Why I will ignore Imperial’s phoney consultation

Survey

Biased, misleading, poorly executed: and you have just two weeks to take part

Dr Dylan Bradley, who has worked on many questionnaires for national governments, the European Union and private companies, makes an independent assessment of Imperial’s new ‘survey’… and decides he won’t be taking part.

I am shocked by the poor quality of Imperial’s attempt at consultation on the Imperial ‘Campus Vision’ website. I feel that a number of issues need to be raised so that any results from this consultation are clearly placed in context.

I should add that I am not a member of any of the lobbying groups. But given that this is an internal Imperial consultation, and given the nature of the questions, I do not intend to complete the questionnaire. Any answers given in good faith could later be used by Imperial to support large scale development within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Consultation carried out if a planning application were to go ahead would be larger scale, more rigorous and with a longer period in which to respond.

As far as I am aware as a resident of Wye, local residents have received no notification of this consultation, apart from those that signed up to receive e-mails from the previously mentioned website.

The consultation is only available online (although it can be printed off and submitted in paper form). This excludes vast numbers of Wye residents. The consultation is not anonymous, neither is it independent. This may lead to comments made being attributed to individuals as this is not expressly ruled out. Further those employed by Imperial might be reluctant to contribute.

The consultation period is a mere two weeks (which includes a bank holiday weekend when many people take additional holiday away from home). Somewhere in the order of two months is more normal and reasonable.

I now turn to the questions themselves which are set out below with my comments.
Q1: What are the key attributes which truly define the village’s character and heritage?

This appears to be a standard “lead in” question.

Q2: What are the main elements of the community which must be maintained and could be strengthened over time?

The question presupposes change and is therefore inappropriate. Any answer provided can be used to support any form of development.

Q3: What existing community facilities and infrastructure are underprovided for in Wye?

This is an inappropriate, and leading, question. Of course a small village does not have the facilities that a larger settlement has, nor should it expect to. Any answer to this question can be used to make a case for development which would in many cases be an incorrect conclusion to draw.

Q4: What are the highlights of the ‘Community Calendar’ each year?

I am not sure what the relevance of this question is to the issue at hand.

Q5: Besides the level crossing, what other current factors impact or impede local traffic, parking and usage of the rail station?

First, this question presupposes that the level crossing is a problem. Some people might feel that its presence acts as a disincentive to through traffic and leading academic research would support this, including papers published by Imperial College’s own Centre for Transport Studies.

Any factors set out relating to traffic problems can be used to provide a rationale for a new road and further infrastructural developments. People who list traffic issues may not necessarily consider that these would be best addressed by further infrastructural development as the costs may outweigh the benefits. Finally, as Imperial’s own research shows, building more roads results in more traffic.

Q6: What factors impact or impede walking and cycling?

Similarly, any suggestions made can simply be used to justify the type of pedestrian and cycling arrangements made in any development. Again, there is no opportunity for individual respondents to consider the costs and benefits.

Q7: If the historic Imperial College Buildings are not ‘fit’ for state-of-the-art research facilities, how would you like to see them be re-used and revitalised?

This question hinges on “if”. However, if the buildings were not fit for purpose then surely Imperial would not have merged with Wye in the first place. The premise here is clearly questionable. Also, the Bearman Report into the future of the Wye site concluded that the only viable option for existing College buildings and land was as part of a science park. Why, in the light of this, is consideration now being given to non-research uses?

Q8: If the area of the campus directly north of the historic ‘Quad’ were redeveloped, what uses would be best located there?

Any answer given here can be used in support of development, there is no option to indicate that this area should not be developed.

Q9: When the agricultural studies at the college cease to exist, how should the existing agricultural facilities and lands be best used in the future?

This question is odd. Without an agreement to change the designated use of this land then it would have to be kept as agricultural land, either by Imperial or sold/tenanted to someone else. To suggest any other use would provide support to development, which may not be the intention of the respondent.

Q10: What are the key attributes which truly define the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

An AONB is a government designation given to landscapes of national significance and is in law equivalent to National Parks. They are protected from development in law under Planning Policy Statement 7. The key attributes of each AONB would have been used to justify this designation when made. Asking people to offer their personal views is interesting, but not relevant.

Q11: What are the key elements of the natural landscape setting that need to be maintained and strengthened over time?

This question presupposes change and any answer could therefore be used to justify such change.

Q12: Could the future research institute and research park be seen as the next logical step in the organic growth of the village?

Again, this presupposes change and any answer could therefore be used to justify such change.

Q13: Should development be located adjacent to or as far away from the village as possible?

Again, this presupposes change and any answer could therefore be used to justify such change.

Q14: How should new development ‘link’ to and ‘engage’ the existing community? What should link them together?

Again, this presupposes change and any answer could therefore be used to justify such change.

Dylan Bradley grew up in Brook and has lived and worked in Wye since 1997 after completing a PhD at what was then Wye College. Dylan has administered many questionnaires for national governments, the European Union and private companies. He is commenting in his personal capacity.

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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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3 Responses to Why I will ignore Imperial’s phoney consultation

  1. David Hewson says:

    I have been fumbling to find the words to describe why this thing gave me the heebie-jeebies. You’ve done it for me, Dylan. Thanks. But one question does strike me. If everyone ignores this half-baked survey won’t Imperial then try to claim that the residents of Wye aren’t bothered about this subject? How can we boycott the blasted thing but avoid that accusation too? Frankly I don’t see why we need to be rushed into producing an independent, meaningful survey. But do people need to make some visible statement that says, ‘Don’t for one minute think that the fact we’re not filling in this nonsense means we’re not bothered’? And if so, how?

    Mind you, as you say, they would have to do a proper exercise at some stage. So perhaps it can be safely ignored altogether. This is all outside my area of expertise but I would appreciate advice from those who know.

  2. Ian Cooling says:

    Hmm, I think it would be a pity if this were totally ignored. The village has been asking for consultation for months, in the inexplicable silence that followed the 9 January meeting, and here it is. Imperfect of course, but it’s a start.

    My instinct is to complete and submit the Q’naire and then send my own caveats by separate e-mail to: consultlation@vision4wyecampus.co.uk

    That said, I do share Dylan’s concerns. While not having the range of experience that he has, I have run or been involved in quite a few consultations. The key lesson I learned was that unless a questionnaire (for example), deals with anything other than the most basic factual stuff such as “Do you prefer white or black?” – it is of central importance to engage specialists at an early stage.

    In the Wye context – where much of the consultations will essentially be about soft, subjective issues – that tends to mean psychologists or top-notch market researchers who usually have psychologists on tap. Their input to the framing of the questions and (especially) the interpretation of the answers is absolutely fundamental.

    Rightly or wrongly, I suspect that this has not happened here. But I see that more as a reason to make sure ICL get it right next time, rather than ignoring this first effort totally.

    Make sense?

  3. Gertrude says:

    and for those in the village without a computer?

    no ICL questionnaire has come through this letterbox – tho I appreciate this is a quaintly old fashioned way of telling people what’s going on, and giving them a chance to have a say.

Comments are closed.