Dishonourable deception that spells the end of Wye

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 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.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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11 Responses to Dishonourable deception that spells the end of Wye

  1. Ian Cooling says:

    Hi Morgan, A few thoughts for you to mull over. Taking your paras in order: first, it is important to separate out the 300 acres of housing. The sole function of that is to raise a proportion of the funds for the wider project and that I oppose. That scale of land-take purely as a fund-raising exercise is not negotiable. There are other ways of raising those funds and to judge by Justin’s report on Treasury comments, a new avenue seems to have opened.

    With regards to the Science, the 1500 jobs would actually be manageable. As I have said elsewhere, the village has lost getting on for a 1000 in the past 20 or so years and only a fraction of those have been replaced.

    Your second paragraph slightly misses the point that ICL owns 60 acres of brown field land (as opposed to greenfield and AONB) in Wye not Ashford. That provides the logic for the Research Institute, plus an area for the smaller spin-offs and some housing. What does exist in Ashford are sites for the larger spin-off commercial enterprises.

    You are not the first to come up with the statement on the lines of “ICL undertook to preserve the agricultural land and AONB”. I have yet to find such a commitment anywhere in the papers. Cue, more sleuthing by Justin?

    I have an article marinating in the cupboard entitled “Reports of the Death of Democracy in Kent are Exaggerated” (with apologies to Mark Twain). I hope that will address the issues you raise in paragraph 3. In a nutshell nothing has been decided, the planning process has not even begun.

    With regards to your para 4 – is the whole point of the proposed research not bio-fuels and alternative energy?

    Finally, the disingenuous Cooling will continue to believe that there are no proposals; that a kite has been flown; that the kite has triggered a number of responses – some predictable, some not; that ICL is mulling those over along with their newly appointed master-planners and that as they have said, around July something specific will pop out of the egg and the next round will start.

    And what am I doing? Talking and listening mainly, as I sense there are already more than enough people “doing things” and “taking action.” However, I have four particular lines this week: 1. Suggesting that people need to slow down, step back and take a breath. We are in for a long haul. We need to pace ourselves, keep our powder dry and the kitty full for the planning round.

    2. Encouraging as many people and organisations as possible engage with Imperial (as opposed to shouting names at them) so that they are in no doubt about what the community wants and does not want. For there to be clear understanding on these key issues, the volume needs to be turned down and the feedback and distortion tuned out.

    3. At the other end of the communication process, I am making sure that Imperial listens to and heeds what is being said by the community and, in particular, that it is all fed into the master-planning – undistorted.

    4. Lobbying, with others, at the highest level possible in John Prescott’s office to make sure the national interest card is not played. That must stay in the cupboard so these decisions are taken locally and not hijacked by a national or Regional agenda (and don’t get me started on Regions).

    Make sense?

  2. Morgan Clarke says:

    Dear Mr. Cooling,

    thank you for replying, and at such length.

    You quite rightly worry about noise and distortion. I am sorry to have raised my voice: I was replying to your offer to listen to the quiet ones. However, no doubt we passionate, idealistic youths must yield patiently to the sober voice of worldly experience. And I very much hope that you are right in suggesting that any distortion lies in my impression of what is planned for Wye.

    Might I correct a couple of misapprehensions? With regard to Imperial’s undertakings towards the agricultural land and AONB, I think I have, naively no doubt, a rather less legalistic idea of commitment and responsbility than you assume.

    Regarding the environment, you miss my point: needlessly building a new town a few miles from an existing one would be a prime example of the philosophy of wastefulness and disposability that has led to our current environmental problems. No academic institutiion could credibly claim to lead in tackling those problems while perpetuating that same philosophy.

    Thank you for your public opposition to such a proposal, restated in the Kentish Express. In which regard, can I ask if you have successfully communicated your concerns over a new road to KCC?

    Yours sincerely

    Morgan Clarke

  3. Ian Cooling says:

    Thanks Morgan, good to be in dialogue and I hasten to make absolutely clear that my comments about volume and distortion were not in anyway addressed at your contribution. They were directed elsewhere and I’m sure your own reading of the contributions to this site will make clear who I have in mind.

    In saying this I have and always will, distinguished between passion and commitment such as you display towards your village and which I respect. I compare that to the noisy heckling, jeering and name-calling emanating from elsewhere and which I do find rather less persuasive than your style.

    Also, to judge by an increasing number of comments I am receiving from the village, it doesn’t find much favour there either.

    With regards to your “new town” point, I think we are actually almost in agreement. I do not want Imperial’s present proposals to become reality. They would, as you say, create a de facto new town. What I am in favour of is a rebirth of Wye and that will include a controlled, balanced and sympathetic degree of expansion of the existing community.

    With regards to the roads – you will have seen Justin’s report on KCC’s vote of funds to that project. That’s all it is at the moment. It is now up to all of us to make sure that we do not get the A2070-style slash across the countryside that I have already declared firmly against.

  4. Thank you for replying.

    But what happened to you watching like a hawk regarding the AONB?

    You write elsewhere that you would have no problem with development on brownfield AONB sites, a position shared, you claim, with the majority of villagers. And you say that there are sixty acres of brownfield sites. That is a very sizeable quantity of land to give carte blanche for building on, and I find it hard to believe that a majority of villagers are really prepared to do that on the basis of Imperial’s actions to date.

    And where are those sixty acres anyway?

  5. Ian Cooling says:

    Thanks Morgan, I can only repeat that my statement is what I have been told by the majority of villagers I have spoken with over the past four months – not all of them, but a very sizeable majority. I can also assure you that I have made a point of talking to a significant number of people across the community as a whole (my earlier point about listening to the quiet voices as well as the noisy ones). It may also be worth noting that my statement is echoed by the separate findings of the Parish Council.

    I’m not, of course, suggesting that any carte blanche is given to anyone (the planning laws do not actually offer that as an option), which is why I shall be watching them like a hawk. I have, elsewhere, quoted the example of the Oil Depot site – brownfield and in the AONB. The AONB element being the reason why the developers’ current plans for that site have been subject to the tightest scrutiny not only by ABC, but by village groups such as the Parish Council and the Village Design Group.

    It’s sometimes forgotten that the whole of the village is in the AONB. So Stonegate and Taylor’s Yard (for example) were developments on brownfield sites in the AONB, as is the work going on around the New Flying Horse at the moment.

    With regards to size, it’s probably worth noting that the ADAS site alone is around 14-15 acres.

  6. Thank you.

    But 14-15 isn’t quite the same as 60. What happened to the rest?

  7. Ian Cooling says:

    It’s still there

  8. Alan Paterson says:

    Hi Morgan – I remember you as a friend of my son Neil – we have met, years ago.

    In relation to your dialogue with Ian Cooling I would be glad to walk you round the ‘missing acreage’.

    Most people I talk to in Wye are happy that Imperial’s already ‘developed’ but largely very scruffy sector Olantigh Road/Scotton St. is ripe for redevelopment (with the exception of the Library – or ‘Learning Resources Centre’ as Tez Quirke insisted it should be called).

    If Imperial College are to reinvent the Wye campus as a centre for world-class research then we have to accept that reasonable redevelopment must take place.

    My own view is that we should be striving to rejuvenate the village which is in danger of becoming a geriatric and dormitory settlement. I would much rather have housing and research buildings bringing jobs and creating business for village shops and commerce generally than light industry (which I suspect might be their alternative) as that area is crying out for something to happen. It is unreasonable to think the present dereliction will simply continue.

    Having said that – new building on the Imperial agricultural land should be opposed with passion through the planning process. Opposition will however be doomed if they have done their homework so thoroughly that the proposal will be ‘ called in’ by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister before the process gets under way, as being a scheme deemed by them to be ‘in the national interest’.

    For the record I’ve been here all my life and my late father lectured in College part time during four decades, but I have no other connection with College.

    Alan Paterson

  9. Gertrude says:

    still there WHERE?

  10. Ian Cooling says:

    Morgan, apologies for the delay in replying – been distracted by the day job. For starters, some of the other areas I looked at are the land at (and around) Cold Harbour, Sidelands, the pig unit, the dairy, Withersdane and the obsolete labs and other buildings along Olantigh Road.

    I’m not a surveyor and I didn’t take my tape measure with me, but I suggest that this lot, plus the ADAS site, give you a figure in the region of 55-65 acres.

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