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

Dear all

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

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

Autumn foraging preamble

Ancient path from Cathedral to Blean church, late autumn

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

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

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

Some chestnuts are still around and can be foraged for cooking

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

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

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

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

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

Chestnut tree at the heart of Chaucer Fields

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

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

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

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

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

Inside Beverley Boughs, November 2012

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

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

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

University “Statement of Consultation” made available

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

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

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

Looking east from western part of Dover Down field

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Keynes III proposal: rationales for  Planning objections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, here are the five reasons:

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

This holds true in two senses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kent Union Community Zone Initiative

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

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

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

That’s all for now
best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Breaking news – Chaucer Fields

Dear all

Essential (long) September and beyond

What I suggested could be called  “Essential September” in an earlier Blog has been and gone! We can talk of “Essential long September” perhaps, because the first few days of october have also witnessed important decisions (see below). Real progress has been in evidence in certain respects – although, as we’ll discuss below, in some respects the threat to Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes has actually intensified.

Please bear with the length of this Blog. But I feel  the issues are so important now that a more  extensive discussion is needed. We are at an important moment in the  decision making cycle. The University Council meets this friday, and a report on Chaucer Fields and associated  developments is on the agenda. And as you’ll see below,  important statutory planning processes will be beginning to unfold from later this month onwards.

A greater spotted woodpecker like this one has been frequenting Dover Down Field in recent weeks. Image courtesy of Kent Wildlife Trust/TheWoodland Trust

I think on balance we can say that ‘long September’ has been a positive month for those who treasure the Southern Slopes as shared, unspoilt green space for two main reasons

  • We learned that the Village Green Application is proceeding to a non statutory public inquiry. (See the record of the Minutes of 11th September KCC Meeting, although at p. 32 the number of attendees seems to be inaccurate; there were at least 80 people at the meeting). While the VGA had been dismissed as highly unlikely to succeed by the University, the outcome must not be pre-judged. There’s a real, fighting chance we’ll be able to protect forever 43 acres of the Southern Slopes (including Chaucer Fields)  as unspoilt green space. This should lift our spirits, and is a step forward for future generations of local residents and their families, University staff, and University students. It is also good news for our many visitors from all over the world who often instantly recognise the beauty of this remarkable place, and have expressed disbelief that it is even being considered for ‘development’ .
  • The revised University ‘development’ plans, presented at recent ‘preview’ and  ‘consultation’ events, show that the University Estates Department has now U-turned on key elements of its proposals from 2011. It is frustrating for those of us who believe in transparent governance that this shift in thinking has been shrouded in secrecy for more than a year. And as we’ll see below, the changes are also double edged, with disturbing backward as well as forward steps. But at least we now know that there is, in principle, a willingness on the part of the University to begin the process of taking into account the views and values of the host community, and indeed the wider University community itself.

KCC Regulation Committee members &  interested parties on the site visit to Chaucer Fields prior to the meeting launching a public inquiry, morning of 11th September

The U-turn on Student Accommodation: a new ball game emerges

What form has this shift taken? As described in September’s CFPS Blogs, the “Keynes III” student accommodation blocks are now planned for north of University road (further extending the recent Keynes college building works). Here, they would be close to, but not actually built upon,  Chaucer Fields, in a place where they would seem to have much more limited negative consequences from environmental, landscape, social, and heritage perspectives. Yet at the same time, Professor Keith Mander, the champion of the ‘development’ plans, revealed at one of the recent University-led ‘consultation’ events that he still would have strongly preferred to persist with the original proposals.

Professor Mander’s continued strong preference for the original proposal while the University as a whole has changed its position is revealing. It can be inferred that the change of direction must either reflect an instrumental calculation that those earlier proposals were anticipated as likely to be rejected by Canterbury City Council’s Planning Management Committee; and/or, it could the welcome influence of more conciliatory voices from within the higher echelons of University infrastructure – the position the University itself, through its Corporate Communications Department, seems to be seeking to promote.

The changes involved in this re-think are really important, because of the principles they imply, and the extent to which they undermine the claims made by the Estates Department in 2011 about how cost, logistics, and deliverability constrain the options available. There are two key dimensions to this. The change indicates  (1)  the acceptance by the University that there is no overwhelming justification for a 10 acre megasite, involving co-location of student accommodation blocks and the hotel/conference facilities in the same place; and  (2) the implicit  abandonment of assertions from 18 months ago about  the feasibility of site options elsewhere on campus. In particular, claims made in 2011 about how cost considerations, complexity, capacity constraints, the use of land for sports, and  “logistics and deliverability” factors prohibited the college extension option, and the development of land north of University road have all been quietly abandoned (see Site selection appendix extract.  for the assertions made in the original application).

Hawthorn berries, dark red and ripe, late september, Jack Cade’s Carvet

Assuming the University wishes to develop plans which are demonstrably rational and publicly defensible this completely changes the context for decision making about ‘development’ on campus. It is logically now time to re-visit the other rejected sites where the Estates Department similarly claimed  – without evidence  – that cost, complexity, capacity constraints, logistics and deliverability criteria ruled out development. The other site options which come back on to the agenda include most obviously (i) other land behind Innovation Centre north of University road; (ii) extensions to other colleges (iii) part of Giles Lane Car Park (providing underground parking is incorporated to ensure retention of parking space); (iv) a part of the land currently occupied by sports fields near Park Wood road (as long as replaced with equivalent or better alternatives elsewhere); and (v) land within, immediately adjacent to, and/or north of, already-developed Park Woods (but still well south of village population centres in Blean and Tyler Hill to preserve a green buffer and local green space for people there on that part of the campus too).

The Continued threat to Chaucer Fields: an Enlarged hotel/conference centre

As  reported before, however, this policy shift on student accommodation was not the whole story. Far from it.  The threat to Chaucer Fields has in some respects actually intensified because of other aspects of the modified proposals. That’s because the University has failed to take the opportunity to also rethink its flawed analysis in relation to the location of the hotel/conference centre element. Not only do its revised proposals leave  hotel/conference centre multi-storey blocks at the heart of Chaucer Fields, despoiling the historic Dover Down Field. But  the number of proposed blocks and rooms has actually increased, with the number of rooms from 150 to more than 300. Why? This enlargement apparently follows the recommendations of  the consultancy group  ‘Hotel Solutions’ in a marketing report conducted last year.

That report, it must be noted, narrowly focussed on financial considerations, with no account of the relevance of other factors a charitable, nonprofit organisation like a University with stakeholders other than shareholders would normally be expected to consider. Accordingly, the extensive environmental, social and landscape harms the proposal would inflict on the host community and the University itself were not acknowledged, let alone given weight in the analysis. Nor were the detrimental effects of the development on the local economy – the negative effects on local independent small and medium sized businesses, as power is concentrated in the hands of the University bureaucracy –  seriously considered.  (You can read the UNIVERSITY OF KENT RESIDENTIAL CONFERENCE RESEARCH – FINAL REPORT redacted here, courtesy of the University Council secretariat).

Cutting the grass on Dover Down Field, early october

The Process in the Months Ahead

Finally, at the start of this month, more information on how the process will unfold has come on stream – and the University has indicated another shift in its original position, even since a few weeks ago. Instead of submitting its applications for planning permission across the sites together, it will handle the process with two distinct and seperate planning applications at different times. (Thanks to Canterbury City Council for advising me of this development, which is not explicit in the University’s ‘consultation’ materials). So:

  • The planning application for “Keynes III” will still follow the schedule presented last month, going in at the end of this month (late october); whereas
  • the “Chaucer Conference Centre” proposal will not now follow this schedule. It will instead be submitted later – although in true Estates Department style, the specific timing remains a mystery! However, it should be noted that, as long as this delay is for weeks or months rather than years, if the application were successful, it would still theoretically allow the process of concreting over the fields to begin in late 2014 (with a reduced amount of time between the planning application and the commencement of the building works).

Yellowing English Oak leaves, Dover Down Field, early October

Some thoughts on the proposals, and the community reaction on Keynes III to date

It won’t surprise you to know, given my observations on how earlier assumptions have been jettisoned, that I  personally believe that there is still a great deal of work to be done to convince University people, the host community and Canterbury City Council that  “Keynes III” is necessarily a step forward. At the risk of stating the obvious, the main reason for this follows from the lack of evidence presented in the alternative site analysis to date. We have been presented with unsubstantiated assertions, not evidence-based analysis

How could the alternative sites support a different approach? I am  sure there are several, if a bit of imagination and creativity were bought to bear on the problem, and a number of ideas were floated from local and University-based attendees at the ‘consultation’ events last month. This applies to both the location of the hotel/conference facilities, and the student accommodation blocks. Many argue that the claims about the ‘synergetic’ gains coming from situating the conference centre close to the Innovation Centre and business or “science” park have never developed beyond vague conjecture at best, and are simply loose talk and meaningless waffle at worst. Accordingly, on this view, the conference facilities and the student accommodation could readily both be sited well away from this part of campus in a relatively unconstrained way using an intelligent combination of the sorts of sites mentioned above.

However, suppose, despite the bluster to date, there really were yet-to-be-made-public compelling reasons for still having the Hotel/Conference Centre close to the Innovation Centre and business park.  Does this necessitate ‘developing’  Chaucer Fields? Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is clearly no. Some of the land north of University road behind the innovation centre could instead be used to host any conference facilities which are truly needed (with the student accommodation on the other sites mentioned).

(Personally I would guess that  downscaled conference facility development  – on a modest scale,  rather smaller than the 2011 proposals, and in keeping with the Innovation Centre in terms of height and visibility  –  is likely to be the best option here once all relevant factors begin to be responsibly considered. This would allow the University to better fulfill its educational mission and achieve some balanced diversification of income. At the same time on this scale it would avoid distortionary and dysfunctional concentration of economic power in relation to the local economy; it would impose relatively limited environmental and landscape damage; and it would minimise the problems of aggravation of traffic, noise and light pollution which are already beginning to adversely affect campus life, and would be escalated by an enormous hotel complex).

However, I should acknowledge that my scepticism about  the wisdom of “Keynes III” is not necessarily shared widely. Some within the University and community at large  seem incredibly anxious to ensure more student accommodation is in place quickly (with a year having been wasted with the flawed initial Planning Application),and are therefore more positive. They may well be willing to accept ‘”Keynes III”  even without a comprehensive review of the alternatives.  Indeed, in Press Release following the September ‘consultations’, released last week, the University is already seeking to draw attention to the existence of a significant pro-Keynes III strand of opinion.

A troupe of long-tailed tits like this have been flitting through the hedges in Dover Down Field and Bushy Acres in recent weeks

Of course, how Canterbury City Council responds is another matter. It must always think long term, and  look at the bigger picture. It has already stressed the need for the University to present exhaustive alternative site analysis, and presumably would not be satisfied by “Keynes III” unless a convincing body of new evidence is brought to bear by the University to rule out other options. In addition, we still don’t really know about the wider patterns of local public opinion. These decisions will directly effect many thousands of people, and many more indirectly – we don’t yet know what they really think.  And it must be pointed at that the numbers who attended the ‘consultation’ events upon which the Press Office have reported seemed to be very much smaller than the equivalent ones (via the ‘Local Dialogue’ group) in 2011

The reason for this is simple. Last time round, people took a great deal of time and trouble to attend and respond, diligently filling out forms and arguing convincingly for the retention of Chaucer Fields as unspoilt space. They were rewarded with the 2011 Planning Application and now the revised proposals –  which completely misunderstand their values and concerns in relation to the historic fields as a crucial green buffer shared by the University and host community. Many have evidently reasoned, based on this earlier experience, that there would be little point in engaging with another University-led consultation: better to wait for the democratically mandated Planning Application process, where at least they can expect their substantive concerns to  be given some weight. So, we’ll have to wait until the Planning Application is submitted to  see whether the supportive attitudes towards ‘Keynes III’ reported by the University Press Office really do prefigure an endorsement of this part of the plans from the people of the District more broadly

The Community Reaction: The Chaucer Conference Proposals

In its Press Release relating to the “consultations”,  the University Press Office was conspicously silent about  how the “Chaucer Conference Centre” element of the proposals were received. What do we actually know about this?  Local media reportage  give a good sense of the amount of anger at, and resistance to, the retention of the aspiration to ‘develop’  Chaucer Fields expressed by members of the “Save Chaucer Fields” (SCF) group (the coalition of  residents associations representing people who live close by). My personal impression from attending some of the events  was that this sentiment was shared more generally, and was not just associated with SCF activists. I witnessed  several people with no connection at all to SCF argue passionately against the development of Chaucer Fields .

Why? It strikes me there are perhaps three main sets of reasons for the wholesale rejection of the Chaucer Fields plans from SCF but many others too. Forgive  me at this point if I begin to sound like a stuck record, but unless these simple points are repeatedly articulated, there is a danger they will be disregarded once again! First, if the University Estates Department had bothered to properly read and digest the feedback it received in 2011 via the Local Dialogue consultation, and then people’s responses to the Planning Application, it should have already shelved the plans to develop the Southern Slopes in their entirety. Persisting with such proposals in the face of such  remarkably well articulated community sentiment, expressing the enormous value attached to these fields as shared local green space, appears rigid, gratuitous and even aggressive.

Second, and emphasising once again the location issue, there is widely felt indignation that the Estates Department’s had, by last month, still apparently not bothered to pull together and present a serious analysis of the alternative site options. This has been despite having had 18 months to do so since the last Planning Application, when the Canterbury City Council Planning Officer plainly and explicitly said in her report that  this was essential (and was a key reason for the plan’s deferment).  It it widely seen as simply irresponsible to risk squandering  the much loved green buffer between the University and the city , and allowing sprawl to proceed, when the alternative options have not been fully and exhaustively considered.

Third, there is the character of the actual new proposals themselves.  Those who attended September’s events were offered the image below as the best representation that could be mustered: these were indicative images only available in sketchy form and reportedly subject to tweaking in the light of feedback, but we can already see key characteristics.

Sketch of Chaucer Conference Centre proposals, as per september 2012 events

At the parts of the events  I attended, I was unable to find anyone at all who was positive about this aspect of the  plans. Why? The following nine considerations draw upon discussions  I had then, and subsequently, and I hope will resonate with the reader who is familiar with this setting

  • The landscape would be irreversibly damaged and there would be a highly significant loss of shared open green space. Rich opportunities for the appreciation of nature, and extensively used for play, recreation, and a range of individual and collectively organised leisure pursuits would be lost
  • The scale of the buildings would be utterly out of keeping with the landscape and proximate buildings, including Chaucer College and the Innovation Centre (where the latter already pushes the boundaries of acceptability). The proposed conference buildings are of a wholly disproportionate scale, and dramatically violate both the letter and spirit of  local Landscale and Open Space policy. The sketch shows them to be  of a completely new order of magnitude compared to existing building: massive, towering 4-5 storey blocks, which would impose massive damage.
  • the  Countryside and Parkland views from within the unspoilt site itself, and from the East,  South, and North within the broader Southern Slopes, would be lost forever. These are currently enjoyed by  cyclists, runners and walkers. Obviously, views from within  the site would be obliterated; those from land adjacent to the site would be  completely ruined
  • the Views from University road would also necessarily be adversely affected, despite the Estates Department’s emerging claims to the contrary. This is simply because  the topography of the landscape – unlike the adjacent Chaucer College case – simply does not allow for elegant concealment of buildings, car parks and cars (and this would hold even if they were scaled down in line with Chaucer  College’s low level  structures)
  • Additionally, the Attempted Screening seems to involve deciduous trees not dense enough without leaves to systematically block visibility of the buildings, car parks and cars in the winter months. The sketch seems to also imply additional tree planting north east of the proposed annex blocks (hotel guest or postgraduate student overspill) to achieve screening. But this would take decades to mature, and would only naturally be approaching readiness in about 40 years, just as the expected life of  the blocks they are intended to  screen would be coming to an end!  Obviously, such a pattern would also undermine the open grassy slopes character of the setting prized in local landscape policy,  violating the long established medieval field structure
  • During the day, the current aural Tranquillity of the fields would be wiped out, replaced by the noise pollution associated with the sprawling development
  • At night, light pollution would destroy the ‘Dark Skies‘ value of the land for the high density population living nearby, depriving large numbers of people in the  community of the ability to stargaze and appreciate the majesty of the night sky
  • the Ancient Pathway from the Cathedral to Blean church, and then on to Whitstable, would be lost to car park tarmac, wiping out a 300 year old track of enormous cultural and symbolic integrative significance for the District
  • The environment for the Historic Hedges would be ruined. Multi-storey blocks would tower over them incongruously . And it is hard  to see how the biodiversity value of the retained hedges, could be realised in a meaningful way in the context of  this ‘development’. The hedges would be degraded by the loss of a sympathetic proximate natural environment, and would no longer be well positioned to flourish free of pollution, nor to host bird life and many other living creatures as they do now

A family stroll on Bushy Acres, headed towards Dover Down Field. If the proposed ‘development’ proceeded, looming in front of them  would be multi-storey blocks

A Final  Word

.I’ll keep you  posted in the months ahead about any further developments – and promise to try to keep  the CFPS less wordy in future! In the meantime, two dates for your diaries – one imminent, one  longer term. First this thursday evening, 6.30pm please try to attend the meeting of Canterbury City Council’s Executive Committee, in relation to Kingsmead Fields (more details at Kingsmead Fields Blogspot). Second please protect the evening of saturday 8th december in your diaries for a mystery event! The CFPS will be collaborating with the Save Chaucer Fields group and others in to organise an exciting and inclusive social and cultural happening. Watch this space!

Best wishes

Chaucer  Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic  Society

Essential September : VGA meeting reminder (11 September) plus another key diary date (22 September)

Dear all

A large and increasing number of people are clearly watching developments around Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes ever more closely. What are the signs of this attention? A large ‘Save Chaucer Fields’ banner now stands proudly just south of Dover Down Field, so for the hundreds of people who walk past this spot, the issue simply can’t be ignored (see below)

Save Chaucer Fields banner on southern boundary of Chaucer Fields (Dover Down Field)

But this dramatic symbol right next to the Slopes is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve drawn attention in previous Blogs to some of the ways in which interest and attachment has been expressed over recent months through a whole range of actions and happenings. And indeed the CFPS wants to  help to communicate some of the sheer depth of energy and commitment that is demonstrably out there.  Looking at the number  of recorded hits – by the end of last month, over 2,500 visits to the CFPS Blog had been made – it is evidently having some success in raising awareness in the local community, nationally, and in many countries overseas (more on that in a future Blog…).

Hawthorn berries, Jack Cade’s carvet, early September 2012

As many of us return from holidays, important  events loom. I’ll use this first Blog of September essentially to remind you of something reported before, but also to give a futher update. Events are about to unfold rapidly: this month, it turns out, and its not just about the Village Green Application.  We’ll look at that first, but read on to find out more….

1. Village Green Application (VGA) meeting,

Westgate Hall 11 September, 1 pm onwards

The single most important reason that September is vital is the Village Green Application. Please refer back to the previous Blog for all the details, but one further logistical detail is worth pointing to. As reported there, the general  meeting starts at 1pm, but please be warned that  VGAs from other parts of Kent are on the agenda too. It is quite likely that the Chaucer Fields application won’t start to be discussed until after1.30pm or even nearer to 2pm. So do be aware that the Chaucer Fields part of the meeting won’t begin until a bit later on.

St Dunstan’s church and Roper’s Twitchell from Bushy Acres field, August 2012

2. New Development: University of Kent to begin seeking to promote revised Proposal in September too

Now for something of a bombshell. The University has apparently chosen this month to start the process of trying to promote a modified development Proposal, presumably in order to prepare the ground for re-submission of the long deferred Planning Application to CCC (Canterbury City Council) . In a message to Canterbury City  Councillors sent on 20th August the scheme’s architect, Professor Keith Mander, indicated that:

  •  On 10th September, there will be a preview of “revised proposals for student residences and a conference suite”. This is apparently  a closed invitation to Councillors (elected CCC members), a few CCC officers (officials), and a few  “other stakeholders” (a euphemism for other people or organisations the promoters consider relevant. Their identities have not been revealed. But this is an exclusive event, and it is revealing that members of the host community or University people [staff, students….] are apparently not considered to be “stakeholders”)
  • A “public consultation” will begin on the 11th September which will include an “open day for the general public (including detailed presentations)” on Saturday 22nd September.

What is going on? Its hard to know, because nothing has  been defined properly. Apparently, the organisation of these events, and the process of “consultation” more generally, have been left deliberately vague, and no further information was provided even to  invitees in terms of substance, content or location. This seems like short notice, and it is strange that the development’s promoters has not yet even announced this formally to the community through ithe University’s usual publicity routes. The “open day”,  for example, is now only two and a half weeks away.  It has to be said that this evasive lack of transparency does not seem helpful for University-community relations, given the extraordinary level and depth of public concern. It seems that an opportunity is being missed to learn from the mistakes of the past (the disastrous ‘Local Dialogue consultation’ [sic] and the deferred Planning Application of 2011)

Blackberries, Jack Cade’s Carvet, September 2012

In addition, this particular choice of timing, with the “preview” scheduled for before the VGA meeting at Westgate Hall, seems simply bizarre. It is bizarre because on 10th September, the members of the relevant KCC committee will have not yet have decided how to respond to the VGA, which will potentially transform, or set in train a process for transforming,  the legal treatment of the land forever: that meeting, as emphasied above, is on 11th September. Indeed as reported in an earlier Blog, Keith Mander in a presentation at an open UCU meeting (UCU are the main University staff trade union)  stated that the existence of the VGA had forced the University to put its development proposals on hold, because potential private sector funders were averse to the associated uncertainty.

The relevant  question must be: What has changed since that UCU open meeting? The University  seems to be either confident in a way that it was not then that  the VGA proposal to be discussed on11th September can be dismissed – effectively pre-judging a quasi-judicial process. Or, for reasons which are shrouded in mystery, it now believes it can fund the proposal in spite of the uncertainty created by the VGA. Perhaps the proposal has been dramatically altered to make it more palatable to its financial backers (in the for-profit banking sector), or other routes for finance are now being lined up.

Foraged Southern Slope Blackberries and Apples – ready for crumble!

We will have to wait and see to find out – for privileged ‘stakeholders’ this will be on 10th september; and for humble members of the host community, University staff and students, presumably we may be told some time from 11th september onwards. You may well be getting angry at how confusing and convoluted this has become. Sadly, it is confusing and convoluted, and that’s all I can say for now. Of course, I will report back on the VGA outcome as soon as the decision has been made next week. But please do try to be there if you possible can, as this is an important moment for Canterbury.

“Save Chaucer Fields” supporters, 1st september 2012

I will for sure also pass on information about the pending University “consultation” and “open day” as soon as this is available, but given the track record to date, we had better nor hold our breathe on that! In the meantime, let’s take heart from the excellent gathering organised by SCF last weekend, to rally supporters in readiness for next week’s meeting (see picture above, and there may be story in tomorrow’s Kentish Gazette).  In spite of the difficult time of year, it is clear there was an excellent turn out! Finger’s crossed for next week!

all best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society