Morgan Clarke comes from the Wye area ‘on the hill on the way to the Kneading Trough in a SSSI. I’ve lived there on and off for 23 years, since I was 10’. He has just finished his doctorate in Social Anthropology at Oxford.
I am in favour of a thriving academic community at Wye, and the jobs in the village that it entails. However, ICL’s ‘vision’, as outlined in the Concordat and fleshed out by subsequent revelations which we owe to the outstanding work of save-wye.org and others, is of a huge development that will mean the end of Wye as a village and as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: 300 acres of housing and a £300-400 million research centre with 100 principal scientists, employing a total of 1400 researchers, that will in its turn lead to the construction of a science park and manufacturing facilities. That is development on a colossal scale. This is not a question of bringing employment to the village: it is the end of the village, and the building of a new town with, one might note, thousands of new residents with their own employment needs.
Wye is a nonsensical location for such a project. The infrastructure is completely lacking, and the area where development is proposed is one of predominantly agricultural land in an AONB, a status which, I had assumed, should nominally rule out such a project. ICL and local politicians have made much of the importance of this proposal for Ashford’s economy. Why then is this new centre not to be built in Ashford? Ashford indeed would seem at first glance a far more suitable location. Infrastructure is in place, and there would be no need for a new road; sites are available; agricultural and AONB land would not be affected. The reason is clear: Imperial owns land that it bought cheap in Wye. That land was bought cheap because, due to its special status, development was ruled out: ICL undertook to preserve the agricultural land and AONB.
By seeking to renege on this, ICL is, in my opinion, behaving in a dishonourable fashion unfitting for such an institution. Knowing this, and likely opposition, they have sought to bypass public opinion where possible and conclude arrangements with select politicians in secret: this at a time when there is enormous public concern about the manner in which politics is conducted in this country, and in particular its relationship to capital.
This also comes at a time of grave concern as to the environmental consequences of the economic activities of this and other industrial nations. For an example of the thinking that has led to such a degraded global environment one need look no further than ICL’s proposal to build a new town within a few miles of an existing one, in the process, one might add, annihilating a village community, agricultural land and an AONB, for the sake of realising some hundreds of millions of pounds. This, we are told, is to be done in the quest to head off environmental catastrophe.
I am glad to see that Ian Cooling states he is against such development, even if he maintains, somewhat disingenuously perhaps, that there is no proposal to oppose to date. I would now be very pleased to hear precisely what action he proposes in pursuance of his clearly stated opposition to development on green field sites and AONB land, the sale of land for housing development and a new road, all of which are entailed by ICL’s vision.