Imperial College is planning a building or several buildings equivalent in size to a major supermarket distribution centre or 10 Kempe Centres to house its Wye research institute. The building — which would be one of the largest in Kent — would take up 32,000 square metres of space on a site about five hectares (12 acres) large.
Members of Wye Parish Council were told about the enormous building by David Brooks Wilson, Imperial’s special projects advisor, at its regular monthly meeting with the college last night. Mr Brooks Wilson said that the centre, which would initially house up to 150 scientists, would be followed by its commercial science park, which could be no more than 200 or 300 metres away. He refused to be discuss the potential enabling development of up to 4,000 houses save that any housing had ‘not been defined’ and would ‘be part of the research process’, a cryptic remark many of those present struggled to decipher.
Mr Brooks Wilson, who insisted that the absent Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz was still in charge of the Wye Park project, said that the village had to choose whether the science ‘cluster’ and research institutes should be in the village or ‘divorced from it’.
In one of the more stunning admissions, he told those present — who included Wye borough councillor Ian Cooling but not county councillor Charles Findlay — that no work was being done on the new infrastructure needed as part of the Wye Park and that Imperial would ‘clearly want to keep infrastructure costs as low as possible’ raising fears that all construction traffic for the project will use existing roads into the village. He added that more detail about Imperial’s plans would be given to Monday’s community workshop by masterplanners Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
A supermarket distribution centre: The Wye Park institute could be on this kind of scale
The former director of estates at Imperial, who is now reporting directly to the rector, Sir Richard Sykes, admitted that Imperial’s efforts to provide information had been poor and said that, had he been in charge, would not have held the infamous January 9 public meeting chaired by Prof Sir Leszek. ‘It would have been better if we’d started now,’ he said. Because the college is waiting for Ashford’s Local Development Framework, he now expected the plans to be put together in time for a decision on whether to proceed with an application in September, October or November. That application could be full, outline, hybrid or could be a request for the government to decide on the project, he said.
Responding to a query by Cllr Cooling about the accuracy of a report on save-wye about a lunch at Kent County Council on May 23, Mr Brooks Wilson said that it had been a private meeting and he had been surprised to see it reported and that there was ‘a lot he did not recognise’ in the report. Cllr Cooling said that he thought the press ‘are trying to play us off against each other’ and, referring to this website, said: ‘You should see what they say about me. It reads like the script of a Christmas pantomime.’
There was some confusion about whether Imperial’s governing council would have the ultimate say over the project. Mr Brooks Wilson would only say that that it ‘could be the ultimate decision maker’.
At the end of the meeting Mr Brooks Wilson said that when the fate of the project had been decided, he would like to take all those present out for a meal. ‘I like to remain friends with those I have had dealings with,’ he said.