KCC’s planning boss Pete Raine has been remarkably visible this week, first in the Kentish Express here, and tomorrow in an interview with Kent on Sunday. And once again, like most people involved in this project, he is having enormous difficulties with numbers, except to say… they’re big and, in this latest media chat, have ‘potentially negative’ environmental implications.
Earlier in the week Mr Raine was trumpeting the possibility of 12,000 jobs out of Wye Park. Now it’s gone down dramatically again, to 100 ‘principal investigators, supported by a team of three or four post-graduate researchers doing PHDs probably supported by admin staff. You are probably talking about 1,000 jobs in that central research base.
‘Work that one up you have the jobs that will create in Wye itself plus any spin-off into the science park and that is where I get to a fairly low conservative figure of 2,500 jobs within Wye. You multiple that and the place really starts humming and that may be 10 or 15 years away, that is when we get the figure of 12,500 jobs in East Kent.’
Let me try and translate this guff for you. The ‘principal investigators’ he is talking about are true academics doing non-food crop research, though in what buildings and where no-one has yet told us. The ‘science park’ is a totally separate commercial entity being planned by Imperial to raise money.
Here’s a prediction: much of what happens in the future will depend on the argument, ‘Does one need the other?’ Or to put it differently, can Wye have an interesting scientific research base alone, covering non-food crops, perhaps in existing buildings with some modest brownfield building in and around the existing college? Or should Imperial be allowed to dictate that this intriguing opportunity — which many locals might well welcome — must depend upon it being able to play property developer too, and swallow up the whole area in concrete just to raise some money for its own coffers?
Mr Raine is vague once again on the subject of housing, suggesting 200 acres ‘or thereabouts’ may be needed for 2,000 or so homes (which would house a lot more than the new Wye population he is talking about here, of course). He also plays fancy footwork with planning conventions, declaring, ‘The planning process has a legal duty to balance the environment against economical (one assumes he meant ‘economic’, though doubtless the houses will be jerry built too) development. Walking that tightrope between potentially damaging an environment that people love and safeguarding the future of a village which is in decline as the university has gone down is exactly the difficult position which the planning system is all about.’
This is utter rubbish of course. The reason land is given AONB or National Parks status is precisely to ring fence it from the argument that it should fall prey to economics somewhere down the line. And Wye, as we have pointed out many times, is not ‘a village in declne’. The only declining part is the college, which Imperial have wilfully depopulated and destroyed through deliberate neglect and incompetence over the years. Running to them to redress the damage they have caused is rather like asking the mugger who has just robbed you for the change for the bus ride home.
This is all just spin and PR fluff, part of the softening up exercise for the first revelation of some plans, and perhaps an actual application. Imperial are now showing their sorry ‘information pack’ in public at the Kempe Centre, as a cheap little leaflet spread around the village pointed out yesterday (they haven’t gone to the expense of printing out their ‘questionnaire’ for those who don’t have internet access, naturally). That show only lasts until mid-June. What do you think will replace it then?
Perhaps a small exhibition on the need for accuracy in numbers. I hate to tell Mr Raine this but Imperial are now telling people they may need 150 ‘principal investigators’ at Wye, which would push up all his estimates here by at least fifty per cent. Those like him who guide the planning process on behalf of the citizens of Kent are very soon going to have to decide where they sit. On the side of those who pay their wages; or those who, for no reason other than financial gain, wish to ride roughshod over protected countryside to build housing estates and industrial parks which have no connection with the revived academic future of Wye whatsoever.