PRESS RELEASE: England’s premier cathedral city under attack from rapacious overdevelopment
25th August 2021
The City of Canterbury is recklessly and destructively placing economic development ahead of its biggest draw and asset, its heritage. A new SAVE Britain's Heritage report Canterbury Take Care! concludes that Canterbury City Council is in danger of eroding its unique selling point – its beauty and history – by allowing an increasing number of ugly and outsized developments within, or adjacent to, the City’s historic core, still enclosed within its circuit of medieval walls.
Griff Rhys Jones in the foreword to the report says: “Canterbury is Britain’s Rome, the centre of our national religious identity and, like Rome, a city that became famous throughout the world through pilgrimage and sainthood. What a story. What a driving force for the future. It’s not just a place that people have visited in search of spiritual uplift, the city is a focus of our national identity."
He continues “Hitler destroyed a third of the medieval centre in 1942. This is why we should all care about what happened next: the well-intentioned, but clumsy post-war rebuild, the failures and the mistaken assumptions that have guided its organisation over the last 50 years. It’s why SAVE Britain’s Heritage have stepped forward to produce this fascinating and timely report.”
Order your copy of Canterbury Take Care! by clicking the link below.
The official launch with accompanying walking tours will be held at Canterbury Cathedral on 11th September 2021. Click here for full details: LAUNCH EVENT
Price £11.69 for SAVE Friends and Saviours / £13.49 General Sale.
The Canterbury Society warned, ten years ago, about the pressures affecting this city. Change is inevitable, the challenge in Canterbury, is to manage it better.
Amicia de Moubray, editor of the report, says: “Canterbury needs to reinvent itself. There seems to be no overall vision for the future of the city. The commitment to the conservation of the historic city of the 1980s and 90s needs resurrecting. There is now a vacuum."
Ptolemy Dean, architect and President of the Canterbury Society, says: “The significance of Canterbury has quite rightly been recognised by its UNESCO World Heritage Site Status. And yet it is being overwhelmed by cavalier new development that increasingly intrudes upon the integrity of its historic centre. Meanwhile the proposed addition of acres of standard speculative housing estates to the green field countryside that surrounds the city threatens to destroy its setting and to double its size in a single generation."
"Canterbury is different and uniquely special from elsewhere, and yet it is being treated as if it were just another economic regeneration site. With Liverpool recently stripped of its World Heritage Site status and the World Heritage Site in Westminster under review, if Canterbury does not take care, it could be heading in the same direction.”
The report features contributions from architects, former conservation officers, planners and historians. Key contributors include:
Richard Bates on Sustainable Growth in the city, Paul Bennett on Canterbury's Anglo-Saxon churches and medieval parishes, Clive Bowley on Buildings at Risk, conservation and post-war Canterbury, Clive Bowley and Michael Peters on the Walloon and Hugenot influence, Timothy Britain-Caitlin on restoration and new buildings in the 20th century, Ptolemy Dean on post war redevelopment and its legacy, Amicia de Moubray on architectural details and Jan Pahl on growth and change through historical maps.
According to the new report, the state of Canterbury is coming close to a national emergency. Empty shops currently present a shocking and distressing site. Jettied buildings on Mercery Lane, the ancient route to the cathedral gate, formerly Debenhams, stand empty and vulnerable to squatting and fire. The former Debenhams department store is sprawled across three city blocks at the heart of the ancient city centre with frontages to the High Street, Guildhall Street and Sun Street.
The grade II* listed frontages to Mercery Lane are only the most visible manifestation of this massive emptiness at the core of the city.
Nasons, a one-time prestigious and enlightened department store on the High Street, and the 19th-century warehouses behind, are all now derelict. Even the new Longmarket buildings – built for retail only, are now mostly empty.
The new 'The Hampton' by Hilton Hotels & Resorts (formerly Slatters Hotel) has caused uproar among those who care about the beauty of the city. Set in the medieval core, where control of scale and height should be paramount, the new hotel rises two storeys above the rooftops – affecting the very setting of the cathedral itself.
Canterbury is still a gateway to England and has many stories to tell, not just of St Thomas Becket but St Augustine, Ethelbert, King of Kent, Archbishop Lanfranc, Chaucer, pilgrims, the Protestant refugees from the Low Countries who set up as silk weavers.