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 But it were then withdrawn  – with no explanation offered. 8TH OCTOBER UPDATE: THIS PRESENTATION, REVISED,  HAS NOW BEEN UPLOADED AGAIN TO THE MASTERPLAN SITE.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