THE leader of Ashford Borough Council is unrepentent in the face of a storm of criticism over the authority’s support for Imperial College’s plans for a science park in Wye.
Despite the threat of legal action by the Wye Future Group in the High Court to quash the so-called Wye Concordat and the fury Ashford’s covert support for Imperial has provoked, Cllr Paul Clokie says that some of the concerns of residents of the village are “misplaced” or “premature”.
Responding to a question by Cllr Rita Hawes, the leader of the Lib-Dem group, at the council meeting on Thursday, February 23, Cllr Clokie said: “The fact that Imperial College is contemplating investment of this scale and quality in the Ashford area is extremely good news for the whole borough and I make no apology for welcoming that and encouraging Imperial to work up their proposals.”
Cllr Clokie said that the council acceded to Imperial’s requests to keep the discussions – which, as save-wye has revealed, started as early as August 2004 – secret “because the various options under consideration could have affected the future of various faculties and their staff and because, in any event, they had not been approved by the ICL Governing Body”.
Defiant: Paul Clokie
Responding to criticism that the signing of the “concordat” would tie the hands of the council when it comes to considering specific planning applications by Imperial, Cllr Clokie said: “We must remember that we are only at the start of what could be a long process. Imperial have yet to work out exactly what facilities might be required at Wye, how much they would cost and how that might be funded. They are still in the process of recruiting specialist advisers to help them develop their plans to the point at which they could begin to formulate a planning application.
“As and when an application is received, it will be treated just like any other application. Given the sensitivity of the proposed location, it would need to pass some very tough scrutiny if it were to succeed.
“In all of this [we] have been very keen to protect the interests of the community in Wye. We have made clear (as, to be fair, have ICL themselves) that we would not be able to support anything that undermined the distinctive character of Wye or adversely affected the local community. I was very pleased to hear that ICL intend to establish comprehensive liaison arrangements with the local community, so that they are fully-informed and have an opportunity to shape the college’s proposals. As and when the time comes for this council to consider a formal planning application, I am sure we would all wish to build on and continue that level of community engagement.”
In comments that are likely to further enrage Wye residents fighting the plan, Cllr Clokie said: “I hope she [Cllr Hawes] will agree that the concerns expressed by some of the residents of Wye are either misplaced or premature. They will have every opportunity to raise those concerns as Imperial’s plans are developed.”
Read Cllr Clokie’s statement here