recent years concerning intended patterns of development in the long run.

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After a period of  opacity  concerning whether or not the Estates Plan, signed off formally by the University Council at the end of 2015 after some revisions, would be made publicly available as part of the response to this expected legal requirement, it has now become clear that this will not happen. However, the good news is that the University is choosing to respond by engaging with both the staff component of its own community, and the wider constituency of local interests and experts. This is by sharing a draft of its “Conceptual Masterplan” as developed under contract by the well known London-based architects Farrells, and inviting feedback in the days and weeks ahead, through a series of consultation events.

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On a website launched over the last week. the University’s  corporate communications directorate suggests that the “Conceptual Masterplan….contains ideas on how best to develop our campus to meet the needs of the University as well as deliver long-term benefits to our local communities, and improve our intellectual, physical, economic and cultural connections with the city of Canterbury.”   The bulletin goes further to say that the University would like to encourage attendance, and to receive comments.

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At the time of writing it is known that the process will formally begin tonight with  presentations to Canterbury City Councillors; and that a presentation for local neighbourhood groups – essentially meaning the residents’ associations closest to campus – will follow tomorrow. There will then be a two-stage process of engagement with University staff: first, one of the responsible architects,  John Letherland, will present the plans at 2-3pm tomorrow in the Gulbenkian Cinema; and second, an exhibition, featuring highlights of the “conceptual masterplan”, with be available for viewing in the Colyer-Fergusson building from 2pm tomorrow until 4 pm on friday. Because the John Letherland presentation coincides with industrial action by the University and College Union (today and tomorrow),  a request has been made that the presentation be recorded so that members taking action may also benefit from access to this opportunity.

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Finally, it is also expected that there may be additional events allowing others to respond to the “conceptual masterplan” too. That is to say, presentations or exhibitions for the benefit of interested parties who have not already been included in the schedule specified thus far (people who are neither University staff, District Councillors nor involved with proximate residents associations) are likely to take place as well. When more information on these further processes are available it will be presented on this Blog.

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This consultation process is welcome in principle, and is being seen by many in a broadly positive light. However, it is important, to stress that it will only ultimately help to address the fundamental issues of transparency, uncertainty alleviation and the strengthening of relations between the University authorities, the wider University community and the local community, and achieve the right level of green asset protection under certain conditions.

  • Does the  content of the “Conceptual Master Plan” indicate in principle that the overwhelming consensus in favour of protecting the unspoilt environmental, natural  and green open space assets for which the University acts as a steward – including the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes – have at last been acknowledged? Are protections for these assets actively designed into the “conceptual” framework, or some supporting/related documentation,  to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated?
  • Are clear arrangements in place for specifying the relationship between the architect-led “Conceptual Master Plan” as currently under consultation and the ultimate, substantive “Master Plan”  – as expected to be required for the purposes of planning law under the pending District Plan – in the years ahead?
  • Are there well planned arrangements to ensure that the actual implementation of the substantive Master Plan proceeds in a transparent and inclusive way? Are there arenas in place to ensure that the University community and the local community are given clear, ongoing opportunities to shape the development process as it unfolds, and so avoid a relapse into ad hoc, occasional consultations which both exacerbate uncertainty, are run the risk of being dismissed as tokenistic?

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It is to be hoped that answers will begin to emerge in relation to the first of these considerations over the weeks ahead. However, it is still far from clear whether the second and third conditions will be met. The timeframe for these developments will be measured in years. It will only be if transparency is embedded in procedures and pursued in a sustained way, and if foresight and a genuine, enduring engagement by the University authorities with the communities upon which they depend demonstrably unfolds, that commentators will feel able to view this initiative as a meaningful step forward.

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Picnic News

On a lighter note,  everyday enjoyment and appreciation of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes continues to happen as it has done for decades (and probably centuries)! To celebrate and heighten awareness of these practices (now conceded as significant by the University in the context of the Village Green application), our usual picnic will take place this summer, albeit slightly later in the year than normal: 3rd July, 1 – 5pm.

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As usual, the picnic is in collaboration with Greenpeace Canterbury and the Abbots Mill project, and is supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group. We have already confirmed a good musical line up, including Richard Navarro and Double Crossing. Storytelling, as usual, is also planned. But these are a whole range of other options too.

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One advantage of  the later-than-usual timing is that the grass will almost certainly be cut!  This means that alongside the usual activities which can proceed however long the grass- tree climbing, hide and seek, kite flying, frisbee etc – there’ll be chances for more formal sports and pastimes. Cricket, football, rounders and martial arts are amongst the activities which over the years have been undertaken on the relatively flat part of the fields at the southern end, so let’s hope for good weather to allow these things to happen on the day.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

PS For those of you who use Facebook, please consider indicating your planned attendance/interest on the Abbot’s Mill events page (see Blogroll, above).

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Blog of 2014 – important Local Plan news and upcoming picnic

Dear all

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Profusion of hawthorn (‘may’) in Roper’s twitchell & Jack Cade’s carvet,  april 2014

This is undoubtedly one of the best times  of year to enjoy the unspoilt Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes. The grass is lush and verdant, the deciduous trees are visibly  springing to life with new foliage, and the hedgerows are full of blossom, most dramatically hawthorn (see above). Perhaps the best time of day to appreciate the fields is when this visual display is joined with the sound of birdsong, as day breaks. In a future Blog, I intend to upload recordings of the spring dawn chorus. But for now I’ll intersperse the Blog in the usual way with photographs which try to capture some  of the beauty of the Slopes in April, and show in simple ways how they can be enjoyed by children.

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scooter riding inside Roper’s twitchell, Cathedral in distance, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Its been a while since the last Blog appeared. A key reason for this has simply been a lack of major news to report. Of course the unspoilt fields  continued to be used by local residents, visitors and the university community; but in policy terms, the first few months of 2014 have continued the ‘waiting game’ described in earlier Blogs as having characterised much of  2013. But as we move towards the summer, important local policy news is now beginning to emerge. I’ll first of all summarise the situation  on that, and then report an informal happening which will take place on the fields next month – the latest in our series of musical picnics.

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house sparrow, jack cade’s carvet, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

1. Policy development – draft District Plan submission finalised

As you will recall from earlier Blogs, Canterbury City Council’s emerging new Local Plan is fundamentally important for everyone who is concerned about the balance between ‘development’ and other priorities. That’s because the Plan’s content and specific policies will be the  key reference point in determining where and how building is to be encouraged or permitted, and where it is to be discouraged or prohibited for decades to come. It is crucial to recognise that the future of those parts of our landscape which are currently unspoilt and valued as such by local people for heritage, recreational and environmental reasons is at stake here: policy commitments to protect and respect such special places made in this document are going to be absolutely crucial in the years ahead.

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Climbing an oak tree in Dover Down field, Chaucer Fields, april 2014

As expected, in recent months  the remarkably high value attached by communities to the Southern Slopes  as unspoilt shared green space emerged strongly from the local consultation process. Numerous submissions stressing the importance of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as a whole were forthcoming  from individuals and knowledgeable local groups.

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Westgate towers viewed from Dover Down field,  Chaucer Fields, april 2014

The good news is that the mass of  evidence and argument put forward in this way  has now  been taken seriously by Canterbury City Council in specifying the content of the District Plan. Drawing on both lay submissions and advice from planning and landscape experts, earlier this month CCC officials initially suggested that Councillors needed to consider incorporating specific protections for the Slopes.

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The recently restored bench at the north of Chaucer Fields, just south of Beverley Farm (close to University road) – one of the best used viewpoints

And this is precisely what has happened as the Plan has proceeded through the relevant decision making committees. It has been amended to explicitly recognise the value of the fields. And it has been good to witness that the issue has been treated as an entirely non-partisan one, uniting all strands of political opinion. First the CCC Overview Committee recommended the adoption of ‘open space’ protection for the Slopes; then the CCC Executive Committee followed, although reframing the proposed protections as a matter of  ‘green gap’ policy (because the land is technically outside the ‘urban envelope’, these policies are the more appropriate ones);and finally on 24th april, the full Council endorsed  this ‘green gap’ status for the Southern Slopes as part of its general approval of the Plan as a whole.This has taken shape despite a late formal objection to these protections being made by University management, as reported at the final  Council meeting  (although the substantive grounds for this objection are not currently known).

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Bluebells in the  Southern Slopes wooded area east of Chaucer Fields (nr. Elliot path), april 2014 . Both woods & fields would be protected under the draft  CCC  ‘green gap’  policy

The idea of a ‘green gap’ here resonates well with strongly held local sentiment that the fields should be suitably protected as a highly significant ‘green buffer’, ‘green belt’  or ‘green lung’ benefitting both local residents and the University community at large. More specifically and formally, this status (Policy OS5) would mean that any ‘development’ which “significantly affect[s] the open character of the Green Gap, or lead to coalescence between existing settlements”; or which would  result in “new isolated and obtrusive development within the Green Gap” would be explicitly prohibited.

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

Close up, Southern Slopes bluebells, april 2014

This is all very encouraging news. However,  it is important to stress that the draft Local Plan incorporating these green gap protections for the Southern Slopes is not yet legally adopted policy. There are several further steps to be completed. Most importantly, these include  a 6 week period during which interested parties are  entitled to make representations concerning the Plan’s legality and “soundness” . The Plan also then needs to be scrutinised and signed off at national level by the  Planning Inspectorate (an executive  agency of the Department for Communites & Local Government). The Inspectorate will undertake a detailed and thorough review of the CCC Plan, supporting policies, and the representations received during the recent and upcoming consultations.

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Peacock butterfly, Inachis Io, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

 2. Collaborative Musical Picnic – 3.30pm onwards 11th May

On a less “heavy” note I am pleased to announce that plans for our next picnic  are now well advanced! This informal happening is jointly facilitated by CFPS and the Abbots Mill Project  (see Blogroll, top right). It is being actively supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group, Greenpeace Canterbury, and by environmental representatives from the UCU (the University of Kent’s main staff union) and from Kent Union (the student’s union).  We hope you’ll come if you live locally: 3.30pm onwards, sunday 11th may.

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Tree climbing with attitude, Bushy Acres,Chaucer Fields, april 2014

Tips include:

  • bring a rug etc, as the grass is rather long and can be damp in places
  • bring your own refreshments (and bags to take away rubbish)
  • bring props for games: popular in the past have been frisbees, kites, football, rounders and cricket (on those parts of the fields where the grass has been cut)
  • bring musical instruments if you feel inclined to play
Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Mowing the grass in the shadow of the Cathedral, Bushy Acres, April 2014

Of course, many of the popular play activities undertaken on the fields at picnics and other times don’t require you to bring anything: including tree climbing, “it” and other tag games, hide & seek and  exploratory games – for children, but also anyone who is young at heart.

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Runner, Bushy Acres, Chaucer Fields, April 2014

Alongside these ‘do it  yourself’ activities, there’ll be the chance to:

  • learn about local environmental issues from the groups mentioned above;
  • listen to local acoustic musicians, including Richard Navarro, Jules Madjar (Canterbury Buskers Collective)Ivan Thompson (Hullabaloo etc), Katy Windsor, Frances Knight, and some musicians and singers from Roystercatchers;
  • join a procession involving  Dead Horse Morris’s “Jack in the Green”, the “incredible walking ivy bush” making a (reincarnated) return appearance after a couple of years;
  • hear Mark Lawson’s fabulous tales – another return visit, back by popular demand.
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Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action, Chaucer Fields picnic May 2012

The Jack will have already welcomed the rising sun on mayday, and paraded the streets of Whitstable during may day celebrations earlier in the week. The Jack is made of ivy gathered from various parts of the District, including ivy gathered from the Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields. His constitution and  participation symbolises how respect for green space is a shared priority for local people from across the local area

Jack in the Green (walking ivy bush!)

Jack (walking ivy bush!) amazes local children, Chaucer Fields picnic, may 2012

Let’s hope the weather is good to us!

Hope to see you at the picnic

Sadly some fine trees were felled by winter storms. However, even logs provide  play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

Sadly some fine trees were lost or damaged during the winter storms in December 2013 and January 2014. However, in some places new viewing vistas of the Canterbury cityscape have opened up; and even logs provide play opportunities for imaginative young minds!

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Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Belated welcome – 2013

Dear all

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A belated Happy ‘New’ Year!  There’s one important, and perhaps under-reported development to note with the first Blog of 2013. We learned this week that Canterbury City Council officers are  recommending  to the Development Management Committee that the Keynes III development be granted planning permission. More on that below. Other than that, there’s nothing dramatic to pick up on: in a sense the “waiting game” continues in the run-up to March. However, there are some healthy signs that the momentum is steadily gathering in terms of actions and planning on the part of those seeking to protect the Fields as unspoilt shared green space. I’ll intersperse the text relating to the unspoilt slopes with images from last weekend’s snow on the Southern Slopes, including Chaucer Fields. As ever when it snows, many families and students were out and about enjoying the scenic beauty, and making the most of the opportunities to have fun that the weather presented!

1. Keynes III: Councillors likely to approve planning permission on 5 February 2013

A report has been written by officials for the Councillors who sit on the Development Management Committee of Canterbury City Council recommending the proposed development –  west of the existing Keynes II extension, and north of the Innovation centre (between Giles Lane and University  Road) –  be granted planning permission. Typically, Councillors vote in line with recommendations, so it is very likely that permission will be given. The report (download here) affirms the development is potentially positive both in terms of dealing with currently unmet accommodation needs for students (for the benefit of the University and city/District alike), as well as being on balance conducive to implementing existing business park plans.  (This is argued to follow especially from the construction of a new access road which would service both sets of needs).

As discussed in earlier Blogs, this was not a foregone conclusion. While the overwhelming majority of local opinion was in favour of the development – not least simply out of relief that it is less appalling than the Chaucer Fields megasite alternative originally mooted in 2011 – there were reasons for questioning the plans. Some of these perspectives were expressed in feedback received from expert bodies inside and outside the Council, and also by lay people too.

In a Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog written when the application was submitted in November, you may recall that four considerations were highlighted. However, since then, new information  has surfaced, much of it reported clearly in the officer’s report, which has lead to a revision in my position in respect of three of these issues.

  • Playing Fields: The objection has been withdrawn in the light of belated clarification by the University, following an internvention by Sports England, on the temporary nature of the playing fields in the context of its overall playing field provision;
  • Pre-existing Development Policies: The original objection, on the grounds of lack of clarity relating to the business park, has been withdrawn. That’s because a clear account on how the plans relate positively to long established policies (the District Plan, Supplementary Planning Guidance and linked Briefings), covering development of the land north of University Road, is included in the officer’s report.. (The University’s own material on this issue had been vague and incoherent, hence my initial objection);
  • New evidence on the Resilience of demand for University places (not in the officer’s report) suggests the absolute number of students seeking residential accommodation may be stable (even if, as a proportion of all students, the number seeking residential accommodation may fall in response to the new financial environment). The related objection has been withdrawn.

Accordingly, I have written to the  Council (download here) to say that  the earlier representation should be adapted. The view is expressed that planning permission should not be unconditionally withheld.  While the impact on the landscape north of Beverley farm (and the University Road) it problematic, the officer’s report does seem to put forward a balanced justification for allowing development there, in terms of policies and priorities which are democratically determined, and already in place.

However, it is suggested that the other point made in the original letter – that the alternative site analyses have been wholly inadequate – still stands, and it is noted that the Council’s report does highlight  ‘reservations’ on this point. Accordingly, the view is expressed that planning permission might reasonably be given, but given more conditionally: It is suggested it could be forthcoming  if and only if the University is now able to demonstrate conclusively that other sites are not appropriate (including especially the obvious options of Park Wood and Giles Lane car park (with compensatory underground parking)). Its failure to do so convincingly to date, given the importance of the issue, is frankly unacceptable. So, this basic requirement is still outstanding, and has not gone away. And the Council is always going to be haunted by ‘reservations’ and doubts about avoidable loss of green space, albeit of relatively modest amenity value,  unless this condition is attached and demonstrably and unambiguously met.     .

2.  Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) initiated January 2013

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So evidently Council officials have been hard at work in recent weeks in drawing together the evidence needed by Councillors to make an informed decision. For their part, the promoters of the ‘development’ at the University  have been publicly silent for around 3 months now, although no doubt further work has been undertaken behind closed doors, especially in preparation for March’s public enquiry and potential planning application on Chaucer Fields themselves (see previous Blog).

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Elsewhere, those who embrace a positive vision for the Southern Slopes as unspoilt space have been preparing the ground for the future. Most importantly perhaps, the Save Chaucer Fields (SCF) group, the coalition of residents associations which has been central in driving the grass roots campaign against  ‘development’ on the unspoilt fields since 2011, have  prioritised working with relevant parties in preparing for the Village Green public inquiry. With the University conspicously choosing to be incommunicado, focussing on this crucial groundwork has made good sense. Please do refer to the ‘refreshed’ SCF homepage,and the SCF village green sub-page, which contains very important information about the pending public inquiry (see also the January newsletter, below).  Week beginning 18 march is the key moment, with hearings taking place on campus, but at an institution which is constitutionally separate from the University: the venue is the  Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury CT2 7NA.

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It is significant too that a Southern Slopes Forum (SoS Forum) was initiated this month to facilitate communication and co-operation in defending the unspoilt Southern Slopes in the months ahead. The Forum is informal but will meet regularly, and includes CFPS, the Save Chaucer Fields group; participation from Kent Union, the students’ union, with community zone and environmental interests coming forward (now with a clear mandate to defend the Fields in the aftermath of last term’s decisive all student vote requiring the Union to campaign to Save Chaucer Fields); and involvement by the University and Colleges Union, the University of Kent staff union, whose members voted in favour of protection for the Fields last year.

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The SoS Forum intends to liaise with and potentially involve the many other sympathetic parties who share  commitment to the fields – including local church groups (especially the Church of England, with its historic stewardship role in relation to community land); the Canterbury Society, Greenpeace, local recreation groups, individual student-led societies, and a number of local businesses and local and national charities, including those who were mentioned in CFPS Blogs in 2012. The idea is to make sure that the collective voice of civil society on this matter cannot be marginalised. Not only will this voice be heard, but it will necessarily be heard with increasing volume and persistence!

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3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013

In its latest newsletter (see below) SCF report that they have set a target of £4,800 for the weeks ahead – especially to cover the costs of legal advice in pursuing the Village Green Application, and the costs associated with contesting the Chaucer Conference Centre Planning Application expected in March.Chaucer fields newsletter 2013 (fundraising) .

The SoS Forum are keen to build on the success of previous fundraising community events to support the campaign. And I am pleased to say that the joint SCF-CFPS Ceilidh, featuring traditional English dance music from Roystercatchers, at the end of  last year raised over £500, as well as bringing people together for a great – and different, for many – night out. Attendees included not only local people without University connections, but UKC staff and UKC students currently studying here with origins as far afield as the Middle East, China and the Caribbean!  We’ll need more events like this to keep the momentum going.

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Indeed, as mentioned in the newsletter above – and you’ll be aware of this if you follow Save Chaucer Fields on Facebook – a further fundraising quiz on the evening of 9th March in St Dunstans church hall is also planned. These events are indeed great fun, good for community morale, and strongly recommended. And: this is  an especially important event, happening as it does at the beginning of  March. Please do try to go if you can, or if you are unable to do so, please consider making a donation to the cause (see above).

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Aside from further quizzes, other collaborative events currently being  planned for 2013, with guidance form the SoS Forum,  include::

  • A further Roystercatcher English Ceilidh, and related  acoustic musical happenings on the University campus and beyond
  • As weather permits in the Spring, a series of picnics involving play and recreation
  • A gathering on the Southern Slopes focussed on the ‘Jack-in-the-Green’ constructed by Whitstable’s Dead Horse Morris, to mark the arrival of May, as happened in 2012
  • A celebration of  “Beating of the Bounds”  – also in May. In collaboration  with  local church authorities, this will be based around the parish boundary (between St Dunstans and St Stephens) that has across the Southern Slopes for centuries –  as well, of course as other places in Canterbury further south where the boundary lies. This ancient tradition has long been enacted in and around our city (see photo below), and has a fascinating history in this particular place. The Blog will have more to say about this tradition in the months ahead!
Beating bounds from Foxworthy

Source: Customs in Kent, Tony Foxworthy, 2008, Country books, reproduced with permission

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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Update – heritage, voting and dancing!

Dear all

Another relatively short Blog. Its a busy time of year for all of us, you have less time to read and I have less time to write! As usual, some seasonal photos interspersed in the text to keep the beautiful fields and also Beverley Farm at the forefront.

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Frosty morning view of Cathedral from Dover Down field, December 2012

1. Keynes III planning application

(student accommodation north of University road/west of Keynes extension)

Only a relatively small number of written representations have materialised at this point.  The possible reasons for this were discussed in earlier Blogs, including the relatively limited amenity value of this site (aside from the playing field, see below) and the sense that it is at least less appalling than the 2011 proposals.  However, it is important to stress that this does not mean that unconditional Planning Permission will necessarily be granted. Permission could be granted with modest or very extensive conditions attached; or it could be  refused outright.

The reasons are complex, but two considerations are  worth emphasising. First, the Development Management Committee will be taking into account the quality of the arguments put forward by those who have made representations, even if numbers are modest. If they are collectively convinced that the case presented by objectors is compelling,  they will turn down the application, or attach strong conditions to require accommodation of objector’s concerns.

Beverley farmhouse from the North, December 2011

Beverley farmhouse from the North, December 2011

Second, the DMC will also need to take into account in its decision not only the objections of people and outside groups (civil society organisations), but also the ‘internal’ feedback received from its own institutions; from ‘technical’ consultees or expert bodies (often referred to as ‘quangos’); and a body designed to bridge the gap between the community, technical experts and the Council itself, the Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee (CCAC)

Beverley farmhouse  december 2011 detail 2

Beverley farmhouse – external medieval feature detail

It is interesting to note that the Keynes III application has generated a series of robust responses from the CCAC, but also a series of issues from experts inside and outside  the Council. For example, Sports England refer to the loss of playing field space,and emphasise that compensatory space must be found as a matter of national policy. And in a remarkably strongly worded passage drawing upon the research which the University itself was required to do as part of the Environmental Impact  Assessment the Council’s own Conservation/Archaeology section says that “overall the proposed [Keynes III] development will have a significant and permanent negative impact on the  historic landscape and leave Beverley farmhouse isolated” (memorandum, 12 november 2012).

As you may recall I believe Beverley farm and its setting should be treasured and respected  as an important  part of our local – indeed the whole of Kent’s – heritage. In earlier Blogs, through maps, historically resonant language and text, I have tried to emphasise the deep, time honoured connections between the farm and the fields stretching southwards,towards Canterbury  (ie, Chaucer Fields and the unspoilt proximate Southern Slopes). This new material provides expert confirmation that heritage is a major consideration further north: it shows that the Keynes III development would undermine the ancient field setting on the other side of this mediaeval farmhouse as well. This is made much worse by the knowledge that the University has still failed to present convincing  evidence to substantiate its claim that already-developed places without any such profound heritage value, including the Park Woods and Giles Lane car  park site, cannot be developed instead. I think this disregard for our heritage is unacceptable.

Beverley farmhouse - external medieval detail

Beverley farmhouse – external medieval detail

If you share my concerns, please do take a look at the Chapter 8 Cultural Heritage-1, and you may then yet feel the need to respond to the proposals. This could serve to amplify the concerns already emphasised in the internal Council memorandum.

2 Student Vote: Kent Union must now campaign to save Chaucer Fields

Let’s now turn to the situation regarding the fields south of University Road. You may have already picked up through the SCF Facebook page, in twitter feeds (see Blogroll and right hand side of this Blog), or Kent Union websites that something rather remarkable has happened since the last Blog in the world of student politics at the University. Surpassing the most optimistic expectations of  people seeking to secure protection for the unspoilt Southern Slopes – including me – in an on-line ‘All Student Vote’, University students have voted to campaign to require Kent Union to campaign to save Chaucer Fields.

All leaves gone, December 2012

Most leaves gone, Dover Down field, December 2012

More students vote for their union to campaign on the issue as a policy priority than for sticking with the position formally prevailing up until now (‘neutrality’). But that is not all;  there was a decisive endorsement of activism on this issue: 877 voted for the pro-unspoilt-Chaucer Fields policy change;  298 against the policy change; and 235 abstained (with 1,410 votes caste in total).  Please refer to the Kent Union All Student Vote results site for more on the context and implications of this result.

So, not only have the staff union strongly endorsed the protection of Chaucer Fields (see earlier Blogs reporting on the UCU on-line vote and the outcome of an open meeting convened by UCU).  Now the student’s union have taken the initiative too. It will take a while to absorb this result, and it will be exciting to see how Kent Union chooses to follow through on this new policy commitment.

One of the views from University road which would be despoiled of the Chaucer Conference Centre were built

One of the views soutwards from University road which would be despoiled if the Chaucer Conference Centre were built, snowy December morning 2012

Why were these efforts successful? Looking back my first reaction is that three ingredients may have been important.  First, the extent to which most students share with most local residents a high level of recognition of the extent to which the currrently unspoilt landscape around the University is one of its most important assets. They know this differentiates it from many other Universities which are already often characterised by soulless grey sprawl. This is not least because this feature of the University setting is one of the key reasons people are attracted to come here to study in the first place. Moreover we also know from opinion poll reseearch conducted by Ipsos Mori for Canterbury City Council that students share similar commitments to preserving green open space to non-students, even in the face of intense pressures for development.

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

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

Second, there was a remarkable effort to secure a positive result from a small but extremely committed and dynamic group of students, especially Ayla Rose Jay. With extraordinary energy, they campaigned cleverly and passionately during the crucial time period on the run up to the voting deadline. Third, a good relationship has been built with key people in the community who have been working on this issue for a long time. Information and ideas were shared to ensure that Ayla and her circles were well equipped to use appropriate campaigning techniques, and to support their position with relevant evidence and argument.

Save Chaucer Fields banner in snow, December morning 2012

Save Chaucer Fields banner barely visible in snow, December morning 2012

3. English Ceilidh – Saturday  8 December Evening

Let me finish on another positive note! There’s been a high level of interest in this event, and all is set for a great evening. Its going to be a real community celebration, bringing together local residents, University staff and University students in a very special way. If you are free and would like to come, you do need to get a ticket, or reserve one, in advance. To do this, please either phone one of the SCF people whose numbers are shown  below, or just drop me an email at chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com I can have a ticket reserved for you at the door (note, they are £10, which will make an important contribution to the ‘fighting fund’ being built up in readiness for the costly efforts to secure the fields’ future in the years ahead). Please be sure to be on time – 7.30pm sharp!

All the best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Christmas Event 2012

Keynes III Planning Application submitted by the University

Dear all

I learned today that the University of Kent has now submitted its planning application for the student accommodation element of its development plans (“Keynes III”). You’ll recall this is the part of the original Chaucer Fields megasite proposal which has been re-situated away from the fields, north of University road (please see previous Blogs for more information). You can find the full proposal by visiting the Council Planning site and searching for recent Planning Applications, or use  the relevant case number, which is CA//12/01887.

A first impression on the Keynes III Planning Application: the case for locating the development here rather than elsewhere remains weak and inconclusive

This is a massive bundle of documents which it will take us all time to establish how to navigate, let alone read, and then digest! As with the previous application, it looks like signposting and cross referencing is poor. If this were a student assignment, it would be found seriously wanting! While I confess  I haven’t had a chance to scrutinize all the appendices, I’ve already tried to have quick look at the alternative site analysis, as this is one of the key issues here.  My initial impression is that, once again, we encounter unproven assertions and a lack of evidence to support the claims about alternative site suitability, especially in relation to capacity, cost, logistics and deliverability. Most obviously, various options seem to be ruled out on the grounds of cost without any supporting documentation, or explicit articulation of the actual financial ramifications. When the stakes are this high, we need to see all the details, and at least at first glance, these don’t seem to have been forthcoming.

Sunny day, beginnings of autumn, Dover down field

At the same time, we see a sad lack of imagination, and an absence of environmental sensibility, in considering the full range of possible options. In particular, achieving an enhanced overall student accommodation capacity by development across more than one alternative site appears not to have been considered. No explanation is given for this blind spot. My view is that if this is indeed true, it is an appalling oversight, especially as the University has had over 18 months to consider the feedback it received from the local community, and experts in the field.

With a little common sense, alternative scenarios readily begin to emerge  – even if one works with some of the assumptions the University has itself claimed apply. Take just one possibility: it seems that around a third of the additional student accommodation capacity could be secured by a medium scale development at Giles lane car park (with underground parking to sustain car parking space, if needed). The remainder of the required development could then be located on the northern part of campus, including in-fill and demolition within Park Woods, and on land close by, yet still well away from village population centres or high amenity green space here. With some of the heat taken off Park Woods by also developing Giles Lane car park, many of the short term problems of transitional accommodation (and income) loss stressed by the University could be readily minimised, and the development could be staged in a much shorter period of time than the ludicrously long time scales asserted in the documentation.

Anticipating that the claim will be made by the University that such environmentally sound approaches are ‘prohibitively expensive’, ‘too costly’ or ‘inefficient’, we must insist on seeing the full detail of  the facts and figures which supposedly substantiate such claims. And we must also be ready to point out three things. First, such alternative, more environmentally sensitive approaches are not ones associated with wild eyed environmental fanatics  – as the Estates Department might  like us to believe. In fact, for the past 7 months, they have been confirmed as completely mainstream, and a preference for them has been a core requirement in adhering to the National Policy Planning Framework now being implemented by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government. Locally,  this sort of approach also resonates in many ways with our own District Plan in attaching a high value to our open space and respecting our beautiful semi-natural landscape . Second, the University as an institution is now rather well placed to invest in quality, rather than approaching development projects from a narrow and short sighted cost cutting perspective . Let’s not forget it has been functioning with a surplus in the region of £10-15 million annually in recent years. Third, if we do now concede the point that even when the University has accumulated enormous resources it can still cut corners on environmental considerations, and fly in the face of national and local planning priorities, this will set appalling precedents for the future. Other places which also deserve protection, including green space of high landscape value on campus close to the villages of Blean and Tyler Hill, as well as the Southern Slopes more generally, will be next in line.

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, cloudy late october

These are some of the most obvious considerations I think people should bear in mind when deciding whether to welcome or resist the Keynes III initiative. I am well aware many people are simply relieved that something is being done to meet student accommodation needs after all the delays. But given that the way this is pans out is going to affect the character of Canterbury and its surroundings for decades to come, I think we must pause for thought and resist short sighted solutions with disastrous potential long term implications.

Personally, I hope to have time to review the submitted materials more fully in a few days time – the above remarks, let me repeat, are based on an initial impression of documents which are poorly organised. I’ll keep you posted if I have further thoughts with a further Blog in early to mid November, and I suppose that a deadline for written representations in this sort of timeframe will be confirmed by the Council soon. In the meantime, please look out for your letter from the Council advising of the new Planning Application (you should get one of you wrote to the Council about the 2011 application, or live close by). And we can also expect the Save Chaucer Fields group to offer important advice, through the Web (main page and Facebook page, see Blogroll links on this site), and mailouts locally.

Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes in the context of Keynes III

As emphasised in earlier Blogs, there is of course another  crucially important, reason for challenging the Keynes III plans, which has to do with the knock-on effects of permitting it to proceed, rather than Keynes III itself. That’s simply that  if this development is given the go ahead, the University Estates will claim that the space north of University road, which could otherwise have hosted conference facilities, is now ‘full up’, so any conference facilities ‘must’ be located on Chaucer Fields. The precedent will then have been set for the future, and we can expect to be told in the years to come that there is ‘no alternative’ to the development of the Southern Slopes, and land close to Blean and Tyler Hill villages, because elsewhere on campus ‘is now full too’.

Grey squirrel feasting on chestnuts, close to ancient cart track to Beverley Farm – get there fast or he’ll have them all!

In this context it is interesting to read how the resistance of the community to Chaucer Fields is presented in the covering letter accompanying the new Planning Application:

“.. there remain concerns within sections of the local community about
the proposed conference hotel on the Chaucer Fields site. In light of the consultation
responses, and given the ever increasing need to deliver new student residences, the
University has decided to move forward with the Keynes extension (the subject of this
application) whilst the conference hotel is subjected to further consideration and
consultation” (covering letter to new Planning Application, p. 2).

While referring to ‘concerns‘ seems like an understated way of describing the level of opposition to development on the fields, we can perhaps accept that in the context of a dry planning document, we are not going to see the plain english which would better reflect community sentiment. (In plain english, the words we would expect to see would probably increasingly include: deep anxiety, disbelief, anger, and frustration.)  However, the reference to ‘sections of the community‘ is, I think, not acceptable because of the inferences the reader is clearly intended to draw about the narrowness of opposition.  This seems to be proof positive that the University Estates Department remains in complete denial about reasons for resisting the ‘development’ of Chaucer Fields, and the nature and scale of sentiment in the community, and indeed within the University, against this idea.

Mid autumn sunshine, Dover down field

Anyone who needs reminding of how widespread opposition to the ‘development’ of Chaucer fields is at community and University levels could obviously refer to: the level of interest in the local media; the results of the University’s ‘Local Dialogue’ consultation from 2011, wherein almost all of the 260+ respondents (including local residents, students and staff) objected to ‘development’ on the field in principle; the over 450 Objection letters submitted to the Planning Application in the same year, again, overwhelmingly opposing development in principle on this site; and the outcome of the anonymous electronic poll and open meeting organised by the University staff’s trade union, the UCU,  with large majorities opposing ‘development’ on this site, and urging the use of alternative locations. These are extraordinarily consistent and extensive reactions on an unprecedented scale.

Significantly, this attempt to marginalise opposition by implying it is narrowly based has today been dealt a blow by the first publicly available written representation to be made in response to the recent planning developments. The letter comes from the Canterbury Conservations Advisory Committee. I think this is an important intervention, and so I am reproducing it here in full (you can also download it from the Planning Application site, mentioned above).

Canterbury Conservation Advisory Committee’s recent letter to CCC

There are at least three reasons why this is particularly significant. First, CCAC is an expert advisory body to the Council It is in no sense a ‘lobby’, but supports the Council in making decisions which are defensible in policy and technical terms. It does not seek to represent a ‘section’ of the community. Rather, it seeks to articulate the public interest in the sphere of planning, defined to draw on a deep well of relevant professional and lay experience. Second, in supporting the Council, the CCAC focusses in the interests of the District as a whole, not any one geographical section of it  The University’s portrayal of those who are unconvinced by  the chaucer fields development as ‘sectional’ seems also to hint that those involved are narrowly self-interested, and confined too in a geographical sense (‘nimbys’). But CCAC’s intervention makes very clear that there are sound reasons for resisting the Chaucer Fields development from the perspective of the District as a whole. The third reason is the substance of the letter. It sets out that there are profound and deep seated concerns affecting the locality relevant here, and which the University cannot and must not dismiss as ‘sectional’.

Close up, mid autumn colours, Beverley Boughs

Part of the broader context here is that it is time the University moved away from its ad hoc and fragmented approach towards  revealing its overall planning intentions to the host community through a fully transparent ‘Master Plan’ or similar overview document. This idea was already suggested by the Canterbury Society in 2011, but to no avail. The reinforcement of this message from CCAC should be a wake up call for the University. The current secretive approach –  hoarding information to the last possible moment and even then only revealing intentions in a piecemeal, partial and opaque way –  has demonstrably been a recipe for disaster in terms of how the University is seen locally. It has damaged community relations, and  been associated with confused and inconsistent decision making as exemplified in the Chaucer Fields experience to date. If the University is really concerned about the efficient use of resources in a way which relates meaningfully to the needs of the District, instead of deflecting and trivialise the concerns of the host community, it should begin listening to, and learning from them.

That’s all for now, other than to say: please continue to protect the evening of 8th December in your diaries for a special community event! All will be revealed next month!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Reminder – this weekend

Dear all

Another short Blog – mainly just to remind you that this weekend sees the Save Chaucer Fields fundaising quiz (saturday night) and  – potentially – the student-led picnic (sunday afternoon). I say ‘potentially’ because the weather forecast does not look great, so it’ll only go ahead if the weather’s OK!  See previous blog for details of both….

Kite flying, southern part of Dover Down field, June 2012

In the meantime, the changeable weather has evidently not put people off from enjoying the fields.  For example – what better way to take advantage of recent windy weather than to fly a kite (see above)? And when we’ve had clear brighter spells, that’s an opportunity to take in the magnificent view. It mustn’t be forgotten that the view from within the fields, and from the University road enjoyed by thousands of people every day is unparalleled. For example, this is the only spot where you can take in fine views of St Dunstan’s church  (see below), as well of the Cathedral, Westgate towers, and other ancient landmarks, a panorama framed wonderfully by the gentle green slopes and dense deciduous green foliage at this time of year.

Unspoilt view of St Dunstan’s church, June 2012

Hope to see you over the weekend,

all best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society