The long list of sceptics who have looked carefully at Imperial’s record over the Wye Park project with raised eyebrows has just grown: now the college’s own newspaper has joined the ranks of those who think the Imperial hierarchy has gone off the rails.
Rupert Neate, the editor of Felix, the official IC newspaper, visited Wye for the story and spent a day talking with a number of residents. You can read his report here, along with an editorial which ought to be mandatory consumption for IC’s senior management and members of the governing council.
The current issue of Felix makes Wye the front page lead, and devotes most of page three to the story too. In the news analysis, Felix quizzes Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz about the details of the scheme… and meets the kind of brick wall many Wye residents will recognise of old. Prof Borys reiterates, ‘at this stage we have made no stipulation as to how much land we would require under the AONB’. He rejects the idea that there has been some grand plan for redeveloping Wye for years, and blames the economy for its rundown after Imperial’s takeover. Since the ‘original signing… in 1998, the bottom has fallen out of agricultural education. It has not just affected Imperial, there have been closures at every university…. In some ways I wish that there had been some sort of grand plan that all this could have been worked to.’
Wye is quite clearly not some back-water hick village, but a highly educated environmentally aware community… Felix, IC’s own student newspaper
Later, he adds, ‘…the demand from students for agricultural sciences courses basically dried up. At one point we had 35 students on seven courses, almost more teaching and instruction staff than students.’ But Felix reports, as disclosed here first, that much of the shortfall was caused by Imperial increasing the entry requirements to those of London students.
Former Wye professor Mike Blatt, who left the college around this time, is quoted as saying, ‘management blunders effectively lost Wye an entire year’s intake of students. You might say the writing was on the wall. It certainly did not bode well for Wye, although I do not think that these events were deliberate or that there was any design to run the site at Wye down, at least not at that time.’
The Deputy Rector also defends himself against accusations that he has upset Wye residents by patronising them, most notoriously at the January meeting when he said, ‘let me put this in terms you might be able to understand’. Those were ‘four words’ he said, after a two hour meeting. And, as confirmation of yesterday’s story here about the college’s determination to trumpet United Nations involvement as backing for its proposals, he adds, ‘This (non-food research and biochemicals) is a direction that both the United Nations and other major organisations are advocating, in fact we are in discussion with the United Nations to help support some of its activities.’
None of this cuts much ice with IC’s own student newspaper. In an editorial, headlined ‘What green space will Sykes set his sights on next?’ it says it is behind the project in principle, but believes there are numerous brownfield sites throughout the country where it could be sited without detriment to the environment. ‘It appears that the only reason Wye is the preferred site is because Imperial owns the land and so does not have to fork out on a more suitable site.’
Wye Park should concern the nation as a whole, says Felix, since if it goes ahead it could stand as a precedent for developments in other AONBs.
‘Imperial should be totally frank and honest about its plans for Wye; the secrecy and duplicity that have cloaked this project have only created suspicion and mistrust. Whether or not Sir Leszek patronised the local community, they feel he did. The Deputy Rector should seriously consider the implications of the language he uses. Wye is quite clearly not some back-water hick village, but a highly educated environmentally aware community.
‘This scheme, together with last week’s revelation that College plans to build on Queen’s Lawn, casts serious doubt on Imperial’s green aspirations. If students here care about the environment, they need to make their voices heard by College management.