Imperial College’s rector says its science park project could go to the Middle East if locals cut up rough over his attempt at droit di seigneur, but has added a bizarre pledge that the college will only try to build on the ugly ‘green bits’ of Wye, not the nice ones.
In an interview with Felix, the Imperial College student newspaper which recently came out against developing the AONB, Sir Richard says, ‘If they say no, we will build it somewhere else. We could put it in Abu Dhabi, I guess. The Abu Dhabi government would be very pleased to support it.’
So… there seems to be no question of arguing that it’s Wye’s academic legacy or its geographical location that are behind the present idea of siting the thing controversially in protected countryside that has hitherto been judged to be beyond the developer’s remit.
Sykes to Felix: ‘Not interested in legacies. I’ve done enough in my life…’
He strongly denied accusations that when he took the helm of Imperial ‘he took one look at Wye College and decided it was poorly performing but could be turned into a cash cow.’ Instead, he was ‘totally supportive of Wye’ but ‘when College decided to end undergraduate teaching, Sykes explained how Imperial looked around and thought, “What else can we do at Wye?”‘
You’d think the decision to run down the undergraduate side happened while he wasn’t looking, and quite a few ex-Wye people we know will question that ‘totally supportive’ statement. The rector makes no mention whatsoever of the project started by Countess Sondes for a non-foods centre which many believe kick-started Imperial’s ambitions. Instead he says, a biofuels research park was mooted as an idea and ‘extensive groundwork was done to survey the site in readiness’. This groundwork presumably involved something the rest of us would call ‘plans’, though the college continue to deny they even exist.
‘You can’t just build a research park, you need roads, you need infrastructure, you need housing,’ he went on. ‘(College) are quite aware that this is an area of natural beauty. Some of it is more beautiful than others, there is an area that is just green fields and not in this area of outstanding beauty, and so we’re not talking about interfering with the beautiful bits (just) the green bits.’
I’ve only lived here twenty years and I have absolutely no idea where on earth he is talking about. Perhaps someone else could enlighten us. However, it is worth remembering that the idea that this would be built in the AONB came from Imperial, Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council, not anyone else, and was put with such certainty that it generated warning e-mails within Whitehall. So it’s not just stroppy locals who are kicking up a stink.
Whatever happens at Wye, the research — biofuels are ‘a big area for us’ – will go ahead, Sykes says. ‘We can always do the research, the question is how much you can do. We will start the research anyway because it’s critically important, but we can do it at Silwood though it would be on a much smaller scale.’ Silwood is an Imperial campus near Ascot covering some 250 acres, with laboratories, wetland and farmland.
He then adds the comment about Abu Dhabi being very pleased to support it. But he insists that big projects like Wye are not an attempt to leave a Sykes legacy for Imperial. ‘I’ve done enough in my life not to worry about legacies. I came here to help.’