Imperial may try to bypass planning process

Imperial College will attempt to bypass Ashford Borough Council and get the Government to decide whether its Wye Science Park should get the go-ahead, documents released to save-wye.org indicate.

A summary of advice provided to Imperial by consultants Ernst & Young, released to save-wye.org under the Freedom of Information Act, suggests that the college may go straight to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister instead of relying on its two partners to the so-called ‘concordats’ — Kent County Council and Ashford council — to deliver. The document follows revelations by save-wye.org that KCC is on the point of pulling out of the concordats signed with Imperial and Ashford council last year and that several borough councillors are becoming increasingly nervous about the authority’s legal position.

save-wye.org requested all documents produced by Ernst & Young for Imperial since it was engaged on the project in the summer of 2003. Imperial has claimed an exemption on the disclosure of documents saying that these are commerically sensitive. However, a summary of the information provided by Ernst & Young has been released. It says that ‘the size and scale of the proposition lends itself to national as well as local consideration’ which raises the spectre of a development corporation being set up to implement the project.

Ernst & Young say there are ‘inevitable difficult choices to be made’, recognising that the project would mean building within the Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AoNB). ‘The area that surrounds Wye has an AoNB designation and it is important that the overall proposition is compact and carefully related to the village, has an excellently designed community, encourages planted and managed open spaces and enhances the wider habitat wherever possible’.

The document says that the area’s sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) would not be impacted and could be given to a trust to be held ‘in perpetuity’. However, it adds that the development would turn Wye into a ‘small university town synonymous to that of Oxford or Cambridge, in terms of quality, though not in size’. Ernst & Young say, however, that the science park development itself would ‘rival the great science parks of the world such as Silicon Valley in California, the Biopolis in Singapore, the Technopolis in France and Kista Science City in Sweden’.

Ernst & Young indicate that Wye would be linked with junction 10a of the M20 by a new road which would be constructed before the main phase of the science park development was complete. ‘The business case includes significant infrastructure contributions to the local area. Not only schools, leisure and community related improvements, but also a new junction from the M20, improving access both in and out of Wye. These infrastructure improvements are a key part of this proposition and are brought on stream in support and in line with progress, not lagging behind as has been experienced in the past’.

Ernst & Young recommend that the attempt to set up a ‘liaison group’ between the college and Wye Parish Council is used to generate support for the scheme. ‘Consultation will take place with the public and wider stakeholder community to ensure that this opportunity becomes a reality, and the future of Wye and Ashford can be shaped in a way that maximises the benefits it affords’.

You can read the document here

Ernst & Young summary

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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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