On the same evening as the Executive of our City Council made the decision to sell Kingsmead Field to developers (Thursday, 11th October), the Canterbury Society held a meeting to present their vision for the future of our city, an important part of which was, ironically, the provision of more open space.
The Society’s ambitious Vision was created in coordination with local residents’ associations and covers all aspects of city life: the economy, housing, transport, heritage and conservation, open spaces and play places, the natural environment and biodiversity, culture and leisure, community safety, and city governance.
The most important principle lying behind the Vision is the bottom-up approach it incorporates. The consensus from residents is that planning in Canterbury has so far been top-down and that its management has left a great deal to be desired. A glaring example was the failure to carry out any traffic studies in connection with any of the numerous developments of the last few years. The reduction of congestion in the city is one of the top priorities for residents, alongside the associated need to tackle air pollution. The focus throughout the Vision is accordingly on enhanced public transport, green design and sustainability.
Another key concern was thrown into sharp relief by the Council’s decision on Kingsmead Field. Not one of the Executive who voted is a resident of the city and not one is a member of the political party which has a clear majority of councillors in the city wards. Local residents are therefore keen to set up a far more representative Canterbury Town Council to make decisions concerning the city. They also wish to use the new Localism Act to have councillors engage more with local communities. Projects like the current one in Westgate, which involve city officials advising local groups, are the way forward.
Housing also represents a pressing concern in Canterbury. An enormous number of homes have already been crammed into a small area, but a large percentage of these are occupied by students. This puts pressures on house rents and prices. Although more housing is needed, the Canterbury Society is against the city acquiring huge estates on the high value, scenic lands to the south of the city. Here good soils would be lost and developments there would contribute enormously to traffic congestion, as it is unlikely they would be self-sustaining. Developing a real community with all the necessary facilities on brownfield sites at Hersden would be far preferable.
Canterbury Society members put a great deal of work into their document on the city’s future and are making sure it reflects local residents’ views. It should be submitted to the Council in November after incorporating points from last night’s discussion. We will be following the progress of the Vision with interest and hope that Canterbury City Council will take its proposals to heart. It certainly represents a clear picture of the future city residents would like to live in and plots a realistic path to fulfilling those aspirations.