50th Blog: SCF report on VGA decision

Introduction

Welcome to this “Guest Blog”, the 50th  CFPS Society Blog since we started 5 years ago. It is written by David Smith, the spokesperson for the Save Chaucer Fields group, and reports on the outcome of the application to Kent County Council to have the fields recognised as a village green. It’s not the news we would have ideally liked: the application has not been accepted, so the  ultimate goal of inviolable and perpetually legally protected status for the fields has not yet been achieved.

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However, as David’s blog makes clear, engagement with this process has  been of great value for the cause. First, it has generated a powerful and incontestable body of officially validated evidence that the fields were, during a 20 year period, of enormous value as a space for recreational use; and that this use was demonstrably associated with an identifiable local community. This  reality is now unambigously a matter of public record, and can no longer be dismissed, deflected or denied.  Second, the Village Green Application has acted as a symbolic and substantive rallying point for community action, and has been crucial in sustaining the overall momentum of the overall campaign. This has continued to go from strength to strength, broadening and deepening in its appeal over time.

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SCF and CFPS look forward to continuing to work together, for as a long as it takes to settle on a status proportionate to the value, beauty and historic significance of this remarkable place. As usual, the text is interspersed with some recent late winter/early spring photographs.  

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After five years of campaigning, we at last have a decision on our application to register Chaucer Fields as a Village Green.  On Friday 18th March, Kent County Council’s Regulation Committee Member Panel considered the report from its Officer, which was based on the findings of the Inspector who conducted the Public Inquiry held last year.

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The Inquiry had been set up because the University had objected to our application on three grounds:

  • The University claimed that insufficient numbers of local inhabitants had indulged in lawful sports and pastimes on the land in the period 1991 to 2011.

At the Public Inquiry this was shown to be incorrect.  The Inspector concluded that there was evidence of a wide range of lawful sports and pastimes throughout the twenty year period, and that recreational use was of the whole of the application land and not just limited to parts of it.  The University’s legal team accepted this at the Inquiry.

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  • The University claimed that we had failed to provide evidence that the land had been used by a significant number of residents of a particular locality or neighbourhood.

Again the Inspector found in our favour.  Whilst disallowing some of the neighbourhoods claimed, she took the view that a significant number of residents of St. Dunstan’s Parish, and of the Harkness Drive area, had used the fields throughout the twenty year period.  These did therefore qualify as a locality and a neighbourhood for Village Green registration.

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  • The University claimed that use of the land was with their permission, because they had installed permissive notices at various locations on the application site, and therefore use by the public was not “as of right”.

After exhaustive examination of the evidence provided by the University and the Applicants, the Inspector concluded that the University did do enough by erecting signs, and that the signs were in position for long enough, to communicate to the public that use of the land was by revocable licence and therefore not “as of right” in the technical legal sense.

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Sadly, therefore, on this legal test the application has failed.  We have given it our best shot, and we have proved our case on two of the points, but not on the third.  This is obviously a big disappointment, but there a number of positives which we can take from the result.  The Village Green application was just one of the routes by which we have been working to preserve the fields for future generations, and we have made real progress towards that goal.

SO, WHAT NOW?

Firstly, a very sincere thanks to the many hundreds of people who have supported the campaign.  Without your help we couldn’t have got this far and had Chaucer Fields confirmed as being a highly valued open space for people to enjoy.

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Next, we hope that the University authorities have listened, and now accept that the Southern Slopes of their campus are a very valuable asset, not only for the local community but also for themselves, their students and staff – as a green open space, not a piece of real estate to be built upon.  Canterbury City Council has certainly recognised the value of the Southern Slopes as a buffer between “Town and Gown”. Their proposal, in the Local Plan, to designate the whole of the Southern Slopes as a “Green Gap”, would greatly assist in preventing development on the fields.  The proposal has still to be tested when the Inspector continues with his examination of the Local Plan, but we hope that the “Green Gap” designation will be confirmed. The Save Chaucer Fields Campaign group remain resolute in our determination to preserve the fields for the enjoyment of all, and for future generations. Please follow our Facebook page where we will post any new information.

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CFPS First birthday

Dear all

CFPS First Anniversary

This month its the one year anniversary Blog of the Chaucer Fields Picnic Society! Because this is a subject about which many people feel so strongly,  I think the CFPS Blog  was always going to be ‘pushing at an open door’ in terms of levels of interest. But I have  been taken aback by quite how extensive  this interest has been. The site’s  had over 6,700 views, with people appearing to find it especially useful when there are significant news items to report. Interestingly, though, its not just being used by locally based people to keep a tab on events they can attend, or developments which potentially directly affect the  environment in which they work and live. Its also now read  in other parts of the world, including (in descending order of significance) the United States, Russia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, India, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Spain, and in other countries too in more modest numbers. On reflection, this is  not  so surprising: Canterbury is a proud World Heritage city, and threats to its setting should therefore be expected  to concern people from across the globe Furthermore the University itself rightly prides itself on the cosmopolitan character if its ‘community’ extending all over the world, and some of this interest reflects the extent to which people with UKC links are keen to follow developments  from many different places.

I’ve also had feedback that people appreciate the seasonal and historical imagery the Blog has sought to disseminate. With ‘home grown’ snaps I have made my own efforts  throughout the year to communicate something of  the natural beauty and charm of this place, and give a sense of how it is enjoyed throughout the year. But I  have also been able to draw on the work of others, a rewarding, intriguing and a great learning experience.  I want to take this chance to thank all the people  who have generously shared their pictures and thoughts with me in the past year, all united by recognition of the urgency and importance of the cause.

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Edwin Quast’s award winning “Chaucer Fields”, April 2011

What better way to underscore the importance of this co-operative effort that to showcase here very high quality images from the past and present? First, the image above was taken nearly two years ago (April 2011) by a University of Kent student, Edwin Quast. But its appeal is surely enduring. It captures so well the magical light  and sense of tranquility that pervades the unspoilt fields around dusk and dawn in the spring . It is no surprise that it went on to win an award last year, as part of  the  “365 Projects” supported through Kent Creative Art. This remarkable community initiative has successfully  captured with meaningful and resonant photography the places, people and situations which matter to local  people.

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Ed receiving his prize in 2012 from Faversham Festival’s Graham Gilbert in recognition of “Chaucer Fields”

Second, the specialness of the Southern Slopes is not only to do with its character as a historically significant beautiful and peaceful landscape. Its also about the wildlife which can be found there. I was delighted  to find out recently  that the university community has in its midst a very gifted wildlife photographer, Mark Kilner, who has kindly given me permission to mark the CFPS anniversary with some of his recent Southern Slopes photographs. His wonderful picture of a treecreeper, below is an example of a bird I had long expected to find here (given the character of the habitat), but have never actually succeeded in spotting! .Further Southern Slopes photographs from Mark follow below (please also take a moment to visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/markkilner/ ) .

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Treecreeper, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, March 2013

News Update

Since the last CFPS Blog at  the beginning of the month, the following developments are worth reporting:

  • The most successful Save Chaucer  Fields quiz night evertook place, with attendance and fundraising levels breaking existing records
  • The informal  Goods Shed musical event took place the following weekend, featuring local  traditional  band Roystercatchers. This raised further funds, but also succeeded in spreading awareness of the cause, whilst entertaining numerous invitees, shoppers and diners
  • People from the “University community”, including current and former staff and students, have submitted  pro-unspoilt Southern Slopes  “ideas” under the “Kent@ 50” initiative (see links in earlier Blog). In response to my own personal submission, I was told that the idea  would not be taken forward because it “conflicts with other University policies and plans”. Believing this  to refer to the Chaucer Conference Centre plans, I have written back to suggest that these plans cannot be assumed to be executable. That’s because (a) they demonstrably conflict  with local government (CCC) landscape and open space policies, which could lead to the withholding of planning permission; (b) because the pending village green application (with KCC) may be successful; and/or (c) because the University may sensibly choose to voluntarily withdraw these plans in response to community and expert sentiment and opinion (as it did with the 2011 plans).  I have therefore suggested that my “idea” and the numerous related pro-Southern Slopes  “ideas” submitted by  other members of the “University community” be retained, pending the outcome of these processes.
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Roystercatchers playing at the Goods Shed, 16 March 2013

In  addition,the Village Green preliminary hearing took place this week at the International Franciscan Studies  Centre. There was good attendance from the public. The need for this hearing, prior to the long awaited public inquiry, had arisen out of a  disagreement between the village green applicants (local people who have used the fields freely for decades) and the objector (the University authorities) about the  time frame relating to which evidence may  be considered relevant at the inquiry. Basically, the former would now prefer to be able to draw upon evidence over more than four decades, whereas the University authoriities  are seeking  to limit the evidence to the period 1991 – 2011. This is a complex legal issue, and the barristers for each party presented their cases to an expert Inspector from Kent County Council.

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Goldcrest, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, March 2013

The KCC Inspector will now review  their arguments, and recommend a decision concerning the legally appropriate time frame to the  relevant KCC committee (the  regulation committee). It is only once that committee has taken the decision that the public inquiry itself can begin with a clear frame of reference. Since the May 2013 KCC elections will need to have taken place for the regulation  committee to be properly constituted, the public inquiry itself can not take place before later in the summer, months later than originally  planned.  Further time will then be needed for the inquiry report to be written and a recommendation made to the KCC regulation committee concerning whether or not Village Green status should be granted. The  overall result is that the outcome of the Village Green Application will not be known for  many months.

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Redwing, Southern Slopes, photograph by Mark Kilner, February 2013

These legal twists and turns were unforseeable when this Blog began.My view is that the delays which follow from them are on balance a good  thing for  friends of the unspoilt Southern Slopes. That’s because while frustratingly complex, it affords more time for awareness of  the true value of this beautiful place to continue to heighten, and allows the University a further opportunity to reconsider its position. It now faces a mass of compelling  evidence and argument from an enormous number of  people currently collaborating to protect the fields for the future,and committed to continue to do so in the years ahead.

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Breaking news plus events update

Dear all

This Blog will break all records for brevity (did I hear a sigh of relief?!). First, I am simply passing directly on to you a statement received late yesterday from the Save Chaucer Fields group.

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A family strolling on the fields, later summer 2012

1. Breaking news: Village Green Application

“The Village Green Application due to commence on Monday 18th March has been adjourned. This is because a request that we made to have all of our evidence (which dates back some 60 years) considered at the Inquiry, was challenged by the University. As a result KCC [Kent County Council] and The Inspector have decided that the point of disagreement should be determined before the Inquiry can proceed. The point of disagreement will be examined by The Inspector at a one day hearing at The Franciscan Study Centre on Monday 18th March, and her recommendation will be considered by KCC who will then set a new date for the Public Inquiry”

(source: email correspondence from Save Chaucer Fields group, 28 February 2013 )

So: please retain Monday 18th March as a date in your diaries to attend at the Franciscan Study Centre if you are able, and we await the setting of the date for the adjourned, full inquiry. So, it seems proceedings will not take place as planned for the rest of the week. At this moment in time I don’t feel sufficiently informed to offer any  commentary or interpretation. But when I know more, I’ll of course pass this on to you.

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Dover  Down Field Cathedral view  spring 2012

2. Events update

Second,  we hope to see as many of you as possible at the two upcoming community events:

  • The Save Chaucer Fields quiz, st Dunstan’s Church Hall, 7pm, Saturday 9th March (see below/SCF Facebook page for more information)

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  • For the  musical event on Saturday 16th March I can now reveal some more information: Venue =  The Goods Shed http://thegoodsshed.co.uk/  supported by: The Goods Shed management/Goods Shed restaurant/Murray’s General Store; Time =  2-3pm: Admission = No charge but opportunities to make donations for the SCF Fighting Fund: MusicRoystercatchers play traditional English tunes and dance music: Sustenance = subsidised refreshments from Murray’s General Store. There’s also all the other stuff the Goods Shed famously has to offer!
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The diminutive lesser spotted woodpecker is sometimes see or heard around Chaucer Fields, although far less frequently than the greater spotted woodpecker or green woodpecker. (Image courtesy the Woodland Trust)

 Best wishes
Chaucer Fielder
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Four things worth noting

Dear all

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

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1. Keynes III Planning Application approved (5 February)

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

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

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Canterbury Christ Church students filming on the Fields, February 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Kent @50

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Upcoming events

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

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

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

9 march 2013 SCF quiz

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

All best

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

Belated welcome – 2013

Dear all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3. Upcoming Social and Fundraising Events March – May 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields Picnic Society

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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

Village Green Application – news from today’s meeting (11th september)

Dear all

I am pleased to be able to let you know that today Kent County Council (KCC) decided to launch a non-statutory public inquiry in response to the evidence assembled for the ‘Chaucer Fields’ (better, ‘Southern Slopes’) Village Green application. There was a site visit this morning. Then, in front of a packed audience at Westgate Hall (I counted well over 80 people), a senior KCC officer presented with great skill and clarity her report to a panel of elected members (that is, KCC Councillors). In this report (see KCC report VGA application sept 2012) it was argued cogently that it was neither possible to dismiss nor accept the  Village Green Application based upon available evidence. This was because there were key issues upon which the evidence of the applicants, and that of the University (as sole objector), were out of line. For example, the University asserted there was little use of the land for recreation, whereas the applicants argued that there was indeed extensive use of the land for precisely these purposes.

Jays are amongst the colourful birds witnessed by users of  the Southern Slopes.                     Images  in this  Blog courtesy of the Woodland Trust/Kent Wildlife Trust

In these circumstances (in which the basic facts of the application are contentious) a public enquiry to look in more depth at the evidence was recommended by the officer. All panel members, the applicants – and even the University’s legal counsel (who had little choice)  – welcomed the report. KCC members then voted to endorse the recommendation.

This is good news for the community  – and the large numbers of University people, and civil society organisations, who share the unspoilt space agenda –  for two reasons. First, simply because it creates further time and opportunity to argue our compelling case for retaining the fields as beautiful, high value green space, whatever the ultimate outcome of the VGA. Due to the backlog of cases KCC is processing, the inquiry is unlikely to be even launched before spring 2013, and would be expected to take several weeks or months. So that the final VGA decision is unlikely to come before late 2013, perhaps not for a year.

Green woodpecker or ‘yaffle’ – Often heard or seen on the Southern Slopes
Images in this Blog courtesy of Woodland Trust/Kent Wildlife Trust

Second, it is also good news because there is a reasonable chance that the outcome the community wants may eventually emerge: that is, that the inquiry could find in the applicant’s favour when it does report in late 2013; and if confirmed, 43 acres of the Southern  Slopes would then be legally protected as common land. The dismissive attitude towards the VGA  from the promoters of the  ‘development’  of Chaucer Fields within the University, so evident earlier this year, has now been publicly shown to be premature. All can now see there is a large body of evidence in support of the pro-Village Green case. Although the legal tests which must all be met are really very demanding, the case is demonstrably strong, and the community and its pro-green space allies in the University and civil society may succeed!

The singing of wrens is  familiar across the Southern Slopes
Images in Blog courtesy of Woodland Trust/Kent Wildlife Trust

That’s the good news from today, hopefully to balance against yesterday’s gloom when some depressing information about the University’s latest ‘development’ intentions began to emerge. More to follow in due course!

Best wishes

Chaucer Fielder

Chaucer Fields  Picnic Society