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

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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

Update: opinion on the UCU meeting, the picnic, and SCF quiz event

Dear all

This Blog is a mixed bag of opinion and news. I’ll begin with some thoughts about the UCU meeting and the perspectives it revealed. And  then report on the excellent picnic that took place soon after on Chaucer fields. After than news of a an upcoming Save Chaucer Fields fundraising event, and a possible date for the next picnic!

1. The UCU meeting – an opinion

Staying on guard

There’s now been a bit of time to reflect on this meeting. While it would be tempting to greet Professor Mander’s pause in relation to the  Planning Application with a sigh of relief, this would be premature. Professor Mander made it perfectly clear that his agenda has not changed: he still claims developing this site would be a positive step for the University. The plans are on hold not because of a change of heart, nor through a new found recognition of the legitimate concerns expressed by University staff, students and the community about the social, environmental and heritage damage that the development would impose. Far from it: a point was made of restating his commitment to ‘the business case’ to the exclusion of all other considerations.  These were either totally ignored by not paying attention to them at all  (in the case of social and heritage issues) or simply dismissed with no explanation with the assertion that the ‘business case’ was always more important (in the case of environmental issues) .

We learned that the plans are only on hold because the Village Green Application has created uncertainty from the financial backers’ perspective , and this means the University is therefore unable to borrow on the scale required. (In 2011 the development was valued in the property press as worth  something like  £65 million. Although this has not been confirmed, the  financial backers for the mass student accommodation blocks are quite likely to be the University Partnership Programme (UPP) who developed and manage Keynes college extension and Woolf college. This is a largely banker-owned for-profit group run for the financial gain of private shareholders with no constitutional stake or interest in the local community.)  The clear implication was that, should the Village Green Application prove unsuccessful, and the financial backers re-commit,  the initiative will be revived.

Professor Mander seemed to have unjustified confidence when he said he is ‘firmly of the view’ that  the Village Green Application is ‘very unlikely to succeed ‘. This is unjustified, since while there is indeed a  chance  that it might fail, there is in fact a reasonable chance it may succeed! The truth is, no one really knows. But one thing is clear: In the event of a failed Village Green Application, those opposing the development (the overwhelming majority)  will need to be ready once more to continue the process of challenging the proposal at every turn, including the planning process and beyond.

Now let’s come back  to what Professor Mander specifically said when arguing in favour of ‘development’ on Chaucer Fields.  His perspective was based entirely on one repeatedly made presumption: that the University is essentially no more and no less than a  “business” , a position supported from the floor by senior staff from hospitality and commercial services (see earlier Blog). The way he described it, it seems very hard to differentiate its goals and orientation from those of the prospective for-profit funders interested solely in financial growth. I beg to differ, because I do not believe this is a balanced way of representing the University and its values. The University is indeed necessarily involved in economic activity to a certain degree. But it differs from corporate bank financiers and other for-profit entities in that economic gain or financial growth should not and must not be an end in itself. One obvious way this is reflected is in its legal status.  In law it is an “exempt charity” with educational goals. Any business activity must be subordinate to those goals. Constitutionally, like almost all British Universities, the University of Kent is a nonprofit institution. The advancement of learning, not financial growth, sits at the heart of the University’s governance structure, and is meant to be supported by those who serve on its Council, Senate and Executive.

It should not, therefore, make decisions on the same basis as conventional business companies (which have a legally mandated focus on financial gain.) Without acknowledging this, and the extent to which the University can and must balance social, cultural, educational with economic goals, we are always, in my view,  going to be unable to have a sensible conversation about alternative ways of increasing capacity.

Alternative approaches

Professor Mander spoke to a script, but the other presenters, seeking to bring into to focus wider considerations of relevance to the community and the University, used slides.  The  presentations of Professors Norman and Rootes, who argued for respecting Chaucer Fields as an unspoilt green space and suggested reasons why the ‘development’ plan is wrong now be found here:

Norman UCU presentation

Rootes UCU presentation

I agree with much of their analysis, although I would put even greater weight than Professor Norman on the need to avoid a 10 acre ‘megasite’ option if possible. I personally believe that the most appropriate way to deal with the University’s capacity problems is to develop by upgrading, developing or extending existing buildings as appropriate, and creating more space on and around central campus and Park Wood by demolishing the many low quality, under-utilised two storey buildings which are all over the campus. This would also be in line with good practice and policy expectations locally and nationally (most obviously, the new National Planning Policy Framework). I think the University  should indeed also look to develop capacity on sites off its campuses: Professor Mander indicated it is in fact doing this, apparently as a temporary measure (while it awaits the result of the Village Green Application.) But in my view we should encourage it to look at off-campus options much more systematically in the long run.

2. Chaucer Fields Picnic 13 May 2012

a good turnout – despite grey skies!

Now on to a less heavy topic: the picnic! This was a great occasion, very much in the spirit of earlier impromptu gatherings. At one point, we counted around 70 adults and children – but more people attended throughout with people coming and going.

local musicians

As before, acoustic music was an important part of this: instrumental musicians and singers from Canterbury, Chestfield, Sturry, Whitstable and Herne Bay,  including Canterbury’s award-winning Brendan Power, fresh from a wonderful gig with Tim Edey at the Westgate Hall on the previous night. The chance  was even found to do a live version of ‘Concrete Lung’ (see Blog roll) with Richard Navarro!

Concrete Lung (Navarro & Power) live on site!

But this was not all. There were plenty of play opportunities for children – the usual tree climbing, frisbee and adventurous exploration of the ins and outs of Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres were enjoyed. And there were two unprecedented treats too!

Jack in the Green (walking ivy bush!)

First, symbolising the extent to which concern for nature and green space are shared across the District, a Jack-in-the-Green was one of the guests! Built  to feature in the “dawn rising”  May Day morris event organised in Whitstable every year by Dead Horse Morris, the creature amazed children and parents alike!

The Jack had been made using ivy gathered from all around  the locality. Indeed, some of the ivy even came from the hedges and oak trees of Chaucer Fields, so the Jack felt quite at home here, leading the children  round the field and showing them how to dance in time to the music!

A further highlight was magical story-telling for the children. Folklorist extraordinaire Mark Lawson  was remarkably successful in keeping his  young listeners rapt for two hours or more with his traditional tales.

Whitstable’s Mark Lawson in storytelling action

3. Upcoming Save Chaucer Fields Quiz Night

Do you believe it is worthwhile to  ensure we can continue to appreciate Chaucer Fields unspoilt, as a community, for years to come? Angry with the representation of the University as no more than a business? Then there’s a further chance to get involved coming up. The Save Chaucer Fields coalition are holding a fundraising quiz event on Saturday 9 June 7 – 10pm. This is the latest in a series of events combining fun with social commitment. If the last one is anything to go by, you’ll need to act fast to ensure you get tickets. Please check out SCF quiz june 2012

We are also looking into having a further picnic soon, hopefully in collaboration with UKC students this time. We’ve pencilled in the weekend of 9-10 June, so as to coincide with the quiz, and its the last chance to allow students to attend before many disappear, post exams, for the summer. Do let me know if you think the afternoon of saturday 9 June or sunday 10 June would be a better option.

all best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Update: UCU meeting outcome and picnic update

Dear all

I’ll focus in this Blog on yesterday’s UCU meeting and the picnic on sunday. In relation to the meeting, I simply wanted to make people aware of the facts about what happened, and in a Blog next week will offer a reaction to it. To help form a view, be warned, at the picnic I may ask you your opinion!

1. The UCU-hosted meeting: the Facts

Packed UCU meeting confirms extent of opposition to Chaucer Fields ‘development’

Despite being a busy time for University staff and others, the open meeting hosted by the University of Kent’s main staff union, UCU, on Thursday 10 May drew a very large audience.  Many local people responded to the invitation to attend the event, as well as University staff, and a small number of students (the event was publicised by Kent Union).  The speakers were Professor Keith Mander, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and one of the architects of the ‘development’ proposals, who portrayed the University as essentially (and necessarily) an organisation focussed on maximising business activity, and claimed that job security was threatened if the scheme did not proceed.  At the same time, it emerged from Professor Mander’s speech that the University was now aware of the extent of opposition to the scheme, in particular because of the pending Village Green Application, and was in the process of exploring alternative development options .  It was stated clearly that the Chaucer Fields option was essentially on hold for 2012 and possibly well into 2013, at least until the Village Green Application situation was clarified. This was not least because the potential private financial backers were unwilling to proceed in these circumstances. In the meantime, other sites off campus were being considered.

Two speakers then argued against the proposal in principal, highlighting the value of Chaucer Fields as unspoilt space, and contesting Professor Mander’s account of the University’s priorities. First, Professor Richard Norman made the case on behalf of local residents for protecting the fields as unspoilt green space, emphasising its existing social and environmental value, and the harms anticipated to follow from ‘development’. Second, Professor Chris Rootes argued that it was not in the interests of the University to proceed with the development, given the uncertain and turbulent nature of the business and social environment to which it was having to adapt.

After thirty minutes for these presentations, the event’s chair, Professor John Fitzpatrick, facilitated questions from the audience. Contributors from the floor welcomed the University’s re-engagement with the search for further site options, and sought clarification on these and other issues raised by Professor Mander.  Several contributors also challenged and criticised the assertions made by Professor Mander concerning the priorities being pursued by the University. However, the main sentiment that emerged from those not persuaded by Professor Mander was that the issue of site selection had become confused with the issue of University capacity development. It was suggested that there were several reasons why University consolidation or growth need not require the destruction of Chaucer Fields as an unspoilt space. These included  the reaffirmation that alternative opportunities were available on campus and had been prematurely ruled out.

Together with the earlier acknowledgement of ongoing off-campus search activity, it therefore emerged that Chaucer Fields remained but one of several development options. There was nothing inevitable about ‘developing’ Chaucer Fields, and the choices available to the University were now revealed to be considerably wider than had been asserted in earlier statements of the University’s position. (This is a situation in line with the UCU motion endorsed earlier this year by the electronic poll  – urging further efforts by the University to find an appropriate site).

Professor Mander also received some support from the floor. Staff employed by the University’s hospitality and commercial services  were especially visible in expressing this position. They emphasised the extent to which they agreed the University must be understood only as a business, and concurred with Professor Mander  that objecting  to the proposals necessarily put  University jobs at risk. They also in turn challenged some of the claims and suggestions made by Professor Norman and Professor Rootes concerning the nature of the  University’s environment, and the range of alternative options available to it for development.  Professor Mander summed up his thinking by saying, in no uncertain terms, that when choosing between the ‘business case’ and the environment, he would always choose the business case.

The meeting finished with a show of hands. There was no formal tally of votes, but around 80% of those attending agreed with a motion that “This meeting is not persuaded that the Chaucer Fields development should proceed”.

2.  Sunday’s picnic: 12 – 3pm 

The weather forecast is encouraging! Please try to come to the picnic if you can. Bring your own provisions if you are picnicking. If you haven’t been there recently, please note the grass is getting quite long, you may want to bring picnic blankets!  Or just pay a visit walking, cycling or running! Some great music has been lined up: Dead Horse musicianers, Ray Fielder of Loose Change Theory, and there’ll be a chance to participate in a drumming circle. We are also expecting other musicians, including the possibility of  a very special guest appearance or two…….

You don’t have to confirm, as this is not a formal event. However, can people who are brining children at least informally drop me an email to let me know (please reconfirm if you already told me, to make sure I have up to date info).  The reason is that if sufficient numbers are emerging, it will be worthwhile bringing some games equipment, there’ll be a guest appearance from a “Jack in the Green”, and  even story telling too…. Email me at chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com  so I know whether to get this stuff lined up or not!

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

PS Many of you will be aware of the recently launched campaign to Save Kingsmead Field, also in Canterbury. Please go to  www.kingsmeadfield.blogspot.co.uk  for more information. I have to confess I do am not au fait with all the details. But I felt it right to write to Canterbury City Council emphasising that I thought changing its use from recreation to housing development was clearly a significant policy shift, and in principle this should be subject to public discussion. I therefore have no hesitation in asking you to sign the e-petition which can be accessed at http://www2.canterbury.gov.uk/committee/mgepetitionlistdisplay.aspx (or accessed via the Blog mentioned above).  I am doing this because if 1500 signatures are secured before 25 May, the policy change will have to be actively reviewed by a key Council Committee. This will secure at least some accountability for the policy decision, and make sure relevant evidence is properly considered.

Quick note re tomorrow’s UCU meeting

Dear all

Don’t forget to try to make the UCU-hosted event tomorrow (see previous Blog)!

I had prepared a presentation on heritage (focussing on views, hedges, paths) in case there was time. However, quite reasonably, UCU are limiting speakers’ total time to 30 minutes in total, to allow room for questions.  So the speakers remain as already advertised (Keith Mander, Richard Norman and Chris Rootes.)

Nevertheless, I thought it might  still be useful to make the ‘spare’ presentation available, its at

Chaucer Fields UCU short spare presentation

Take a look if you’ve time

all best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Important information and dates

Dear all

Hello again!

DIARY DATES  Most importantly, three dates for your diaries:

1. There’s a significant event on campus on thursday 10 may , 1pm – 2pm, Eliot lecture theatre 2. Professor Keith Mander, head of the Estates Department at the University of Kent and one of the co-architects of the proposal to ‘develop’ Chaucer Fields, will be putting forward his case for it. (The other person behind the idea, Denise Everitt, head of Finance, is not expected to attend). Other contributors will put forward the opposing view:  that ‘Chaucer Fields’ should be retained as unspoilt green space with great value to the University and the host community alike. These speakers will include Professor of philosophy Richard Norman and Professor of environmental social science Chris Rootes.

The debate, organised by the University and Colleges Union, the largest staff trade union at the University, is a follow up to earlier findings on staff sentiment about the proposal. It has been convened following the  electronic poll reported in an earlier blog, which revealed the overwhelming majority of staff respondents supported a motion in favour of protecting the fields and continuing to respect them as they are now for a range of amenity, social environmental, and heritage reasons. The debate aims to explore the issue further with both ‘sides’ (to use UCU terminology) putting forward their case. The intention seems to be that  the UCU members will vote again in the light of what the discussion reveals.

Please do try to attend this meeting, whether you are a UCU member, non-UCU staff, a student or a local resident (not employed by, or studying at, the University). UCU have said it is to be open to all.

For your convenience, the original UCU motion endorsed by the electronic poll earlier this year, and a recent statement to by Professor Mander prompted by the poll result (but which has now been cleared for wider dissemination) can be downloaded here:

UCU Motion on Chaucer Fields (4)

Mander statement to UCU supporting chaucer fields proposal 2 april 2012

Please read both carefully. Professor Mander is evidently suggesting that all alternatives  across the University’s 500+ acre land holdings would necessarily elicit the same massive scale of community opposition to that which has emerged in relation to Chaucer Fields. My opinion is that this view is mistaken. Multi-site development elsewhere (involving dispersal across more than  one site and not concentrating harms in a mega-site), probably involving well judged demolition of poor quality under-utilised or neglected two storey buildings, and the utilisation of  brown field, low/no public amenity land would be actively welcomed. Avoidance of town-campus green buffer violation and inappropriately close proximity to high residential population concentrations (whether to the north, south, east or west) is also clearly considered important, and would similarly, in my view, be supported by the local community. This is because people reasonably believe open space matters (not least for the reasons set out in the UCU motion), and the problem of open space scarcity is one which cannot just be ignored.  It is worth emphasising that most if not all of these priorities are indeed already reflected in democratically mandated local policies (District Plan, Open Space Strategy etc) and have been amplified at national level recently in the new national planning framework. So my belief is that  development compatible with these priorities on other sites would – despite Professor Mander’s assertions –   not be rejected by the community.

Professor Mander is also asserting that all other options must be ruled out for more ‘technical’ reasons, suggesting that they are somehow infeasible. The basis for this claim is still completely unclear. Accordingly UCU asked Professor Mander to start by sharing the ‘extensive studies’ which apparently substantiate the very strong claims being made here about infeasibility.  The reason for asking for this transparency is that ‘full disclosure’ is seen by UCU as in principle a good thing. I agree with the principle, as I believe it is in line with basic democratic norms. These must be activated when matters are of great importance for the quality of life of thousands of people are at stake. I would add that its also efficient to share information in these types of situation: intelligent decision making is likely to happen only when relevant evidence is widely scrutinised and reflected upon. I think it is important to avoid poor decisions when the consequences will be born by future generations, shaping the character of one of England’s most important and well-loved cities forever. However, Professor Mander at the time of writing has indicated to UCU that he is “less happy”  to share this material.  I will let this situation speak for itself, but note that it is out of line with the approach increasingly being taken by other parts of the University, where there now seems to me to be a increasing willingness to share important information with the community. We can only hope that a change of heart from Professor Mander will be in evidence ahead of the meeting.

2. Apologies if –  whether inspired by ‘concrete lung’ or a longer term fan – you have been thwarted in trying to get a ticket for Brendan Power and Tim Edey’s gig at Westgate Hall at 7pm on saturday 12 may.  You may have  tried to use the link I provided on the last blog to get a ticket and found it didn’t work! Please try again by simply pasting this address into your browser: http://timedeyandbrendanpower.eventbrite.co.uk/. If this doesn’t work, please email me (address below)! I hear tickets are now selling fast, so don’t delay….!

3. Weather permitting, we think its now time to have another open invite picnic at “picnic playstool” at the southern end of Dover Down Field. We’ve pencilled in this coming sunday 13 may,  12 midday until 3pm: All will be welcome: local residents, staff, and students (this timing allows us to be inclusive, since term time will have started). And in the spirit of similar gatherings in the past, any one prepared to bring along a musical instrument, or play equipment for children is especially welcome. (But its most important to simply bring the children in their own right – there’s plenty of tree climbing, exploring and open air fun to be had without any need for props!).   This isn’t a formal event, but do drop me an email  (see address at bottom of this blog) if you want to let me know if you”ll be around for this.  In case we get some momentum on numbers, it could make sense to put people in touch with one another re music and play in advance to make the most of it.

OTHER STUFF

Thanks for the positive feedback on the last blog. It seems that the discussion of Heritage is striking a chord, and the draft map and glossary are seen as helpful and interesting. Now that we’ve got at least some provisional names for a few of the much-loved features of Chaucer Fields (they all remain subject to revision, if people think this is needed)  perhaps we can start to use them. The vocabulary could, for example,  be used to help signpost many of the excellent photos increasingly coming through on the Save Chaucer Fields Facebook site. I’ve noticed the popular and iconic views combining Dover Down Field with cityscapes are increasingly now being supplemented with images of “Roper’s Twitchell” and “Beverley Boughs”, building up a stockpile of images from across the seasons.

Robin at ruddock's roods, snap by chaucer fielder

Let me throw in a couple of my own decidedly amateur efforts. First, above, a common-or-garden Robin  captured at the top of  “Roper’s Twitchell”, aptly on the edge of “Ruddock’s Rood”. Other birds recently seen beginning to nest in close proximity to this spot include Dunnocks, Wrens, Jays, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Blue Tits and Great Tits.

winter view looking north west from Jay's corner

Second, a less familiar perspective perhaps, unless you happen to be into tree climbing! These are images with the bottom of Bushy Acres in the foreground and “Roper’s Twitchell” in the centre, and looking towards “Beverley Boughs” at the top. These were taken from an old native oak tree in “Jay’s corner”, but as you can see at different times of the year.

spring view looking north west from Jay's corner

For anyone who is still not sure that we are now actually heading for summer (with the violent swings in temperature), the coming to life of the hedge should provide some reassurance! We’ll soon be seeing the foliage of the oaks at “Beverley boughs” emerge too, and birches and chestnuts elsewhere on the fields, are  moving in this direction…

I’ll be attempting to use the new Heritage Map in other ways too in the weeks ahead.  I’ll suggest that particular places on the Heritage Map can and should be directly linked to the furtherance of Canterbury City Council’s current policies in relation to landscape, open space and conservation. And  I’ll also be demonstrating how specific features of the existing landscape would tragically be replaced by  blocks, other buildings, roads, car parks and sundry concrete if ‘development’ of the site were allowed to proceed. Watch this space!

best wishes

Chaucer Fielder, Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Email address: chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com