by Hubert Pragnell
Many in Canterbury may still wonder what the Canterbury Society is? Is it some sort of secret society for those who want to reminisce about old times in the city and how everything has got worse since a perceived golden age, perhaps a body intent on bashing the city council over its traffic or planning policies?
It is neither. It is a body of citizens who are concerned about our city and its future.
However, where necessary it is there to offer constructive advice or criticism and wherever possible to work with the elected city council which may change every few years as a result of local elections.
Within the city there are also a number of area amenity societies also concerned about similar topics.
We often work in consort, and where necessary present views collectively to the City Council.
We are of course acutely aware that both Canterbury City Council and Kent County Council have serious financial restrictions imposed by central government and are sometimes limited in how they can act.
This is obviously the case with neighbourhood policing and road maintenance.
Some might argue if there is any point in our existence, since planning decisions are taken in spite of massive objections.
Several years ago we saw the council vote the massive increase in housing as part of the central government requirement for a local plan for development to be put in place for the next 15 years.
We argued against such a large number of houses, while accepting there is a great need for more social housing. This said, we will continue to work or advise as the planning applications come up to make developments as pleasant as possible.
We will continue to express concern about adequate infrastructure such as roads. With this there is our concern for growing levels of pollution.
Alongside the council’s Local Plan, the Canterbury Society is updating its own vision for the next 15 years, trying as far as possible to involve local groups and citizens in how they would like to see their city develop and what may have been missing or overlooked so far.
We believe it is necessary to consult and especially to involve those living in areas of the city who feel left out or are not listened to.
It is everyone’s city. We know there is great concern about the growing numbers of student houses and resulting noise and anti-social behaviour at night.
Lately we have been acutely aware of the proposal for a multi-storey car park at Canterbury West Station.
We are urging further tests, both on pollution levels as well as how necessary the need is for such a structure even though the council had taken the decision to spent £9 million or more on building it.
If it must go ahead we will be watching very closely on its design, although it is hard to make such a monster look beautiful. We are also very concerned the trees in Station Road West are retained.
We are also very aware of litter and graffiti. Litter is a problem everywhere, with discarded bottles plastic bags, cans and other refuse.
We have instituted a number of litter-picks, several in conjunction with students at the University of Kent.
Not only have we attempted to clean roadside gutters and green verges but have waded into the River Stour to remove all kinds of objects from bicycles, shopping trolleys, plastic sheeting and piping, plastic bags and bottles.
Of course this situation can be improved in the first place if people are educated or think about the effects of litter and what it does, especially in rivers: think of David Attenborough’s warning about the sea, it is just as important in our humble rivers. So parents, tell your children not to discard rubbish except in a dustbin.
Graffiti is a scourge which sadly affects the city and cannot escape the eye of the visitor. This is very sad.
I know there are groups trying to combat this by washing out or painting over graffiti tags. However schools and parents must educate the young to see this as theft, damage or violation of another persons property.
And if persons are caught they should be ideally made to clean it, surely not a violation of the individuals dignity as some may argue. I know shops are doing all they can to restrict the sale of spray paint to only over-18s.
Lastly, we are naturally very concerned about our historical heritage and its preservation.
It is too easy to blame Hitler for loss of buildings in the city. A lot have gone since 1942 and as a result of city council decisions, and not least the demolition of the Guildhall in 1951.
Today there are historic or listed buildings in need of renovation, gutters cleaned, pipes, roof tiles and window frames replaced and general renovation, especially in out main streets such as St Dunstan’s and St Peter’s streets.
For long we campaigned for the restoration of the timber-framed building in St Margaret’s Street to form part of the rebuilt Slatters Hotel.
We are currently concerned about the former bank property at the corner of St Dunstan’s Street and Orchard Street, the take-away at the corner of St Dunstan’s and North Lane recently damaged by fire, the damp-ridden facade above Holland and Barrett in St Peter’s Street, the 17th century Hoystings in Old Dover Road to name but a few of our concerns.
We would also like to see a substantial renovation of the Falstaff Hotel where the horrible brown paint is peeling and may soon give visitors the impression of dereliction.
A few months ago we were very concerned about the removal of our late Victorian lampposts to be replaced by modern EU approved ones.
We have stopped this since existing ones can simply be converted at little cost, so retaining a vital piece of our local street furniture. We have also been concerned to see the closure at night of Solly’s Orchard and the Butterfly Garden in Pound Lane.
We know the city council is restricted by expenditure for restoration and indeed the legal implications if owners are not responsive to entreaties to make improvements.
However we must be very concerned as the image of our city goes across the world.
It is for this, and the other reasons above, that we feel the Canterbury Society is very necessary today and to advise on the future.
We hold public meetings from time to time including a very successful meeting last Friday addressed by our MP, Rosie Duffield.
In the past our president, the architect Ptolemy Dean, has given inspiring addresses on our local heritage and how we must cherish it, and not take it for granted.
I would urge those who support our aims to go to the Canterbury Society website, read about what we do, and if not a member but support our aims, to join.
Hubert Pragnell is a writer, former King’s School teacher and artist. He lives in the north of the city and sits on the Canterbury Society’s committee.