You’d be very mistaken if you thought that everyone at Imperial is behind the plan to turn Wye into a building site. After a meek letter backing the idea the previous week, the college’s newspaper contained a rapid response from a fellow student making some very valid points that we don’t expect to see Sykes and co answering very easily.
Read on to see what one Imperial student thinks of the whole Wye Park debacle.
The author is Nichola Hawkins… and if she’d like to expand on any of these points here, she will be very welcome.
Felix Letters Page May 26, 2006
Regarding Laurence Fahrni’s letter in Felix last week, that point has repeatedly been made, in even more patronising tones, by senior college staff when addressing the people of Wye.
However, I feel I must point out a few flaws in this apparently compelling argument:
- It would be naive to think that this decision affects only one piece of countryside. Once AONB designation has been disregarded, this sets a very dangerous precedent for other building projects on land otherwise regarded as protected. Worse still, Britain would then be required to demonstrate an even greater level of hypocrisy in asking developing countries to protect their own wildlife habitats – some of which act as major carbon stores – when they, too, have energy needs that could be met by growing biofuels on that land.
- Wye’s research has already made significant contributions to worldwide problems, such as food production, rural development and environmental management. Biofuel research could have been initiated under the original Wye setup; and yet in Imperial’s hands, Wye’s crop-growing and land-management expertise continues to be slowly dismantled. Most people opposing Imperial’s grand plans would dearly love to see Wye continuing to play a part in land-based research for the good of humanity, but are unconvinced of the need for large-scale building development before this can happen.
- If these plans really do stem from a genuine wish to contribute to the world’s knowledge about non-food crops, which have indeed been identified as an important matter at levels up to the UN, then surely the necessary funding would be provided from a source other than requiring a college to turn into a property developer and sell off land with environmental value of its own for housing?
- Income from property development and sale is the antithesis of sustainability in economic as well as environmental terms: once sold, that land can be put to no further use to further any of the College’s central aims.
- Some plans suggest that the actual biofuels research could not begin until 2011 or even 2018, whereas housing development and sales would begin by 2008.
Considering the extent to which Imperial’s stated plans for Wye have changed in just 2 years (2 years ago Imperial were reassuring Wye that Agricultural Sciences would continue at least to the end of the recovery period set out at the time of the merger), and with a potential gap of several years between housing development taking place and biofuels research commencing, it is understandable that some people in Wye can envisage Imperial taking the housing profit and then suddenly changing their plans again, before the first short-rotation willow stand is ever planted.
In conclusion, support for the supposed end does not necessitate support for absolutely any means, especially where those means may not themselves be necessary.
Finally, please bear in mind that Wye College could have sold off land itself, and may have made enough money this way to stave off the need to merge with Imperial, but this was dismissed as unsustainable in the longer term. The point of the merger was to secure a longer-term future for Wye, as both an institution and a community, to continue tackling issues of global importance in a sustained and measured way.