Emergency Blog UPDATED AFTER WESTGATE HALL EVENT

Dear all

This CFPS Blog necessarily takes a stark form! None of the usual colourful images!

[PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO GREEN FONT TEXT FOR UPDATE OF 6TH OCTOBER IN THE LIGHT OF WESTGATE HALL EVENT]

FURTHER UPDATE: THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

Its purpose is to provide information for those who wish to submit their feedback into the crucial step 2 of the University of Kent’s Masterplan consultation process, which is currently ongoing (the “Framework” Masterplan).

It is important that as many people as possible resist consultation fatigue and fatalism, and express their views. For the outcome is going to shape the landscape and environment inside and around the Canterbury campus for decades into the future.

The reasons this sort of elementary  information is needed here, sadly,  reflect multiple failures in the way the University authorities and their “Masterplan Team” are choosing to conduct the process. The most obvious failures are as follows:

  • Basic information on what is covered in the Masterplan at this crucial stage is only being made available to anyone who happens to be  able to attend one of 4 face to face events; or who was invited to a single “stakeholder” presentation last month. The former events  have been poorly advertised and  their content and method have not been explained, while the basis for invitation to the latter is obscure.
  • The “stakeholder presentation” was made publicly available temporarily on the Masterplan website. But it were then withdrawn  – with no explanation offered. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: THIS PRESENTATION, REVISED,  HAS NOW BEEN UPLOADED AGAIN TO THE MASTERPLAN SITE.  THIS IS AFTER PRESSURE FROM INTERESTED PARTIES, BUT STILL WITHOUT EXPLANATION FOR ITS EARLIER WITHDRAWAL 
  • The “Masterplan team” has failed to indicate whether or not student or alumni feedback on the plans at this stage is welcome. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: IT HAS BEEN BELATEDLY INDICATED THAT SUCH FEEDBACK IS PERMITTED, BUT NO EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THESE GROUPS IN THE USUAL WAY USING EMAIL LISTS ETC TO ACTIVELY ELICIT VIEWS
  • The  “Masterplan team” has also been unable or unwilling to indicate how the feedback it gathers at the 4 face to face events, and by email, will be used to inform the plan’s development. Unlike step 1, at which  a healthy and open dialogue with a range of stakeholders was beginning to emerge, with the current step 2 the process has become closed and  opaque. We are merely told there will be a ‘consultation statement’. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: AGAIN, UNDER PRESSURE, IT HAS BEEN INDICATED THAT THE CONSULTATION STATEMENT  FOR STAGE 2 WILL TAKE THE SAME FORM AS THE STAGE 1 STATEMENT. HOWEVER, THERE ARE NO WORKSHOPS AND FOCUS GROUPS IN STAGE 2, WHICH WERE KEY MOMENTS OF DIALOGUE IN STAGE 1 IN AFFIRMING THE SHARED AND STRONGLY HELD BELIEF AMONGST  THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY, LOCAL RESIDENTS AND LOCAL CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS THAT THE UNSPOILT FIELDS SHOULD NOT BE BUILT UPON. 

This combination of poor organisation, information hoarding, and opacity,  and the absence of any commitment to transparency and openness in sharing the results – AND NOW, TO ADD TO THE DYSFUNCTIONAL MIX, MOVING GOALPOSTS –   is simply not acceptable.

So to help shine a light on what is really happening, you can find some of the missing/withdrawn information here:

The above is a large multiple page file. If too large, two key pages in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes have been extracted for your convenience:

  • For a “before (unspoilt) &  after (developed)” comparison of “University Rise” which is the proposed “character area” relating to Chaucer Fields/ Southern Slopes, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: university rise p21of39
  • For a map showing “capital projects” which puts the “conferencing hotel” in context of other building projects proposed elsewhere on campus, extracted from the stakeholder presentation, go to: hotel anomaly p37of39

Finally, a problem with the above materials is that they do not sufficiently highlight how the proposals have a cumulative effect,  involving the co-development of both the conferencing hotel “capital project” and overground car parks, in close proximity. To see this more clearly, and for an accompanying, short summary of the issues involved, go to the information document drawn up by the CFPS: Chaucer_Fields_green_heritage_revised_twice_district_plan_map_2sidescorrected-docx

Because of the opacity surrounding the pending ‘consultation statement’, it is important that where possible people making submissions share them with the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society. Please keep  a copy of any feedback form you submit at the Face to Face events (use a phone camera, perhaps?) . And please share any email you send to the Masterplan Team too (use cc or bcc):

Please use the email address:  chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com

UPDATE OF 8TH OCTOBER: PLEASE NOW MAKE SURE YOU EMAIL YOUR FEEDBACK BY THE BELATEDLY ANNOUNCED DEADLINE OF 26TH OCTOBER.

The CFPS is sorry to add a further layer of complexity to this already convoluted process. But there seems to be no other way of ensuring that the actual voices of people are expressed and heard openly, rather than being lost, stifled or deflected in a bland and uninformative ‘statement’ from the University authorities/Masterplan Team.

Finally, it is important that the voices of all are heard. This must include students and alumni. Please do offer your feedback, even though the Masterplan Team has not actively sought your views thus far .

Thank you for your help with this!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

**STOP PRESS – UPDATE POST  FACE TO FACE DISCUSSIONS AT WESTGATE HALL**

FURTHER UPDATE : THE MASTERPLAN TEAM HAVE BELATEDLY INDICATED A SPECIFIC DEADLINE FOR FEEDBACK (INCLUDING EMAILS): 26TH OCTOBER

From the Westgate Hall event today (6th October), The following  key points stand out:

1. A positive point to start! By simply including a ‘students’ and ‘alumni’ category on the event’s feedback form (although the form itself is poorly designed see feedback form from westgate hall) the Masterplan Team have at last acknowledged that their perspectives are relevant. (If you want to use this form in  email responses, presumably you may do so: the Team seemed confused on this point, but have agreed to make it available on their website in the near future: please remember to copy your emails to chaucerfieldspicnicsociety@gmail.com). Building on this, it will be important to push for a broadening of the consultation process to meaningfully include these key stakeholders. In particular, it is obviously ridiculous to expect alumni, based all over the globe, to attend consultation events over a few days in Blean, Tyler Hill or at the University campus.  The logical next step is for the consultation to systematically deploy other modes of communication. (However, if genuine outreach via non-face to face, electronic means is to proceed, it will be important to watch closely exactly how the process is conducted. Which information is provided as background? How are the core issues framed? And which questions are posed?)

2. More depressingly, the ‘intended direction of travel’,  in the run up to the final submission of the Masterplan to Canterbury City Council (in c. 2 months time) is  crystal clear from today’s event. The University authorities intend to force through the Conferencing Hotel on Chaucer fields/the Southern Slopes if they possibly can by downplaying and belittling the opposition, and making unverified, vague claims about the extent of active endorsement. In particular:

  • To legitimise this steam roller approach, as per local media responses last week from a University spokesperson, as yet unidentified “experts” from the for-profit hotel sector and unknown segments of the business community are mysteriously being evoked and said to “know best”. Their perspectives and priorities (despite the obvious vested interest they have in any such development) are apparently intended to trump all others, whether inside the University community, or outside it.
  • To deflect and belittle opposition to the Conferencing Hotel (again, as per media statements),  “concerns” are ritualistically acknowledged, but claimed to be essentially limited to a small group of  local residents living in close proximity (implicitly identifying such people as self-interested NIMBYs)

As readers of the Blogs presented here over the past 7 years will know, portraying the situation this way is  a travesty, and involves a misrepresentation of the sentiment of the wider local residential community on this issue. It also attempts to airbrush out the extent of resistance to this destructive agenda within the University community and local civil society, and generally obscures more than it eludicates. 

Accordingly some challenges were made to the plans’ promoters today to create a reality check for this oddly circular and ill informed narrative. Some fairly straightforward questions were  posed to the Masterplan Team and its consultants. The results were as follows: 

  1. When advised that  local residents’ sentiments were not sensibly understood simply as narrow NIMBY-style “concerns”, but were clear and deeply held convictions within the local residential community across the City and wider District, there was a weak acknowledgement that some people not living directly alongside the Southern Slopes might hold oppositional views too. But when reminded that commitments to protect the fields as  unspoilt shared green space were also widely held yet more broadly –  through the University community at large (staff and students), in local civil society groups, and in local government itself – there was no acknowledgement at all. It can only be concluded that those involved are either unaware of, or essentially in denial about, the true situation in key respects –  despite the mass of affirmative evidence now available.
  2. When asked why  shadowy “experts” from “the hotel and conference sector” etc.  had not transparently fed their perspectives into stage 1 of the Masterplan process, in 2017, like other interested parties (via open consultation and contributions in workshops),  or why these obscure claims had not been tested through discussion and debate, no answer was given.
  3. When questioned on why “experts in the hotel business” and the “business community” had the competence to unilaterally determine a complex decision with many economic, social and environmental dimensions, no answer was forthcoming either. (It should also be remembered the University does not exist legally, constitutionally or ethically for financial gain or to pursue growth per se,  but instead is meant to be geared essentially towards achieving collectively agreed, nonprofit socio-educational objectives ) 
  4. When queried about the substantive basis for the claim  that a Conferencing Hotel on campus was  required, let alone that there was no alternative but to build it in the Chaucer Fields/Southern Slope green gap, there was obfuscation, with vague and elusive evocations of “the University believes…[etc]” instead of pointing to any clear evidential basis or defensible policy framework
  5. When challenged on which alternative sites for hotel development on campus had been considered, and for information on the grounds (economic, social, environmental etc) upon which these alternative sites had been dismissed by  so-called “experts” or their allies within the University authorities, no answer was forthcoming either.
  6. When asked why development was to be encouraged on the periphery of the campus, directly contradicting the core Masterplan purpose of concentrating development on central campus, no discernable response was forthcoming.   

The above characterisation of the University authorities’ position in evidence today, as involving denial, obfuscation and deflection,  might seem exaggerated. However, a sense of this position can even be gleaned by looking at their own texts. By simply reading and reflecting on the content of the “Hotel and Conference Centre flyer”( pro-CF-hotel propogandafrom westgate hall ) positioned alongside the table with feedback forms at the event, a flavour of this approach is apparent.  The patronising language deployed orally during  the event is echoed in this document (on page two). But it is also worth thinking about what  the use of images,  juxtaposed on the first page, tell us about the agenda of the University authorities.

The clear intention of this imagery is to foster fear-based deference and gratitude (“things might have been so much worse!”) because the 2018 proposal is not as appalling as the failed 2011 plan (inclusive of student accommodation tower blocks).  This is a nonsensical frame of reference: the failed first proposal is utterly irrelevant, and had to be withdrawn because it was a monstrosity and faced  mass opposition inside and outside the University. This was not a “benign”, voluntary decision by “listening”  University authorities, but an unavoidable withdrawal and humiliation for them because the proposal stood zero chance of getting planning permission. 

As ever, the only truly relevant comparison is with the unspoilt fields as they exist now. The question should always be  framed as: what are the considerations in choosing between the unspoilt woods and fields as shared green space on one hand; and any “development” which undermines this precious legacy on the other. In other words, do we want to retain the integrity of the green gap and all it embodies, or is it dispensable in the name of “development”? This way of looking at the issue is the only one which is defensible, given what we now know about the true nature of the local public interest after 7 years of debate, contention and controversy. 

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The discredited plans are back : Please respond!

Welcome to the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society Blog! Our fields have witnessed winter snow, the blooming of spring, and the heat of an exceptional summer since the last Blog appeared. I’ll intersperse some images in the text to capture some of the variety across the seasons this year in what follows (as well as providing a much more depressing image – see below!).

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We are now moving towards autumn, and the fields and woodlands have that transitional feel.  As the natural cycle has progressed, in what direction have we moved in terms of  the future prospects for this wonderful shared green space? With the University authorities failing to meet their promised timeline regarding stage 2 of the Masterplan, members of the local residential and University communities could be forgiven for beginning to hope that serious learning was at last taking place.  Perhaps the pause reflected not the usual institutional inertia, but instead, a willingness to listen to the feedback received through multiple events, processes and arenas over the last 7 years? In terms of the “Stage one” Masterplan process most recently, had the University authorities at last recognised that development here would undermined the integrity of the entire process, contradicting the stated principle of focussing development on the centre of campus? After years of denial about the environmental, social and heritage value of the fields in their unspoilt form, had the penny finally dropped that this was and is a special and much loved place to be cherished, and not destroyed?

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Alas, we have found out this month that nothing could be further from the truth. As has become clear , the dismissive and condescending position taken towards community sentiment, reported in the previous Blog, has been in evidence once again.  Mass opposition fed back to the University at every opportunity offered  last year  documented clearly in the University authorities’ own consultation report is being ignored, and expert opinion disregarded. (This was expressed a year ago at “Conceptual Master Plan” consultation events,  a “spatial” expert group including professionals from local government and civil society, and a staff group convened at the last minute).  Directly contradicting this input, an  option of positioning  a “Conferencing Hotel” and related facilities on the fields has not been shelved. Instead, it has been retained as part of “stage 2” of the “incremental” Masterplan process.

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Those who follow this issue closely may notice in the image below, taken from the “stage 2” option plans now belatedly revealed , that this version of  the plan would position the buildings slightly to the west of where  they had been situated in  the “stage 1”  version of 2017, a little closer to Chaucer College. But it  is crucial to note that the latest plans retain the same disastrous scale, continue to contradict the stated intentions of the Masterplan, and would have essentially the same potentially catastrophic environmental, social and aesthetic impact on our fields as the “stage one” version.

Sept 2018 consultation - map of conference centre

Raising this issue since the news broke, I have found those in the local and university community who have put time and effort into responding to the University authorities over the years are now  feel betrayed and affronted. This action is seen as demonstrating  a complete failure to listen or attempt to even begin to understand what is at stake. Many find this especially galling as the University is meant to be a learning institution where, if anywhere, we should expect to find an ability to move on and learn from past mistakes.  The retention of these plans within “stage 2” of the process is viewed as symptomatic of a profound rupture between remote, inward-looking University authorities on one hand, and the University community of teaching/professional staff and students at large on the other, which in turn overlaps symbiotically with the local residential community. (Many staff live locally, and many University alumni settle in the city when their studies are complete.)

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So, overall this latest “stage 2” development is being taken to confirm a depressing pattern of continuity with the past: the same old habits of disregard for the communities who host the university and make it function; and the perpetuation of exactly the clumsy,  incoherent and damaging muddling through approach that the Masterplan process was meant to prevent. Similar perspectives can also be found in organisations representing local civil society and expert opinion in the community more broadly.

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For some, this is even a depressing sign that the University has “lost the plot” entirely in terms of its mission and social/educational responsibilities. In both social media and out and about in the District,  it is now increasingly common to hear people claim that the University is functioning as a predatory for-profit developer in all but name. It is believed to be seeking to exploit the land, originally bequeathed to it by the local statutory authorities for educational purposes fifty years ago, for narrow financial gain.  And it is thought to be hiding behind the mantle of its status as a charitable educational institution with empty rhetorical claims, as exemplified recently by its circulation of “commUNIty” newsletters. On this view, such material claiming “learning” has taken place is seen as disingenuous window dressing, cynically designed to distract, divert and deflect attention from the University authorities indefensible “expansion at any cost” practices.

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Understandably, given this perspective, many can see little point in re-engaging with yet another round of consultation. What’s the point? Why should they do so, if the process is essentially a sham? I don’t doubt many people are  exasperated! If you share this frustration – why bother making an input? The reason is simple. If we succumb to consultation fatigue and fatalism, this will be spun as acquiescence and acceptance by the University authorities, and this, in turn increases the probability that this wonderful shared green space with be lost forever. We cannot assume previous inputs into consultations processes, fora and dialogues will be given any weight at all: indeed, the track record to date suggests exactly the opposite.

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So, it is crucial that as many people as possible come forward yet again, and express (or re-express) their views and commitments once more. This may feel like this is collectively banging our heads against a brick wall. But if we do not do this, and development here is then permitted, all the efforts and energy expended in defending the fields up until now will have been for nothing.

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So please do turn your attention to the Masterplan issue!  How can you do this? Unfortunately, the current stage of the process has not been well publicised. No prominence has yet been given to it on the University’s websites or communicative media at this key stage, with information buried in obscure places. While as to dissemination to local residents via the “CommUNIty newsletter“, these were made available in mid summer,  when many people were away, and so far ahead of the events next month that it is unlikely they will have been registered with many.

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However, what we now know is that there are two ways to express your views. First, for locally based people, there are 4 events which you can attend:

  • SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER 10.00  – 16.00 at WESTGATE HALL CANTERBURY
  • THURSDAY 11TH OCTOBER 14.00 – 20.00 at TYLER HILL MEMORIAL HALL
  • FRIDAY 12TH OCTOBER  14.00 – 20.00 at BLEAN VILLAGE HALL
  • THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER 10.00 – 16.00 at : DARWIN COLLEGE CONFERENCE SUITE on the eastern side of the University’s Canterbury campus.

Please look at the  timings and dates carefully: If you can’t make the one in Canterbury two weekends from now, please note that the alternative options are close by, including 2 which run until 8pm during the week that follows.

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Second, many readers of this Blog do not live locally, and a lot now live abroad.  If you are in this position, it appears that you can still email your feedback. The  email address – masterplan@kent.ac.uk  is provided on the Masterplan website here. (The website resources in relation to this process have been poorly organised, seem to have moved unpredictably between different addresses over time, and are hard to navigate.  But the information above seems to be accurate at the time of writing).

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If you go the email route, please can I suggest that you request an email acknowledgement and ask explicitly how your input will be used? I say this, because this is not clear from the University’s masterplan website. But if you are being generous enough with your time to make a contribution, you surely deserve at a basic minimum this sort of recognition and response.  Comments will be added to this Blog, or included in a later Blog, if any clarity is subsequently offered by the University authorities on this matter.

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Finally, please do feel free to mine the CFPS Blogs to inform your perspective and support your contributions. Although I suspect most of you will not need to do so, as you have plenty to offer based on your own experience and knowledge!

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

 

Picnic time approaching… plus Consultation, District Plan Green Gap status and Signage update

This Blog has been “rested” for a while, buts its time to rejoin! There are three reasons for this. First, after several months of unexplained delay, the Consultation Report on the Conceptual Master Plan, covering the consultation of summer 2016, was finally published a few weeks ago. So, there’s some news to report on that. And also further news concerning  the proposed “Green Gap” status (updating the details in the last Blog.)

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Second, regular users of the fields may have noticed the change in wording on the signage which demarcates this land, words that are also reproduced on the signs used at other points on the edge of the campus. What little is known about this is worth sharing.  Third, it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to picnics, including on these fields, to take advantage of the sunshine and good weather in this extraordinarily beautiful, currently unspoilt shared green space. As evidence presented in various contexts by many local people and groups over the past few years has shown –  in responding to planning applications, earlier consultations, and when compiling the vast body of material needed to make the case for village green status –  this is a customary form of leisure and recreation here which goes back for decades. It reflects deep community attachment and commitment to this unspoilt green space. Indeed, given the  historical record of using this place as a spot to view, linger and appreciate the Cathedral and cityscape – a practice  long pre-dating the University’s founding –  we can speak of this as a truly time honoured  tradition (see the “History Matters” CFPS Blog).

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So, once again I am delighted to confirm the annual collaborative picnic which symbolises this precious legacy, organised jointly with Greenpeace Canterbuy and the Abbot’s Mill Project, and supported by the Save Chaucer Fields group (see Blog Roll on the right of this text for further details). More information on what happens at the picnics come at the end of the Blog! You could skip straight to that, if you would rather find out about the latest news at the picnic itself. But please do consider reading the detailed updates on the Conceptual Master Plan Consultation, Green Gap status, and signage change issues, presented in what follows first, if you have a little time. As ever, images are interspersed to make it more digestible. This time, they are photographs taken on a short walk yesterday.

Campus Conceptual Master Plan Consultation Report

This report, published by the University’s Corporate Communications Directorate, can  be found here. It is not a particularly attractive read, but it seems reasonable for the University to claim that the process of developing the Master Plan and undertaking a consultation has been “welcomed”. This is  formally true, and reflects civility on the part of those consulted. On the other hand, of course, it could be pointed out that the University is not really positioned to claim any credit for this: it has been expressly specified as a requirement  by Canterbury City Council (CCC) –  the relevant local planning authority –  and it is hard to see on what grounds it could be resisted by the University authorities.  And especially because developments on campus in recent years have been haphazard and at times even appeared chaotic and shambolic, there has  been a steady build up of public pressure to take this obvious step –  and to take it transparently.   Ad hoc and piecemeal ‘business as usual’ is simply no longer acceptable.

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What do we learn? The report demonstrates a mixture of  reactions from consultees, and publishes the full set of responses in its voluminous appendices. This transparency is certainly a point in its favour. So, for example, there are 16 pages covering responses from “local groups” (Appendix 5A, pp. 61 – 76).  We can see the opposition to building south of University Road on the Southern Slopes clearly stated by local residents’ associations, one of which even supplied evocative photographs of the fields. But these are not the only relevant concerns from organisations. We also see explicit recognition from the influential Canterbury Society (see Blogroll) that this sentiment is much more widely shared: ‘people in the City feel like the Chaucer Fields should be kept undeveloped and not built upon’. At the same time, two highly respected local charities, orientating themselves towards the overall style and process of the consultation, highlight major concerns. The Kent Wildlife Trust and Council for the Protection of Rural England both use robust language in respectively challenging the University authorities on their failure to attend to the biodiversity dimension in developing the Conceptual Masterplan;  and highlighting apparent incompetence, mistakes and oversights in the way the University undertook the consultation process.

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Appendix 5B then  reports written feedback from individual people – over 81 pages (pp 77 – 158). Once again, it is striking to see how many such consultees have felt moved to write expressing their strong and implacable opposition to the potential loss of the Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes green gap. Large numbers of respondents point out that if the building of a “Parklands” conferencing hotel and other units were  to proceed there, as posited in the Conceptual Master Plan,  unspoilt shared green space, with extraordinary heritage, social, aesthetic and environment value, would be lost forever to both the local and university communities.

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These sentiments are perhaps predictable, reacting as to they do conferencing hotel proposals which have essentially been carried over from earlier in the decade,  cosmetically reframed now within a Conceptual Master Plan with comforting imagery, the soft focus, fuzzy language of  “enhanced landscape” and narratives deploying the vocabulary of “green assets”. So is this consultation document just telling us what we already know, that there is little or no support for the ‘development’ of the fields from either the university or local communities? In a sense, yes. But it can also be read positively by those who value the fields as generating  new evidence in support of the durability of this sentiment, sorely tested by already being expressed on multiple occasions for several years. In other words, it reaffirms and underlines the enduring strength of these values, and the level of attachment and commitment to this landscape and place amongst local and university people. It is remarkable that many people still had the energy to raise this issue for the umpteenth time, having repeatedly done so already, year after year, on a massive scale in relation to earlier versions of ‘development’ proposals. This is a tribute to the resilience of the local and university communities in the face of consultation fatigue. 

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Indeed, the resistance to Southern Slopes/Chaucer Fields despoilment emerges as  amongst the most vehemently expressed views in the entire document, as acknowledged in the main body of the document (Table 5, pp. 20 -21, Main Report): The other major issue emerging here is confirmation of the extent of opposition to ‘developing’ agricultural land purchased by the University to the North of the core campus, proximate to Blean and the Crab & Winkle Way (“Northern Land Holdings”) by situating car parks, sports facilities/buildings and a range of permanent strutures and units  (again, often using soft language – this time, ‘hubs’ – to downplay the extent to which land use would no longer be essentially agricultural in character, and involve significant and irreversible development)

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It is also worth emphasising another finding revealed by this process not in writing, but in relation to the face to face feedback witnessed at the various  events convened as part of the process. Table 2 (pp. 12 – 14, Main Report) lists a number of ‘presentations’ and ‘exhibitions’ conducted. Most of these events were not well attended, perhaps relating to a lack of effective communication about them (see the remarks above, as per the Council for the Protection of Rural England’s response).  However, at the  events that were best attended – for University Staff on campus, and in Blean village hall –  audiences once again reasserted their resistance and opposition, and sometimes with real anger.  The narratives adopted by the University authority representatives and architectural consultants were greeted with marked incredulity by many attendees at these events.  Why?  There were probably three main reasons for this reaction.

  • the narratives demonstrated a lack of basic familiarity with,  and understanding of, the character and topography of the relevant local landscapes
  • they showed a lack of awareness of the sheer strength and evidence base for pro-unspoilt space community sentiment, and
  • the narratives also suggested that the  ‘landscape enhancements’  in question (in practice, of course, nothing but development –  since we are referring to hotel buildings, other built units, car parks, facilities of various forms  etc) were something audiences didn’t need to be so concerned about, because they weren’t envisaged to take place in the immediate timeframe of the existing Estates Plan (the University Council, in signing off the Estates Plan 2015-2025, has nowhere  endorsed, or indicated funding for, the proposed hotel or other developments).

 

This third feature of the narrative  was experienced as patronising , because it appears to assume that, while the University authorities ‘think ahead’, the university and local communities are characterised by either transience or short sightedness, an unwillingness or inability to think more than 8 years ahead (a lack of concern for developments after 2025).   This disregard for forward thinking public concern is not only directly at odds with the notion that there should be a long term District Plan at all (in lie with national policy expectations,the timeframe for the ’emerging’ CCC District Plan runs to 2031, 6 years after the current Estates Plan expires). In relation to chaucer fields/the southern slopes, the revealed assumption of myopia or transience is also out of line with one of the  core findings of the village green enquiry –  that meaningful local residential communities, with durable, collective shared practices, commitments and beliefs – and therefore, capable of taking the long view –  do exist in relation to this place.

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The next steps in the process are referred to in the documentation. It is suggested the University will work ‘collaboratively’ with CCC over a period of several months to move towards the substantive Master Plan. In relation to Chaucer Fields, we know that CCC already responded to the overwhelming nature of local (and university) community sentiment in favour of protecting the fields with the “Green Gap status” proposal. Even if this particular protection cannot be included in the new District Plan for technical reasons, we can and should expect CCC to take a strong and clear position on this issue in these upcoming discussions: the key point is that the principle of protection and respect for this space has been publicly affirmed and agreed by CCC, even if “Green gap status” proposal fell on a technicality. This is a point the following section will now consider.

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“Green Gap status” not permitted as District Plan moves towards adoption

In the last Blog, it was reported that the proposal supported by CCC, that Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes be given “green gap” status in the District Plan, was, in response to claims-making by the University authorities’ hired legal consultants,  being challenged by the Planning Inspectorate on technical-procedural grounds (not substantive grounds, as reported in the local press). As expected, further to this initial response, this proposed “green gap” provision has now been removed, as part of the latest step in moving towards District Plan adoption. This is a technocratic “modification” needed to ensure the Plan will be ‘sound and legally compliant’.  Full details can be found here at CCC’s official update on the Plan.

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On the face of it, this seems like a setback for those who wish to see the unspoilt fields protected and respected. However, it is important to stress two considerations to make clear that it also has advantages. First, the very process of CCC even considering this status, and then taking the enormous step of proposing it be built into the District Plan, shows that the political will is there at local Council level to commit to the unspoilt fields. Even if ultimately overturned on a technicality, this does not reverse the fact that CCC have boldy come forward and defended the values of the community on this issue, or alter the motivation that lay behind this proposed protection. Second, in order to deflect the “need” for this protection, the University legal advisers who argued for its removal had to build their case, in part, on the claim that existing protections as expressed in CCC documents (including internal papers and documents relating to CCC meetings) were already shown to be so extensive in relation to this landscape that additional policies, such as the “green gap”, were not “needed.”  The University is thus potentially “locked in” to recognition of the value of the unspoilt landscape by its own legal consultants’ position taking in relation to this issue in the future. It has itself been forced to chart and acknowledge in its submissions to the Planning Inspectorate the high salience and significance of existing protections, already in place, and additional to any “green gap” status. It would be incoherent, inconsistent, and create an impression of disregard for due process to claim at a future date that such existing protections can be readily dispensed with.

Signage update

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Observant users of the fields may have noticed early last month that the form of words used on the demarcation signs has now changed: the image above shows the new language, where the one below shows the older formulation.

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This can be read in a number of ways. Is it a strengthening of the role of the relevant elected public authorities (in this case, Kent County Council) over the University, insisting on greater clarity on the publics’ right to use ‘rights of way’ crossing the land in our county? On the other hand, it could be seen as clearing the ground  in the longer term for a situation in which access here and in other places where the University owns land will be more strictly circumscribed, driving a strict wedge between allowable and forbidden use.  A world of narrow pathways and functional ‘desire lines’ to and from workplaces in the context of a looming hotel complex,  a range of other buildings and facilities, and car parks, all  erected on a previously unspoilt landscape where roaming had previously been the norm. In other words, this is a scenario in which the free sharing of  land around the University, for recreation and leisure by the university and local communities, is over time constrained and then ultimately brought to a halt in the name of ‘development’ (or, ‘enhanced landscape’).

The University authorities have indicated they have taken this initiative as a result of ‘legal advice’, but it is not in the public domain what form that advice took, or the nature of the agenda in asking for it. The most benign and optimistic explanation, more in line with the first reading, is that it is a response to the fact the cyclists, walkers and others, particularly those trying to ‘find their way’ onto the Crab & Winkle route, had often found the older signage confusing, and this is a way to rectify this. However, only time will tell whether a more controlling intention to restrict non-public right-based of way activities into the future is  part of the thinking too.

 

Upcoming Picnic – Sunday 16th July midday onwards   

And so to the picnic – this will be the sixth collaborative one since the CFPS was formed in 2011.  The event is always great fun, with every one is slightly different from its predecessors. However, certain key features always endure – sharing food and drink in a truly beautiful setting, appreciating both the nature surroundings and the proximate cityscape; play for families, ranging from impromptu tree climbing, hide and seek to more organised activities, such as football, kite flying, rounders and dodgeball; conversation and socialising, finding out about people, places and gossip, crossing the boundaries between the local and university communities; and last but not least, music, ranging from a small stage with amplification for those inclined, to more casual jamming and swopping of tunes and musical ideas.

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This year, we are delighted to highlight two special features of the event, each linking back to the support base for the fields as it has been nurtured and grown over the years. First, Richard Navarro will be playing once more! A regular at earlier picnics, and someone who did a lot to raise awareness of the cause with his Joni Mitchell inspired Concrete Lung , touring and other commitments meant Richard was missed at recent gatherings. However, he will join us this time, fresh from a recent highly successful tour of Ireland.

Second, we will take the chance of the gathering to convene a group to informally talk about ways forward in protecting, respecting and enhancing the local landscape (the demarcated campus, and any adjacent/other land now acquired by the University). This will be in the light of what we have now learned about the University authorities’ agenda and intentions thus far (through the Master Plan process). This will be led by Dr William Rowlandson, green representative at the University of Kent for the University and Colleges Union. (See William’s response to the Conceptual Master Plan consultation here.) UCU has already been an important actor in confirming University staff’s commitment to protecting the fields (facilitating the motion leading to a strong vote in favour of protecting the fields as undeveloped green space shared with the local community in 2012), and there is potential for it in the context of this new initiative to take an wider role regarding the local environmental agenda too.

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We look forward to welcoming you to the picnic on sunday – 12.00 midday onwards! (Facebook users, see the event information from the Abbot’s Mill Project here).

All good wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

 

 

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #3

This is the third of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department, which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers.  ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may choose to provide. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

Student picnic

The feedback below was put forward by Professor Christopher Rootes, a leading international expert on the political and social aspects of environmental issues, and a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images relate to musical  picnics ad events which have unfolded on the fields over recent years.

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Beginning of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

I welcome the proposals in the CMP to preserve the landscape values of the campus, and to establish design principles to guide the design qualities of new / replacement buildings. Thus the plan promises to preserve the strongest positive appeal of the estate (its green landscapes and views over the city) and to mitigate the weakest (the poor design quality and functionality of most existing buildings). In particular, I applaud the statement (p.59): ‘Whilst advocating the enhancement of the University’s relationship with the City, special care should be taken to preserve the character of the University as satellite of the City, and to nurture the views of historic Canterbury, which are one of the most delightful features of the Campus.’ That said, the specific proposals too often show little appreciation of the qualities of the existing campus and would impose a ‘rationalisation’ that is in many respects subversive of those qualities.

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The CMP recognises that ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting. Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury.’ These, surely, are invaluable assets that should be preserved. The ‘spaces to be considered for development’ include almost all the remaining woodland remnants in and around the central campus. Yet it is these that most enhance the central campus and give relief from the unattractive buildings that neighbour / surround them. The woodland fringe to the north of Giles Lane and along Parkwood Road, and the copse between Jarman and Keynes are a few examples – ‘rationalising’ these spaces, or building on them, would greatly diminish the visual appeal of those parts of the campus, and the sense of well-being that they presently impart. Likewise, further development in the green space to the south of the Library (between Eliot and Rutherford) would compromise one of the iconic views of the cathedral from the campus.

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I find it very odd that existing green spaces are considered ‘too homogenous’, yet the plan is to give the university greater ‘identity’ by ‘rationalising’ it. In fact, there is a considerable variety of green spaces on the campus, and it is mostly the relatively recently planted ones that could be said to be ‘too homogenous’. Preserving diversity is important, but it could be enhanced by better landscaping of some of the recently planted areas rather than wholesale redevelopment. The correlation between ‘quality of place’ and ‘university performance’ as presented in the draft is almost certainly spurious. The main driver of ‘performance’ (measured here by rank order in a league table) is academic performance in teaching and research, and in student recruitment; Kent’s lower ranking than its peer group mainly reflects early decisions about subject mix and subsequent investment in academic development. Moreover, giving the lie to the claimed correlation, the university has been rising in the rankings without any notable improvement in ‘quality of place’. The idea that the hideously over-developed urban space of Lancaster gives it greater ‘quality of place’ than Kent now is, to me, laughable. Kent has, as the CMP’s remarks about its greenness and landscape setting make clear, unique advantages that make such comparisons meaningless.

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I really do not understand the enthusiasm in the CMP for Jarman Square (existing or enlarged) and a new ‘Darwin Square’. The existing hard-landscaped space around Jarman is, to me, one of the least attractive places on the campus, and I struggle to see it as either very useful or even potentially attractive, especially in Kent’s term-time weather. Squares were, historically, parade grounds and, unless someone is envisaging an improbable revival of revolutionary student activity, such spaces really do not deserve a place on a modern university campus. Better by far to develop new, smaller, more intimate spaces to which students and staff might develop attachment and which they might actually use.  I really do not see the need for ‘formal, ceremonial spaces’.

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The idea that the Darwin Square will be associated with a ‘new eastern pedestrian entrance to the campus’ is mystifying, particularly because the narrowness and steepness of, and heavy traffic on, St Stephen’s Hill make this a very unsuitable point for a new principal entrance. I am also sceptical of the value of a central street fronted by shops and cafes. Universities are not shopping centres and do not seem likely to become so, and cafes and restaurants (notably poor at Kent) are better located in quieter and more ‘defensible’ nooks in various places on the campus.

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The ambition ‘to build a reputation ‘The Best Garden Campus in the U.K.’’ is familiar – it was tried some 25 years ago and was responsible for much of the poor / mediocre landscaping and planting from which the campus now suffers. It would be much better to preserve and enhance the woodlands, to make Kent the UK’s best woodland campus. Now, that could be truly magnificent.

jamming musicians Jeremy photoThe thing I find most disturbing in the CMP is the proposals for the ‘Parklands’. The landscape value of the historic buildings is admitted, but the significance of their historic status and their relationship to the historic relationship between the site and the city and Cathedral is not. The area between Beverley Farmhouse and the city is especially sensitive in this respect, sited as it is as the northern end of what remains of the ancient trackway from the Cathedral to Blean Woods. For this reason, I am opposed to any suggestion that ‘the Parklands will also provide a location for the continued development of new buildings and other facilities as and when appropriate.’ Such development simply cannot be compatible with the preservation of the key landscape and cultural values of the site. I would be very skeptical that ‘Such buildings will be designed as ‘landscape buildings’ or ‘pavilions in the landscape’; that might work in formal gardens, but on a hilly, partly wooded site such as thus where views over the city are of such value, it would be much better, surely, to preserve these sites and to lightly manage to improve their existing landscape value. The area formerly referred to as ‘the Southern slopes’ also has clear value as a green buffer between the city and the university, and is highly prized as a local green space in a part of the city that is otherwise relatively deprived in that respect. The preservation and enhancement of such unimproved green space should be a high priority for the university and the city.

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The hugely popular song “Concrete Lung” (See BlogRoll) performed live on site by locally renowned musician Richard Navarro and BBC Folk award winner Brendan Power

One disappointing aspect of the CMP is its lack of clear proposal for cross-campus cycle routes. Even within the core campus, it is difficult to get from one end to the other in the time between lectures and seminars, and for those of us who are dependent on bicycles, this is an obvious area for urgent improvement.

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I have refrained from commenting on the CMP’s proposals for the ‘Northern lands’, partly because I know this presently undeveloped area less well, but also because the proposals appear to be so contrary to a variety of planning guidelines – e.g., those against ribbon development (as development along the Tyler Hill Link Road would be); those protecting existing footpaths and cycleways (of which the Crab and Winkle Way is a nationally important example); those protecting the landscape setting of historic buildings (sucha s the church of St Cosmus and St Damien in the Blean). I would be surprised if planners would permit any such development on or accessed via the Tyler Hill Link Road. Developments on the existing fields closer to and accessible from Parkwood Road would seem much more likely to gain planning permission.

End of Professor Rootes’ Feedback

Conceptual Master Plan consultation: perspectives from the fields: #2

This is the second of a mini-series of CFPS Blogs reporting on Feedback to the CMP consultation. This and the following Blogs are Guest Blogs simply presenting, unedited, the responses provided to the University’s Corporate Communications Department (CCD), which is organising the CMP consultation process, from well positioned members of the local/University communities. The idea is to give a preliminary flavour of some of the views held by informed and experienced observers,  ahead of the release of any summary report which the CCD may make available. While local residents’ associations and others are pressing for the process to be as transparent and communicative as possible, unfortunately the University authorities’ approach to presenting results, and showing how the plans will be modified to reflect what has been learned,  are unknown at the time of writing.  In the meantime, these Blogs hope to give a sense of some of the emerging issues in general, and  as part of that broader picture, in relation to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes (re-labelled as part of “Parklands” in the CMP).

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The feedback below was put forward by Dr William Rowlandson, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies, who has acted on green/environmental issues for the main staff trade union, the University & College Union (UCU).  Dr Rowlandson is a longstanding member of both the University and local communities. References to Chaucer Fields/the Southern Slopes are presented in Bold font for ease of reference.  The interprersed images from the fields are of Butterflies,  all taken on the fields over the past five years. In the light of today’s landmark report from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology that we are facing ongoing, accelerating problems of decline, it is an obvious and apposite step to highlight the unspoilt fields’ value and beauty in this  sense. This is  just one of many of its advantages for wildlife, witnessed and cherished  daily by members of the University and local communities.

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Beginning of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

 I applaud the plans for the Campus Heart. The need for development of this central area is well articulated: a central thoroughfare, a more identifiable entrance, replacing or refurbishment of existing buildings. All, to me, seems fine. The plans for The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings are based upon some misdirected apprehensions, and are very concerning. The university is ‘blessed with an abundance of green spaces’ (37). ‘The University is well known as a very verdant campus with plenty of open space, located within a semi-rural landscape setting’ 39). It is heartening to see that recognised. However, ‘the green spaces within the campus are rather homogenous and repetitious, and this lack of variety means that the university under-achieves in terms of its campus character and personality’ (37). This is troublesome. Surely the value of green spaces is that they are, precisely, green spaces. There is mention of vulnerability to inclement weather. Well trees are a perfect cover for bad weather. It would seem ludicrous to remove the woodland.

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‘Access to green space is available but their use is not encouraged’ (37). There are excellent paths through all the woodland. If people like to walk in the woodland then they need no encouragement. That these wooded spaces ‘lack animation or passive surveillance’ and ‘are not perceived as safe’ (37) is again precisely because they are woodland. That is their charm. One cannot set up security cameras in dense wood.

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Here we move to the very troublesome bit: ‘Parklands surround the campus, with incredible views over historic Canterbury. These have an as yet unfulfilled potential to become great assets for the University and the surrounding communities’ (39). The woodland and field system are already great assets. Adaptation of their central feature as woodland and field system is not improvement. It is adaptation. It is development. A woodland is not improved by cutting back trees. A field is not improved by building in it. They cease to be what they are and become something different.

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‘Currently many of the existing areas of green landscape are ‘organic’ in nature, and are ill-defined and under-used whilst lacking variety. Much of this landscape is protected as woodland from development or adaptation’ (56). It is revealing that the fields and woods are seen as unfulfilled potential. This is a dangerous ideological position akin to seeing untapped oil reserves in the arctic as unfulfilled potential or shale gas as crying out for fracking. Have any of the architects or the university planners sat quietly alone in the woods in the Northern Land Holdings? If so they may well perceive a very dynamic environment that beautifully reflects seasonal changes and demonstrates great biodiversity. I also refute the notion that competitor universities have an edge over Kent because of exploitation of their natural land. If anything, I think that Kent can raise its profile as a green university by developing the Campus Heart whilst leaving the wilder aspects of the campus wild.

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If the university is keen, as stated, to preserve good relations with the city and the community, then the plans to build on the treasured so-called ‘Chaucer Fields’ betray a very different ambition. It suggests effectively trampling on many years of local opposition to the planned development in the valuable southern slopes. My conclusion is that the plans for the Campus Heart are good. I find the tone of the narrative with regard The Parklands and The Northern Land Holdings very troubling, and indicative of a ruthless and ill-sighted desire for financial return over environmental and ecological concerns.

End of Dr Williamson’s Feedback

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