They thought they had it all stitched up. But for David Brooks Wilson and Imperial College with its ‘vision’ of thousands of new homes and a commercial science park in Wye, Ashford Borough Council’s submission to the South East Plan will not make pleasant reading. And with the deadline for submissions on the draft plan to the South East Regional Assembly on Friday next week, the council’s view could prove significant in the battle to stop the college’s already faltering effort.
Gone is the overt support for Imperial’s project expressed by the council’s leader Paul Clokie when he signed the concordat. In its place is a far more reserved and sober assessment of the inclusion of the Wye proposal in the plan. Indeed, Ashford’s view that some of the enthusiasm and support for Imperial’s ‘vision’ in the draft plan is ‘inappropriate’ could prove crucial when all the submissions are put together. One wonders what Cllr Clokie — Ashford’s representative on the assembly — will be thinking about all this (we would ask him, but he refuses to talk to save-wye.org).
The original text in the draft plan under policy ‘EKA7: Employment Locations’ says that Local Development Frameworks should support ‘high quality proposals for intensifying or expanding the technology, knowledge and scientific sectors at suitable new locations unless there are overriding environmental impacts which cannot be adequately dealt with. These locations include Canterbury at a new site linked to the university, Dover at Pfizer and nearby at Richborough and Ashford at the Wye Campus of Imperial College London’.
But Ashford, which has already toned down its enthusiasm for Imperial in its own draft LDF, has come out fighting. It has objected to the apparent overt support for the Imperial scheme — which was only inserted into the SE Plan after lobbying by Imperial and Kent County Council. In its submission, it says: ‘So far as the proposals for the technology, knowledge and scientific sectors are concerned, the following comments refer to those for Ashford (at the Wye Campus of Imperial College London) only, and not to the other locations, in relation to which no comment is made.
‘It is important that the policy adequately reflects the extent to which the principle of such development in this location depends upon meeting the relevant national policy tests, and striking the appropriate balance between competing interests. For these reasons, the impacts referred to should not be limited to environmental ones only, but should include others such as infrastructure impacts. Also, the expression of support “unless….”, and the reference to “overriding” impacts are at present inappropriate prior to these tests and balancing exercise being properly applied. Therefore, express reference should be made to the detailed criteria, incorporating the relevant national policy tests, which will be set out in this Council’s Local Development Framework.
‘Thus the policy in relation to Wye should be amended to include reference to these matters, and the new section of policy EKA7 that deals with Wye in relation to the technology, knowledge and scientific sectors would read as follows:- The principle of retaining and, if possible, enhancing a high-quality knowledge-based presence of Imperial College London at Wye will be supported, subject to there being no environmental or other impacts which cannot be adequately addressed pursuant to the criteria and any other requirements set out in the policies contained in the Local Development Framework.”
In other words — if Imperial can’t demonstrate that the concreting over of protected land is of such overwhelming importance and it is able to demonstrate that it won’t damage the environment, then Ashford won’t even come out in support of retaining Sykes and friends in the borough, let alone support the massive expansion that Imperial envisages.
Ashford council’s executive — which counts Cllr Ian Cooling, the representative for for Wye as one of its members — will debate the submission tomorrow (Thursday) night.
Meanwhile, KCC’s cabinet will debate its response at its next meeting on Monday, and it looks like being more muted given KCC’s lobbying to get Wye included in the SE Plan. The recommended submission, put forward by Graham Gibbens, the cabinet member for regeneration, reads: ‘The Assembly has now included reference to the Wye Campus of Imperial College as one of the locations identified for proposals that intensify or expand the technology, knowledge and scientific sectors in East Kent This is subject to their being no overriding environmental impacts which cannot be addressed. In previous consultation, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration has accepted this addition.’
You can read the report being put to Ashford’s executive here.