Imperial College will not seek either government or European funding for its Wye Park ‘vision’ because it wants to retain complete control over the project if it goes ahead.
Sir Richard Sykes, Imperial’s rector, made the admission at the May 23 lunch held at County Hall, which was organised by KCC leader Paul Carter. The get-together replaced a lunch organised by the Lord Lieutenant, Alan Willett, which was cancelled after publicity on save-wye.org.
The lunch was attended by, among others, Sir Richard; his deputy Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz; Ashford council leader Paul Clokie; Wye borough councillor Ian Cooling; Wye county councillor Charles Findlay; CPRE Kent director Dr Hilary Newport; and former KCC leader Lord Bruce-Lockhart.
The admission that Imperial is not trying to get external funding for Wye Park confirms that it will seek to build hundreds, possibly thousands, of houses on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in direct contravention of national planning policy. Perhaps surprisingly given the public pronouncements over Imperial’s proposals, there was broad agreement among the guests at the lunch — with one notable exception — that Imperial’s plans were to be welcomed including the enabling housing development on greenfield sites.
Sir Richard said that Imperial must retain control of the development. If the Government or the EU contributed significant amounts of money, he said, they would want significant control in return and may insist that the project is sited somewhere else entirely. The admission raises suspicions that Imperial is primarily interested in raising large sums of money from speculative housing development to replenish its depleted cash reserves after a string of expensive projects in London.
Sir Richard and Prof Sir Leszek were told by some of the guests that the overwhelming majority of people in Wye and surrounding villages are in favour of the scheme. They were also told that Wye Future Group is a vocal minority made up of ‘middle class nimbies’ who can safely be ignored, that save-wye.org is, in the main, riddled with inaccuracies and is run by ‘a couple of amateurs’ and that Wye Parish Council is ‘floundering around’ with no clear idea of what it is doing.
Imperial’s leaders were also told that the first ‘community workshop’ run by architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill earlier in the same month had been dominated by the vocal ‘minority’. The views expressed there — that Wye’s relative isolation because of poor road links and the long waits at the level crossing were things worth preserving — were ‘nonsense’ and that sorting out transport had been a priority long before Imperial had persuaded KCC and Ashford to sign two ‘concordats’.
The only criticism levelled at Sir Richard and Prof Sir Leszek was that the college had been far too sparing with detailed information and was, as a result, fuelling rumour and cynicism. Most of the guests felt that the majority of people in Wye would come out in support of Imperial when it gives out more detailed information.