Lib-Dems question the ‘affront to public opinion’

Ashford’s Liberal Democrat leader and parliamentary candidate have both expressed their concerns about the way in which the Wye Park scheme was developed in secrecy by Imperial College, Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council.

Cllr Rita Hawes, leader of the Lib-Dem group on ABC, said that she was told of the proposal two days before the press announcement but asked to ‘keep quiet’ — a request she was happy to agree to in the circumstances.

‘Yes, I do query whether all the secrecy has been wise. It has come as a shock to Wye residents who have reacted very strongly. Until more information is available I find it hard to comment on the future.

‘Certainly it is generally agreed that to increase the number of As and Bs in Ashford Borough would be good — more cultural activities etc. The reinvigoration of the college would benefit the village. Ashford has committed to providing 28,000 new jobs by 2031 and to have the type of job envisaged by Imperial College is preferrable to acres of warehouse facilities. My concerns centre on the possible use of land designated as AONB (Area of Natural Beauty), on the possible swamping of the present village and the lack of infrastructure.’

The Lib-Dems will not adopt a party line on the issue until hard details are forthcoming, Cllr Hawes said. But Chris Took, the party’s parliamentary candidate for the Ashford seat, said the way the project had been handled appeared an ‘affront to public opinion before it has even had much of a chance to express itself’.

Mr Took said that the South East Regional Assembly, which will meet next month and is due to include the Wye park in its development plan, had previously approved issues that had not been given a full public hearing. Some had later been amended, holding out hope that a green light for Wye Park in principle next month is not necessarily a final blow.

‘I’d be quite happy if SEERA was an elected body but unfortunately it is not making it somewhat galling when they make decisions prior to the conclusion of public consultation. For me the issue of the Wye Concordat is: have planners always intended Wye to eventually become part of Ashford? If so then a science park is probably preferable to simply an infill of housing, a lesser of two evils if you like.

‘The secrecy has been unnecessary. Imperial College could have “softened up” residents with warnings that they would need to diversify or close. Yes that probably would have led to complaints early on from concerned residents but that would have been far preferable to the over-riding feeling that many have that this issue has been set and decided upon behind closed doors in exclusive meetings.

‘During the general election there was, as expected, much talk of Ashford’s expansion. When the OPDM first published it’s motivation for the South East the Lib Dem response was one of “infrastructure first.” That has not changed.

‘As to the question of whether a village like Wye is appropriate, even with added infrastructure, for this type of development, I would have to say no. This expansion changes completely the dynamics of the village which those who purchased properties both many years ago and recently did not sign up to.

‘I am always wary of meetings between purely council leaders and Chief Executives. In taking over the leadership of the LGA Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart declared “the most important thing I can do is allow local people greater access to local knowledge.” Nice words, but not the reality.’

save-wye.org has also asked the Labour and Ashford Independent groups on the council for their views, and will be publish them if they arrive.

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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