Could this be Ashford’s perfect ‘science park’?


In a week’s time Ashford Borough Council look set to wave through outline planning permission for the ideal location for a mixed development of science park, industrial units and domestic housing. It covers 25 acres, but stands right next to another 114 acres going spare on the same site, with planning permission already.

Plus the whole shebang will come with the blessing of the planners involved who have been forced to face up to the fact that the original idea for it under the ownership of Eurotunnel’s property division (then boss one David Brooks Wilson) is dead in the water.

This opportunity to grab 140 acres virtually instantly is just a couple of miles from Wye, right next to the M20, and needs no controversial new road to service it. Plus it is near more land earmarked for further commercial development, existing recent housing estates, and parcels of land predicted to bear another 2,500 homes in the future under current projections. So will Imperial be looking to jump at this opportunity kick start their science park project? Don’t count on it…

The planning application comes before Ashford council on June 7 and concerns the Waterbrook site developed by David Brooks Wilson’s previous employer during and after the construction of the Channel Tunnel. Commercially, it has not been a great success as we have detailed here already. Two reasons have been cited: Eurotunnel Developments got greedy and wanted too much for its land, and the market for which it was originally developed never really materialised.

As the brief on this latest expansion of Waterbrook points out, since the site was first scheduled for warehousing and distribution in the local plan for the area it has become apparent there is little opportunity to rent to this sector in Ashford. ‘Development as a major warehousing/industrial park with associated uses — envisaged in the local plan — would run contrary to the ideas coming forward for a high-density mixed-use development area incorporating large quantities of homes and workplaces, grouped around a major transport corridor providing public transport and other access to extensive areas of planned development beyond.’

Sounds pretty good for a science/research park, doesn’t it? Not least because, as the brief quietly points out, the chances of getting customers for its original use are pretty much gone. So why is it that Imperial is sitting right next door to these vast tracts of underused chunks of readily available commercial land, which seem to get bigger by the year, and insisting that it also needs to get into the development business, in this case by selling off farm land it bought for a pittance for huge profits for building?

This is not a question the college has ever addressed in public directly to our knowledge. It simply states that it needs to raise £300 to £400 million for its share of the costs of the new research park, and the only way to find that is to sell off the protected farmland surrounding Wye — with the active support and help of our local councils.

Does this argument hold water? Stay tuned for more revelations…

In the meantime, why not try writing to those involved — Imperial, your local councillors, and your MP — asking them whether they think it would be a good idea for Imperial to use existing available space, instead of gobbling up the countryside, probably for developments that will remain empty for years. If you get an answer, do please pass it on…

View the full outline application here.

Development brief (3.6 mb)


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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