Imperial prepares to scrap its Wye Park ‘vision’

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It has cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, blighted Wye and its surrounding area and led to a run down of the college’s operations in Kent, but Imperial’s plan for a research institute, science park and thousands of houses is virtually dead, save-wye.org can reveal. A combination of cost overruns, poor planning and the announcement by BP of a £275million biofuels research programme in conjunction with a major UK or US university has all but killed Imperial’s Wye Park vision. Work on the project — apart from the masterplanning by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill — has stopped.

The news will both delight and worry those in the village who fought the college’s plan to build the research centre, science park and thousands of homes on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but wanted to see the campus regenerated. The end of the Wye Park plan raises the possibility that Imperial will now attempt to break up its Wye campus and sell parcels off to developers.

Officially, the Wye project is still active but save-wye.org understands that the college’s management board put the scheme into cold storage at its June 16 meeting. The board agreed to grant Wye Park an extra £100,000 to finish the masterplanning process but a source within the board has told us that it is ‘extremely unlikely’ any further money will be given to the project when it next meets in September, effectively ending a process launched at the end of 2004 with the first tentative discussions between Imperial College and Kent County Council.

The crisis has been sparked by two separate events:

The project has run out of money. We understand from two of the main contractors that they have been pulled off the scheme and that all work on site has stopped. Only SOM is still actively engaged on Wye Park. Waterman Group has been told to stop its habitat surveys — necessary before a planning application can be made — meaning that the deadline for a planning application of spring 2008 has been thrown out of the window and no new date has been fixed.

In June, BP announced that it was going to spend $500million setting up a biofuels institute attached to a UK or US university. A source within BP has told save-wye.org that Imperial is one of several British institutions bidding for the centre and that Wye does not figure as part of the Imperial bid. Furthermore, we understand from Whitehall sources — and as was revealed by Sir Richard Sykes, the college’s rector, at the infamous May 23 ‘working lunch’ — that Imperial has not had any discussions about government funding for Wye Park. Therefore, the BP project leaves Imperial with a dilemma: if it wins, the institute would be based in London and the raison d’etre for Wye Park vanishes. If it loses and the project goes to another university, the college would struggle to attract industry or government finance for a second British biofuels institute at Wye.

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The demise of the project will come as a bitter disappointment to the other parties to the concordat — Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council — who were promised up to 12,500 jobs across East Kent in return for permission to build thousands of houses. Where it leaves those who have invested so much public credibility in a project which would have set a precedent for destruction of protected countryside, remains to be seen.

The news was greeted with delight by Ben Moorhead, chairman of the Wye Future Group, who said it was ‘fantastic’ that Imperial had scrapped its original plan. Mr Moorhead added: ‘I had a feeling that this was not going to happen.’

save-wye.org also understands from tenants at Wye College that some have been told that leases can be renewed to the winter of 2010. Under the Wye Park plan, leases were all to end by October 2008 and no renewals offered but the new position appears to be further confirmation that the scheme is in deep trouble.

Delegates at last month’s workshop with SOM were left with the impression that the project was drifting and no dates were given for further workshops. It is unclear whether these will now continue to allow SOM to complete the masterplan only for it to be mothballed the moment it is published.

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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11 Responses to Imperial prepares to scrap its Wye Park ‘vision’

  1. Cliff Whitbourn says:

    Good news indeed. But, if this is proves to be the case, the matter of duplicitous behaviour by elected County, in particular, officials will still need proper explanation.

  2. Alan Paterson says:

    Whilst it’s never prudent to count chickens ……. assuming all this comes to pass, may I be amongst the first to thank and congratulate David & Justin for their unflagging stamina, journalistic professionalism, connections and leadership in the struggle that we seem to be on the point of winning.

    Wye Future Group should congratulate and thank unreservedly the selfless efforts of Ben Moorhead as Chairman, those who have chaired and others who have put in hours of work on the three committees and so many who have given freely of their time – and have learned from and hopefully enjoyed the experience. It is invidious to name names, but Diana Pound as our consultant deserves a special mention for her expertise, energy and commitment.

    If Imperial cannot invent a more proper use for its Wye campus, we should expect them to optimise the value of its brownfield land here before (if and when) it vacates, as it has threatened from the outset. ABC have always had plans to make us take our fair share of the houses being imposed on the Borough from Whitehall, so watch this space. If the same standards of decision-making diligence are shown as with the oil depot site, then we may have seen nuttin’ yet!

    As to the future for the Imperial campus, let’s hope that a suitable centre of research and/or tertiary education remains here without the need to despoil the landscape in the way Imperial envisaged. From Canterbury, the University of Kent and Christ Church College will, I hope, be interested.

    As to housing outside the village, we would be unwise to lower our guard, as to my certain knowledge there are others who wish to build in the AONB on greenfield land around Wye.

    I shall get up tomorrow morning and look out of our bedroom window across to Brook Church and upwards to the Crown (albeit now hidden by trees) at the view my late father saw when he came here for a job interview in 1937 and never left, but see it all in a more promising light.

    Alan Paterson

  3. M Sorken says:

    Thank you again David and Justin, whatever the final outcome the village could not ask for more determined protectors, I would also like to extend deep gratitude to your sources, clearly honest people.

  4. Kerry Bethel says:

    Watergate had its Bob Woodford and Carl Bernstein.

    Imperialgate has its David Hewson and Justin Williams.

    Thanks guys for your efforts and I am certain you will be equally committed to protecting our much loved village and its beautiful protected countyside from other greed driven opportunists.

  5. G.M. says:

    I join in thanking Justin & David for an excellent job without which we may well have already seen the Imperial College plans pushed through. Their dedication and investigative journalism has not always pleased everyone, but that is life – can’t please everyone all of the time and anyway, I think their intention was to stop the Imperial Contruction engorging Wye, not to please everyone.

    Well done and we look forward to the continuation of this website and your hard work aimed at any and all movements made to find alternatives to developing the greenfield sites on the AONB by Imperial.

    Perhaps it is time to turn ones attentions to the forthcoming council elections?

    and maybe to find and support any environmentally friendly ways of relieving Imperial College of their Greenfields.

  6. David Hewson says:

    That’s very kind of you all but I should point out that I have been swanning around Arizona and California on a book tour for the last two weeks, so the hard work is all Justin’s – and he deserves the credit. I don’t think Wye is quite saved yet — it remains to be seen whether Imperial want to get out of this mess with some dignity and thought for a community which it has treated so badly over the last nine months. So I expect we will be around for a while. I don’t think we have the time or energy to become some kind of local newspaper covering everything, but there is still plenty left to say on the fallout from this particular issue I think.

  7. Ivan Warboys says:

    Delighted by the news with thanks to David Hewson and Justin Williams of safe-wye.org and of course Ben Moorhead and the rest of Wye Future Group.

    Until we know the detail however we have to be concerned as to how Imperial will now attempt to asset strip the College Estate both farmland and Brownfield sites.
    From my recollection of 9 January with the Deputy Rector it was to be all The Vision for Wye or nothing in terms of a research centre for the Wye Campus. Let us hope that Universities of Kent or Greenwich might now show some interest.

  8. Alan Paterson says:

    With all the euphoria around, none of us yet have recognised the important role of Wye’s Parish Council in all that has transpired. We have been well served by them under John Hodder’s steady hand. They have, in my view, played the thing exactly right – and although much still needs to be done, we should have confidence in their ability be level-headed on planning issues yet to emerge. Thanks to you all.
    I am deliberately refraining from comment on ABC and KCC.

  9. JACK WOODFORD says:

    At the conclusion of the quarterly Parish Forum in Council Chambers last night, the leader of Ashford Independents, made a comment that it appeared that BP would not now be funding any part of the cost of the proposed Science Park at Wye College…this came as a complete suprise to the Leader of ABC, he was not apparently aware of the developments that day, he added that ‘he hoped he would not be sued over the potential loss of 10,000 jobs.

  10. Ben Moorhead says:

    Unreserved thanks to Justin and David for first establishing the most incredible and beautiful website,then applying their crisp ,brilliant and at times very humourous journalistic skills to their task and then never faltering at any stage.They have been a huge part of the story thus far and to a large extent have influenced the position we hopefully now find ourselves in.Wye , the Wye Future Group and the neghbouring villages have a great deal to thank you for.
    Ben

  11. Richard Bartley says:

    Although save-wye revealed intimations of Wye Park’s mortality three months ago and Imperial’s Management Board pronounced it dead 29th September, the Imperial beast’s tail is still twitching. Should we be concerned that the October revision of the SEERA South East Plan is showing “Additional research centre for Imperial College London” on page 65 of its Implementation Plan for 2006 – 2026?

    http://www.southeast-ra.gov.uk/southeastplan/key/infrastructure/delivering_the_south_east_plan-implementation_plan-for_eip.pdf

    This document makes clear that the earlier reference to a new road from the M20 J10a has disappeared and that Imperial is now missing from the final list published today of participants at the Examination in Public (EiP).

    Are there any life signs left? A SEERA planning officer reports as follows.

    “Further to our telephone conversation earlier today I have been informed that the implementation plan has been sent out to the Executive Committee. The reference on the education table of the East Kent and Ashford sub-regional investment framework to the Imperial College London Research Centre, Ashford will be raised at the Executive Committee meeting on 20th October and the change will be made following the meeting. The revised version will then be submitted to the EiP panel,”

    In contrast to the brazen audacity of its media launch, Wye Park seems to be going out with a series of administrative whimpers. Now drained of its poitical support, there is no puff left in this dragon.

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