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.
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.
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!
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!
Chaucer Fields Picnic Society