University of Kent to destroy Chaucer Fields

Allow me a small rant. I am very sad about this.

If you’ve ever lived or studied in Canterbury you won’t need to be told how beautiful and idyllic the surroundings of the University of Kent are. In which case, you’ll no doubt be as angry and confused as I am about the University’s decision to destroy Chaucer fields for a large new building project. I’m stunned.

Yes, I’m talking about the stretch of grassy hillside that rolls down from the side of the Venue, diagonally towards the rear of Harkness Drive.

Throughout the five happy years I spent in Canterbury, I would frequently stroll up and down that hill, never once tiring of the view or the peace. It has appeared in countless student films and prospectuses. That hillside, indeed the whole surrounding area is quite simply beautiful. The views down to the cathedral, the rabbits and the hedgerows – it’s caused many a prospective student to fall in love with the campus on an open day. Myself included. The very beauty of the campus is one of its main strengths.

I can’t believe anyone would consider destroying that area. That stretch of peaceful green belt that separates the campus from the city. That collection of centuries-old former apple orchards that have made so many summery walks such a sheer delight. Where the seasons change so vibrantly. Where people walk dogs, and go jogging and fly kites. They really do. This isn’t rose-tinted spectacles. I’ve seen them do it often. It’s a lovely area. Last year I stood out there and watched a meteorite storm. In the past I have read books there, and sat under the tree with my girlfriend, relaxing in the fresh air and the views.

What kind of heartless idiot would consider paving over that?

If this building project goes ahead, the field will be replaced by the following:

– a conference centre
– a car park
– yet more student accommodation
– a Holiday Inn hotel.

It’s not even like they’re building anything important!

I used to work at the University of Kent. I heard staff talking about how the University was enrolling too many students, and needed to take less. If you switch on the news, you’ll hear about graduate unemployment, and the rising costs of University education, and the worsening credit crunch. Am I alone in thinking that Universities may well start to see reduced numbers of applicants in the coming years? Yes, I’m aware that Kent frequently runs out of accommodation for the hordes of Freshers it admits (hence Tyler Court and the newer Parkwood blocks; not to mention the Post-grad housing in the newly built Virginia Woolf college) but surely this trend won’t continue?

I simply do not believe that the supposed functional and financial benefits of this new development outweigh the intrinsic value of retaining Chaucer fields as a spot of beauty, as part of the University’s ‘garden’ if you like.

Locals have already set up opposition to the scheme, and I support them wholeheartedly. My concern is their argument rests on such issues as increased footfall and noise. I have sympathy for residents regarding this issue, but I simply don’t believe that the University or the Council really give two hoots about that sort of thing. Sorry, but they’re interested in business, and making money. They might pretend to listen, but ultimately they’re not going to abandon a building project for the sake of giving Mr Bloggs a better night’s sleep, or ensuring his parking spot isn’t taken.

No, the real argument against this development should be that the University will be doing itself more damage than good. All that will be left of Chaucer fields is a wedge of lawn opposite the Keynes bus shelters. In effect, the campus conurbation will be continuous with the city’s suburbs. This will go a large way to destroying one of the nicest things about Kent campus, which is that it feels like it is surrounded by countryside whilst simultaneously being only a short walk from Canterbury itself. If we allow a large chunk of that countryside to be built on, then we’re only a couple more building projects away from Kent being a suburban campus. Which would be an awful shame.

Also, the proposed site includes the area which the University gave to the Conservation Society. I understand they have already planted 100 new trees there. It disgusts me that the University are capable of such hypocrisy as to immediately retract this gesture and build on the site. Universities should be at the forefront of thinking about the environment, and the future, and how technology and society can be improving. They should not bulldoze over wildlife, simply so businessmen have yet another place to hold conferences, and the Uni can make money from selling to a hotel company.

If you’re in Canterbury this evening, head to Chaucer fields at 7.30pm. A group of students will be releasing biodegradable lanterns. I understand they wish to drum up a bit of media attention for the cause. I sincerely hope they get some coverage. There is also a Facebook group and a website savechaucerfields.com

The building project itself has a website http://www.uok-consultation.co.uk/index.html¬†¬†which you’ll notice has a form where you can apparently ‘Have Your Say.’ If you think it will help, by all means tell them what you think.

I am very sad.

This is a lament. For the valuable and the cherished and the beautiful. For the English countryside. It is not ours to be enjoyed. It is all waiting to be tarmacked over by gits.

12 Comments

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  1. Yes, this has got me properly pissed off. The building will be pretty much vacant and rotting in 15 years time when the youth of that generation have no need for degrees. The people in charge of expansion at University of Kent are a bunch of fucking idiots. It’s just plain upsetting.

  2. The veritable Tom Mathias

    Disgusting, simply disgusting.

  3. Great comment on the build, thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts (shared by many others) on the web. Hopefully we can translate this public anger into action and like with our event on the 11th can express to the council and the University why we don’t want this development and why it will be detrimental both financially and in terms of Canterbury quality.
    Thank you

  4. The veritable Tom Mathias

    What’s happening on the 11th?
    Will there be details on the Facebook fan page?

    • I think Alex’s comment referred to the event mentioned in my Blog post, where students organised the release of paper lanterns at Chaucer Fields on Friday 11th of February. There are a couple of images on savechaucerfields.com

  5. Jay Adams

    Thank you for this post…. its wonderful, I agree with it all and appreciate what you say! We are still trying our best to ‘save Chaucer fields’ so if you’d like any more info then just let me know, the more the merrier in this campaign.
    THANK YOU!!

  6. A Coggins

    A short film to highlight to success of the lantern launch which took place on 11/2/2011, bringing students and residents together in protest against the proposal.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spkqqHmQIJM

    Please watch and remember the cause everyone is fighting for.

  7. Oliver Fry

    Local residents are making a Village Green application. That involves taking statements from people who have used the Canterbury-facing fields for recreational purposes in an unimpeded way. Village Green status, if granted in the light of this evidence, would mean the land cannot be built on. If you want to help take statements, help give guidance on what citizens can do to object, help set things up, or take part in dialogue as to the environmental consequences of the University of Kent’s proposals and how a social movement against the extraordinary proposals could be articulated, do please come to St Dunstans Church Hall on the London Road behind the Church between 1 pm and 4.30 pm this Saturday, 19.03. Save the land.

    • I think a village green application sounds like a good idea. My opposition to the scheme is certainly largely based around what a lovely space it is, and how demonstrably it is used and valued by the community (not least to say, how much the campus would suffer to lose it) and so I suppose it is indeed comparable to a village green. Whereas, say, the bit of land they built Woolf college on was no massive loss and not used like a village green at all. If I still lived in Canterbury I would certainly go to St Dunstan’s on Saturday, but unfortunately the Bakery are all elsewhere these days. We all offer support from afar though! Is it possible to make a comment without being in Canterbury?

  8. Was very moved by your ‘verbology’ I have lived here for nearly 13yrs and work in canterbury too,have walked my dogs here and needed the space and tranquility ,just the walk to the ‘bottom’ field as I call it would be permeated with honeysuckle,elderflower and philadelphus- in the right season of course,
    In the fields we have garlic chives ,arum lilies, may blossom in season, ox eye daisies, scarlet pimpernel,we have an abundant bird life including green and spotted woodpecker, heron,long tailed tits, blackcaps and many more no doubt as I’m always wondering where the dog has gone or chatting to other walkers and probably miss half the wildlife, As you expressed so well , it is a space for reflection,a place to breathe and shake off this mad world in which we live,and frankly to build on it is morally bankrupt.
    Interestingly , my dog and I were up the crab and winkle entrance [nr whitstable rd] and I happened to notice a lovely large field adjoining the uni- think it’s your sports field, looks ripe for conversion to me!!! yours in support Diana

    • You paint a vibrant and accurate picture of the natural abundance, Diana. Also, your point about the sports field made me laugh. Yes, I entirely agree: I would happily lose one or two of the football pitches if they desperately need a Holiday Inn!

  9. Christina Giles

    The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000: states Any person is allowed to enter and remain for the purpose of recreation. We need to stand up for our rights. We will be losing hedgerows, trees ponds, wildlife will suffer. Why not petition to government. Where are all the ECO WARRIORS when we need them?
    Biodiversity is at risk. Students give nothing in return nature does. We need a sustainable approach which means working with locals not fighting against their basic human rights. More petitions needed ACT NOW.

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