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

The true colours of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes

Dear reader

The last few days have been productive for supporters of the ongoing efforts to draw attention to the value of Chaucer Fields and the Southern Slopes as an unspoilt and beautiful place. There was further local media coverage, and Richard Navarro’s work with Brendan Power to raise the profile of the issue was a great success (see for example, press coverage, Kentish Gazette)

It is reported  that significant numbers of people submitted written representations to Kent County Council in favour of the Village Green Application –  with only one objector (the University). We will learn in more detail over the weeks ahead more precisely what evidence has been submitted, and become clearer on the timeline for this process to proceed. Of course, we are also still awaiting the University’s Planning re-Application to Canterbury City Council.

In the meantime, it seemed to me that space should be found to paint a richer picture of the place as it is experienced by those who appreciate it. The Save Chaucer Fields website and SCF Facebook pages now have many excellent images of the landscape. But as people who know this place appreciate, it is not only the landscape and views and wonderful sense of space which make it such a special place. Its is also its wildlife, and the heritage and history that it embodies. The latter stems not only from its situation as the wider setting for the Cathedral, but also because its medieval field structure has provided the context for a classic Wealden farmhouse (Beverley farm)  for at least 500 years

While we await the Planning re-Application and more news on the Village Green process, I’ll therefore be posting some material to capture a little of this magic. A very special part of the wildlife aspect is surely the characterful birds that frequent it. The images will primarily be courtesy of the Woodland Trust (who are also helping the campaign via a grant to the Save Chaucer Fields group).

Green Woodpecker, with kind permission of The Woodland Trust

I start off today with bird which is a personal favourite – the Green Woodpecker. I agree with Norman Ellison, whose chapter in The Countryside Companion describes it as ‘among our most beautiful British birds’.  Not only is it one of the most visually striking birds, but it also has a characteristically undulating form of flight, and its hysterical laughing call is so often part of the soundscape of this place. Because it is so easy to identify, its a great way to get children interested in appreciating nature. So if you are with younger company, why not point it out the next time you are enjoying the fields?

bye for now, Chaucer Fielder (CFPS)