Who needs Wye Park? Not us, says Ashford council

One of the recurring themes in the argument over whether the Wye area needs to lose 300 acres of protected green land to property developers is the economic one. Imagine the benefits. Think of the jobs it might bring.

Were the residents living in a region of high unemployment and social blight this might be understandable. But they’re not. Says who? None other than Ashford Borough Council itself, in detail, and through the mouth of its very own economic development manager, Mark Bradbury, uttered in the same month that its leader Paul Clokie, apparently without a word to a single other elected member, was signing the secret deal to bring massive redevelopment to Wye.

In April last year the council held an internal ‘themed debate’ on the area’s economic development. You can find the minutes of the meeting below. Anyone tempted to be convinced by the ‘Ashford needs more and more building’ argument should read the presentation by Mr Bradbury, in which he set out, in his own words, ‘to dispel a few myths’. Such as…

Ashford’s economy is not growing

Not true. According to Mr Bradbury it grew by three and a third times the Great Britain average and over twice as fast as the south east average between 1999 and 2003. This was eight times the growth rate of Canterbury. In the whole of Kent only Dartford performed better, and that was simply due to the Bluewater shopping complex.

Ashford has a low wage economy

Nope. In average gross weekly earnings it counts as 106 on the great Britain 100. This was equal with Tunbridge Wells and only slightly behind Sevenoaks and Dartford. Tonbridge and Malling, Maidstone and Canterbvury all lagged behind.

Ashford does not have a ‘knowledge economy’

Says Mr Bradbury, ’28 per cent of Ashford businesses were in knowledge-driven sectors… Ashford had a little way to go to catch up with some other boroughs, however the significant figure was that the number of businesses in this sector grew by 40 per cent in Ashford between 1991 and 2002, significantly faster than anywhere else in Kent and twice as fast as the rest of the south east’.

Ashford needs more jobs

Unemployment in Ashford was among the lowest in Kent and had fallen by ten percent in the last twelve months. Long term unemployment as a percentage of unemployment was the best in Kent and half of the south east average. Ashford’s employment rate was the highest in Kent and above the south east and GB averages.

And the real kicker in all this?

‘In the latest Kent Economic Report Ashford remained the most tranquil borough in Kent. This was based on population per square kilometre. It also achieved the highest ranking for its natural environment which was a combination of natural beauty, climate change, pollution and other factors.’

Will that last point stay true if an army of bulldozers moves into every point east of Junction 10 to Wye? And if we don’t need the jobs or the money what, exactly, is the argument for a huge building development in protected countryside?

Perhaps the borough leader Paul Clokie, who sat through this debate and then put his name — and by implication ours too — on the secret Concordat only eight days later, without telling a soul outside the tiny inner circle of cognoscenti, would care to enlighten us.

Ashford Borough Council Economic Development debate

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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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