He’s turned down every request for an interview we’ve made, but of late Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the man charged to deliver Wye’s green land on a plate to Imperial, just can’t stop talking to almost everyone else. He’s spoken to student newspapers, and now he’s sat down with Kent on Sunday — smiling too! — to deliver his thoughts on Wye. You can read it in full on their site, or in the extract at the foot of this article.
So what does he say? Er, not a lot… Again.
Most of this friendly little chat covers very old ground. Imperial needs to raise £300m to £400m for its share of the costs of Wye Park. Without the entire development, Imperial’s presence in the area seems doomed. Plus he name drops the UN to add some extra credibility, without confessing that the UN non-foods centre is, as we have comprehensively revealed here, an entirely separate, more modest affair, onto which Imperial has attached its grandiose plans for a commercial ‘science park’ swallowing up huge tracts of the AONB. Here are some other gems (though best not read them over the cornflakes since they may lead to gagging) with our comments attached…
- ‘We are not interested in adversely affecting this community. Any development can be done sympathetically and in keeping with the local community around it.’ This doesn’t chime well with KCC’s Pete Raine (obvious) warning that the development will damage the AONB ‘irreparably’.
- ‘I have always made it clear that no decision has been reached on the land yet — why would we be doing all of this if the decisions have already been made?’ No-one has suggested the final plan exists somewhere; but we know that more detailed papers do exist, because Imperial went out of its way to kill them when KCC was about to make them public under the Freedom of Information Act.
- ‘We are trying to involve the people from an early stage and it is important they come forward.’ Apart from the ‘workshops’, which have had mixed results, Imperial’s one public effort has been a paltry and misleading questionnaire on its website, one it ‘publicised’ with an even more paltry leaflet pushed through the doors of half the village, apparently by students press ganged for the effort. Imperial’s PR people didn’t even think it worth running to the expense of printing the thing off themselves.
- ‘Does the reaction surprise me? No. People feel very strongly about their local community and I respect this and we have to take note of this strength of feeling.’ Remember Prof Borys’ words in January: ‘Let me try to explain this to you in words you will understand.’ What he’s saying now is… ‘Oh crap, they’re not a bunch of numpties after all.’
- ‘It is very important to stress that there are no plans to develop any kind of manufacturing plant or facility’. Just as there was at the Eureka Science Park three miles away in Ashford, which has now very little science, and lots of offices, plus a little manufacturing.
- ‘We are not flying the kite “if we build it, they will come” there are no shortage of partners’. There’s no plan, and not even an estimate for how big this thing will be. But we still have property agents out there flogging floor space to commercial companies.
And finally, a real beauty…
‘…it is difficult to see how anything on a smaller scale will be sustainable.’
Prof Borys clearly doesn’t like giving interviews to anyone who has followed this story in detail. So let us ask this question here and see if Imperial want to answer. What exactly does he mean by this?
He can’t, surely, be talking about economic sustainability. The UN non-food crops centre will be funded separately and, as its backers have made clear, does not require Imperial to sell off a square inch of its land. He surely can’t be talking about environmental sustainability, since the damage to the AONB and a variety of protected wildlife would be substantial.
As we know from FoI investigations by this site, the college already has a standing offer — turned down once in 2004 — to rent the entire farm estate, at commercial rates, from the Tesco and Prince Charles-backed Food Animal Initiative. If Wye can have a revived academic presence through the UN and an undergraduate presence that has already been agreed through the University of Kent, and Imperial can happily lease its spare green land to the FAI, how can it possibly be true that the only ‘sustainable’ future is one that involves widescale development of 300 to 400 cares of AONB land?
What would be wrong with just the UN non-food centre, some modest development of the existing academic site, a healthy undergraduate community run by the University of Kent and farmland under the management of the highly acclaimed FAI? In fact, wouldn’t that be great on all fronts — environmentally, socially, scientifically, academically? A dream ticket in which everyone wins?
Except, of course, for those — perhaps an increasingly isolated few — within Imperial who are more interested in land banking than socially acceptable academic development that doesn’t damage a fragile and protected environment. They want to line their coffers by generating £1m per acre in commercial land sales from an estate that has cost the college perhaps £10m in total for a whacking 840 acres in all. Why exactly is a scheme of this nature ‘unsustainable’? If Imperial didn’t own all those green acres, would it really be turning up its nose at such a prospect?
We’re happy for an answer in person or by e-mail.