ASHFORD Borough Council is pressing for a specific commitment to Imperial College’s plan for a Wye science park to be included in the economic strategy document for the whole of the South East.
The South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA), a government quango, has been inviting comments on its review of regional economic strategy which is due for adoption in the spring. When adopted, it will form the basis for decision-making on economic policy on a huge area outside London from Milton Keynes in the north to Margate in the east and Southampton in the west.
As such, it is a broad-brush document that lays out objectives in economic policy for the entire region from now until 2016 but makes scant mention of the growth areas of Ashford and Milton Keynes, let alone smaller communities.
But that has not stopped Ashford council pressing SEEDA to make reference to Imperial’s plans for Wye in the final strategy. Following a meeting of the council’s executive – which includes Wye’s borough councillor Ian Cooling – on February 9, chief executive David Hill wrote to Eileen Armstrong, the assistant director of strategy at SEEDA, on February 15. He wrote: “The RES should incorporate an appropriate reference to the opportunities that could arise from the proposal to develop a new science research centre at the Imperial College site at Wye.
“This investment could attract up to 12,500 new value added jobs to the area not only within the centre, but on new business parks within Ashford such as Eureka Park at junction nine of the M20. This exciting project has the ability to drive forward the objectives of SEEDA in developing greater research and development capacity within the region, greater creativity, innovation and skills within the workforce and greater enterprise and productivity for local, regional, national and international companies.
“It is proposed that SEEDA recognise and support this opportunity through specific reference to this development in the Regional Economic Strategy.”
Kent County Council’s cabinet, meanwhile, discussed the SEEDA document at its February 6 meeting at which members were told that the county was already leading the way with many of SEEDA’s objectives including “developing opportunities for new high value employment (eg at Imperial College’s Wye campus, the Kent Science Park, the Canterbury Enterprise Hub and Kent Technology Park, the growth areas and in East Kent).
In his response to the review document, Graham Gibbens, KCC’s cabinet member for regeneration and supporting independence, said that key Kent priorities SEEDA should try to cover in the final strategy included Imperial’s plans for a science park at Wye, referring to it as “investment in support of knowledge-based businesses and higher education clusters (eg at Kent Science Park in Sittingbourne and Imperial College’s Wye Campus)”.
The formal consultation for SEEDA’s economic strategy ended on February 17. The quango is now revising it in response to representations and it will be presented to John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, for endorsement. SEEDA hopes to adopt it in the spring.