Chapter 2: Introduction to the 2019 vision

Chapter 2: Introduction to the 2019 vision


“The Canterbury Society was originally founded to protect and enhance this ancient and often fragile city from adverse physical re-development and damage. The Vision that has been produced here is relevant and apposite as it uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a vehicle to delve more deeply into the social and economic causes of the City’s present difficulties and their physical manifestation. It is therefore relevant to all who live in, work in or who just simply care about Canterbury and its long-term future. It is hoped that it also offers a helpful framework and context to better inform those who will determine the future of this place”. Ptolemy Dean, President, The Canterbury Society.

Background to Canterbury

The city of Canterbury is unique in a number of ways and it is the broad intention of this Vision to outline the characteristics of this uniqueness and thus to justify the importance of maintaining the quality of this place which residents and visitors so enjoy. In doing this we must first remind ourselves of certain past inheritances that to an extent impose significant strictures on city development. A town or city has been on this site for at least 2000 years and there are plenty of archaeological remains dating back to Roman times plus the inheritance of buildings founded by religious orders and later Norman settlers. In fact, for most of its history Canterbury has been a centre of religious life and practice, but there have been shorter periods when farming, weaving, the military and most recently education have been the dominant “sustainers” of city life. To a greater or lesser extent each of these eras has left a strong mark on the fabric of the city. But there have also been periods when the city’s fabric has been rapidly “dismantled” such as after the Roman period, during the 16th century reformation and the extensive bombing during World War 2, plus large scale so-called “slum clearances” during the mid-20th century.

This early sequence of building and occupation has left a legacy of buildings that now form part of a rich heritage plus a sequence of street patterns that, while offering interest and temptation, also serve as limitations when the needs of present travel and transport must be considered. However, advantages of good transport access to Europe and London, top quality soils, good public and private schools, and the high-quality scenic hinterland has made the city a special place to live and there is little wonder that parts of the city are now a world heritage site to which visitors are welcomed in countless numbers. There is little doubt that recent major social and built impacts on the city have come from the expansion of university provision. The numbers of students currently studying in the city is about 36,000 and this is only marginally lower than the estimated 2017 resident population of 42,000.

However, over recent decades the city has shown signs of being “distressed”. In the post World War 2 period the need for building replacement far exceeded the capacity to afford quality development which led to large areas and infilling of “drab utilitarian structures”. In the 1960’s major expansion of the higher education sector proceeded eventually leading in Canterbury to three main universities. Although providing prestige plus excellent job opportunities and local spending power, this expansion put a severe strain on the social and housing provision and it has taken several decades for this situation to improve. Perhaps the major cause of city distress has been the impossibility of the inherited cramped medieval street plans to accommodate today’s transport needs. Our roads in and around the city are invariably congested during daylight hours and much of central area suffers from high levels of air pollution.

As well as these “distress factors”, in the last half decade an array of other factors has arisen that are proving a challenge to the sustainability and achievement of a higher quality social and physical environment. The main factors causing recent changes are:

  1. The City Council is now operating on a Committee system rather than through the use of an Executive and, while this is proving mainly positive, there is still room for enhanced local governance.
  2. As in other towns and cities, austerity has impacted Canterbury causing the Council and other public services to significantly reduce their spending.
  3. The building of more student accommodation has taken precedence over the need for affordable housing in the city.
  4. The latest Local Plan has demanded a large housing expansion with the impending loss of much arable and greenfield land.
  5. The high-speed train services have become very popular thus altering the accessibility of the city.
  6. The effect of city’s road traffic has placed continuing pressures on many aspects of city life including parking, congestion, pollution and stress.
  7. The rapid changes in the retailing scene mean that is it a struggle to keep shop occupancies up and some of the larger city stores are now closing.
  8. The recent recognition that accelerating climate change will force the local authorities to initiate a wide range of emergency actions including measures to halt biodiversity loss.

The above stress factors, in combination with the factors promoting recent changes, means that it is now appropriate to produce this updated version of our 2013 “Vision for the Future of Canterbury”.

Principles underlying the Vision

The Vision is concerned primarily with the city itself and not Canterbury District as a whole. This area may be perceived as the contiguous urban development around the city centre. Having said this there are some cases where the Vision needs to intrude into the rural fringe, e.g. when looking at the provision of open space or accessible rural leisure opportunities, and we may also at times have to consider a balance between what happens in Canterbury compared with surrounding built towns, e.g. in respect to housing, road and public transport provision. Temporally our Vision may extend to between 10 and 15 years.

In producing this Vision we realise that the City Council has a legal obligation to be responsible for best managing development of the local area. In order to facilitate this the Council produces a “Local Plan” plus other documentation including district economic and transport strategies, a Corporate Plan, parks and gardens plans, etc.  So, why don’t we leave a Vision for Canterbury entirely in the hands of the Council? The Canterbury Society sees its main role to be that of a civic forum, a forum that works in close collaboration with Residents’ Associations to offer what may best be described as a “bottom-up” approach to achieving high quality future development for the city. It is not therefore our intention that this Vision is in competition to plans and proposals outlined by the City Council, but its principle purpose is to be complementary. This may be perceived as shifting the perspective from that of “the management to the shop floor”. Why do we think this is necessary? Box 1, taken directly from the 2013 Vision, elaborates on why we consider this necessary.

Box 1. – Why the city needs a vision

  • To influence the Council in its development planning processes;
  • to provide clear targets for city development;
  • to strengthen the voice of local people;
  • to coordinate thinking by local residents;
  • to help guide future urban expansion;
  • to demonstrate and influence the sustainability agenda;
  • to highlight infrastructure issues;
  • to demonstrate how the democratic process might better function;
  • to exemplify what local people most value; and
  • to provide a means of drawing local groups closer together.

It is clear that the points in Box 1 largely represent broad aims, but the question also needs to be asked as to the agreed principles that underly these aims. The Vision itself has been jointly inspired by members of the Canterbury Society Committee – a group of about a dozen voluntary, civic minded local residents. Most of this small group have contributed “chapters” to the Vision or have offered various suggestions and advice. Since this is primarily a residents’ Vision there has been extensive consultation with local Residents’ Associations and most data has been gathered through the use of a questionnaire (see Appendix 1) plus relevant documentation produced by the City Council and other local organisations. Additional information has been obtained from national government publications, county-based surveys and reports, the District Local Plan and from various local experts. The underlying Vision principles may best be described under the two headings of (i) those that broadly underly our Vision, and (ii) those principles that may be considered as “Canterbury-Centric”, and these are shown in Boxes 2 and 3 respectively (which again are largely replicated from our 2013 Vision).

Box 2. – Broad principles underlying our Vision

  • Is based on the views of local residents;
  • is realistic, positive and attainable;
  • is flexible and adaptable to cover inevitable changes;
  • derives mainly from consultation with local citizens and democratic decision making, i.e. the vision is a bottom-up approach;
  • informs Residents’ Associations, the City Council, developers, businesses, etc;
  • advocates quality design principles;
  • enhances civic pride and citizenship;
  • has sustainability underlying all of its recommendations;
  • helps to reduce our carbon footprint;
  • shows respect for the natural environment and open spaces around and within the city;
  • encourages development planning to be proactive and not reactive.

Box 3. – “Canterbury-centric” principles underlying our Vision

  • Taking the heat out of Canterbury, i.e. overdevelopment;
  • managing the impact of the Higher Education sector;
  • reducing traffic and air pollution;
  • encouraging conservation of heritage;
  • imposing qualitative design into all built structures;
  • fostering educational, creative and “high-tech” employment;
  • addressing the chronic housing shortage and homelessness;
  • encouraging broader dialogue with the local authorities;
  • developing semi-independent local communities.

Compilation of the Vision including the Questionnaire analyses

The main chapters of the Vision were compiled as a result of the questionnaire responses. They represent the issues that respondents collectively and currently perceive as being of most importance to the city, and by implication these issues would be in need of attention. The ordering of chapters in this longer version of the Vision directly reflect the perceived importance of the issues. It is of interest to note that the 2013 Vision contained nine thematic chapters (issues) but in this version there are twelve themes that are worthy of discussion. For each issue some background information is provided in terms of history and the present situation, and then a conclusion concentrates on necessary future actions. Because there are some issues that concern local residents but which do not fit conveniently into the twelve thematic chapters, a short chapter has been included entitled “Public Facilities and Services”. This includes important additional factors that could very much influence the quality of future life in the city.

At the start of each chapter we list the United Nations – Sustainable Development Goals as they pertain to the content of the chapter. Thus the UN has declared 17 major thematic areas for development and, although some of the 17 themes are directed towards less developed regions, these Goals can be applied anywhere. Given our belief in the mantra “Think globally – act locally” we considered it important to demonstrate ways in which the people in Canterbury may help fulfil some of these important Goals. Each Vision chapter concludes with a list of main recommendations in the hope that these will serve as targets to be aimed for and achieved over approximately the next decade. These recommendations have been chosen with care in the sense that they must be realistic, necessary and attainable within the Vision’s time frame.

165 questionnaire responses were received from a variety of Canterbury residents. These included members of Residents’ Associations, various social groupings such as pensioner groups, rotary, attendees at civic meetings plus members of the Canterbury Society itself. The results of the “Issues” analysis are shown in Table 1 and are derived from a weighted scoring system that allowed calculation of a perceived relative importance for each “Issue”.

The Table clearly shows the pre-eminence of issues known to be of major concern such as traffic congestion, air pollution, homelessness and anti-social behaviour. It is also interesting to note that residents appear very concerned with the status of the city’s heritage possibly indicating that this matter is not receiving the attention that is needed or the care that is given to this issue by other comparable cities. About half of the weighted scores lie within a fairly narrow range of 750 to 800+, these being issues that are clearly recognised but not of extreme significance. At the lower end of the Table it is of interest that residents have very little inclination for inner city car parking provision or for the growth of private housing. This almost certainly reflects a prejudice against most impending major housing proposals. It is also of interest to note that the City Council have recently acknowledged that they intend to reduce inner city car parking in favour of additional housing provision.

Table 1. Rank order of the issues causing concern in Canterbury
IssueWeighted ScoreRank
Reducing traffic congestion9001
Conservation of the city’s heritage8842
Reducing air pollution8703
The reduction of homelessness8264
Controlling crime and anti-social behaviour8125
Better City Council democratic processes, e.g. consultation and decision making8046
Personal security in the city8027
Better access to health provision7988=
The provision of more affordable or social housing7988=
Upgrading the state of local roads79610=
Reduction in graffiti, litter and minor vandalism79610=
The visual quality of the city79412
More recycling and waste reduction79013
The cleanliness of streets in the city78814=
Adequate Jobs available in the city78814=
Retaining retail provision in the city centre78416
Improving public transport provision78017=
The provision of cultural facilities e.g. art, music, theatre78017=
Adequate Park and Ride facilities at the city edge77419
The supply of “Green Belt” or similar areas around the edge of the city76820
More action on energy conservation and climate change75421
Improved natural environments around the city edge75022
Better provision and care for older residents74823
Upgrading cycling and pedestrian provision around the city74424
Further provision of public access open space, e.g. parks72425
The provision of a range of activities for younger people72226
Retaining the status of the higher educational provision67627
Adequate sports facilities in or near the city66228
Improving the range of provision for visitors and tourists60429
Having adequate retail provision at the city edge54230
Having more schools in the city44231
The provision of more private housing43832
Enhancing car parking provision near the city centre39633

Questionnaire respondents were provided with open ended opportunities to describe up to three factors that they considered to be “good points about living in Canterbury” and three “not very good things about living in Canterbury”.  Analyses of these two considerations are given in Tables 2 and 3 respectively, with only the most mentioned points being included in the two tables. It is of interest to note that “good” points about living in Canterbury were much less diverse than the “not so good” points. As expected from an ancient city, factors relating to history and culture rate very highly but following just behind are factors relating to location, diversity, friendliness and convenience.

Table 2. “Good things about living in Canterbury”
Rank orderGood points mentionedNumber of mentions
1Provision of cultural activities82
2Historic heritage63
3Ease of access to coast and countryside57
4Convenient and compact size of the city54
5Cosmopolitan and friendly atmosphere42
6High speed rail links – especially to London37
7=Beautiful built environment and place to live32
7=Availability of parks and open spaces32
9Good shopping centre25
10Church and cathedral life23
11Quality of public transport16
12Quality of schools13
13University – life, access and range of provisions11
14Range of community groups and activities8
15Quality of restaurants6
16=Central location within East Kent5
16=Lack of crime and anti-social behaviour5

With respect to the “Not so good things about living in Canterbury”, Table 3 illustrates the close alignment at the top of the table with data from the City Council for 2016. Thus, in 2016 residents’ top 5 priorities were: 1. The level of traffic congestion 2. Clean streets 3. Quality of roads 4. Affordable decent housing 5. The level of crime and Anti-Social Behaviour” (Canterbury District Customer and Community Profile, August 2017)

Table 3. “Not so good things about living in Canterbury”
Rank orderNot so good points mentionedNumber of mentions
1Traffic congestion88
2Litter, fly-tipping, rubbish50
3Too many students, student housing, HMO’s45
5=Anti-social behaviour, night time noise, vandalism, violence39
5=Air pollution39
7Homelessness, lack of Council and affordable housing20
8=Lack of provision for transport shift to walking, cycling, public transport15
8=Poor local planning provision including too many houses proposed15
10=Decline of small shops and local businesses14
10=Poor governance, Council unresponsive, lack of vision14
10=Poor public transport provision – mainly buses and the bus station14
10=Poor health provision – hospitals, surgeries and NHS funding14
14Too many tourists causing over-crowding in the city centre12
15=Poor local road surfaces9
15=Lack of a community feeling and civic pride9
15=Too many beggars on city streets9
18Poor quality of city paving8
19Lack of city parking including disabled places7
20Neglect of heritage and conservation6

Table 3 again highlights the degree to which traffic congestion is pre-eminent in downgrading the perception of Canterbury as a place to live. It is a problem that confronts the majority of local citizens virtually every day, affecting lives in a variety of ways, e.g. through stress, wasting time, contributing to poor air quality, finding somewhere to park, etc. At least half of these “not-so-good” points are, of course, not unique to Canterbury, though the city does seem to suffer severely from factors such as having a very high student to resident ratio, which has a knock-on effect on housing costs and availability, plus some considerable night time “disruption” in many inner city “night spots”. Many of the “not-so-good” points are also likely to be caused by the so-called “austerity” situation arising from the national government currently trying to reduce spending as a means of “balancing the national books”. It should be mentioned that our questionnaire respondents collectively drew attention to over 80 “not so good” points about Canterbury many, of course, being specific to only one or two individuals.

The main aspirations of the Vision are set out in Box 4. The Vision itself will be produced in two formats:

  1. This longer version which will be web-based and thus available to a wide audience, and which provides quite detailed background, explanations, descriptions, illustrations and recommendations for all of the issues. Being web-based it will allow for regular and necessary updating to be made.
  2. A shorter version that will act as an extended “Executive Summary”. This summary version will also appear on the Internet as well as being produced in hard copy for wide local distribution, especially to those groups who might best influence the future of Canterbury.

Box 4. – Our future vision of Canterbury is a city that, relative to the present city

  • Has a strong Higher Education sector but one that has reduced its overall impact on the city, with limits on further expansion.
  • In its structural growth great attention has been paid to the quality of design and to the enforcement of that quality.
  • Has seen a large-scale shift of the preferred transport mode from the use of private cars towards public transport, cycling, walking and home working.
  • Has a better balance in the city centre retail provision between the needs of the citizens and those of the visitors, and the quality of this provision is enhanced.
  • Gives equal attention to social and environmental needs (along with economic) when planning for development.
  • Has governance values and actions that are based more democratically on the views of the citizens rather than being imposed from the Council or from developers.
  • Has a far higher premium placed on the values of the natural environment and on the provision of open spaces.
  • The Council has taken steps to work with neighbouring Districts in a cooperative way in order to prioritise investments and to reduce inequalities.
  • The citizens can place total confidence that its fine heritage will be properly protected, at least to the standards of similar major visitor destinations.
  • All reasonable requirements for leisure facilities are met and that, through this, notable social, health and behavioural improvements are being registered.
  • The city is a far cleaner place having far less litter and graffiti plus better upkeep of its buildings.
  • Decisions on necessary housing growth are a response to local community groups through proper consultation processes.
  • All built developments are more advanced in terms of sustainability, materials used, energy savings, design, social ambience and community provision than they are at present.
  • Rights to night-time peace for inner city citizens are recognised through reasonable and agreed controls on the provision of activities that often lead to anti-social behaviour.

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