At last! After months of being ignored Wye residents finally had an opportunity to question our County and Borough councillors in person. How lucky we are to live in a vibrant democracy, with free speech and open to ideas.
On Monday, a cross section of residents attended the Civic Centre to respond to KCC’s glossy policy document ‘Towards 2010’. Thanks to save-wye’s alert half the audience came from Wye. But as save-wye predicted, after deflecting just two questions about the village, Cllr Clokie expressed his displeasure: ‘I’d like to get away from Wye; we’ve drowned that baby.’ The chairman KCC Cllr Angell duly obliged.
Then Alan Paterson raised his hand. Cllr Angell hesitated before allowing a third Wye person to speak, but only as Chairman of Ashford Choral Society, not a Wye resident. Alan asked if there were any plans for a multi-use hall in the borough as the Society will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in Canterbury and Ashford has no suitable venue. No worries, Cllr Clokie it seems plans to build an Ashford Arena with 5,000 seats close to the station. He beamed that the venue would ‘be as commercial as it can be’. After the dead Discovery Centre and the Stour Centre, still closed and grossly over budget, roll on the next white elephant at tax payer’s expense then…
Then Wye residents came forward one after another, armed with serious points. Dr Paul Burnham started by asking why ‘Towards 2010’ contains no mention of higher education in Kent — surely a priority issue along with a university campus for Ashford at Wye should be a target. Apparently not, according to Cllr Clokie. For his full answer — with details of the proposed £50 million ‘Ashford Learning Campus’ — please consult the Clokie Calculator.
But as it seems that the Concordat is not progressing, Dr Mike Copland wanted to know if the proposed new link road from Wye to Junction 10A will still go ahead as part of some north Ashford orbital route or whether it will die with the Wye Park proposal. Also, with sustainable housing being a component of Imperial’s proposal, if it failed, would the housing still be allowed? He understood villages should not expand by more than ten houses per year.
And what a very interesting response came back from Cllr Clokie. His initial outburst was: ‘Wye is not my problem’ and he wanted to know where the ten houses a year had come from. Mike was quick to respond that it had come from an ABC officer (actually it was Richard Alderton the Head of Planning!)
Cllr Clokie said Imperial College could be selling brownfield land, in which case it would go on the open market and permission would depend whether ABC liked the planning application. But he hoped the road would get built anyway as it gives access from Wye to Junction 10A. He thought anyone who has queued at Wye level crossing would welcome it though ‘nimbys would still object’. It’s for later discussion when someone has drawn it on a map.
Next there were sighs from both ABC and KCC as David de Saxe stepped up and gave his name and position as Vice Chairman of Wye Parish Council, but Cllr Angell said reluctantly, ‘I’ll allow that question’. David asked if the reference on page 14 which says KCC will ‘establish a Global Centre for Non-food Crops in Kent’ related to Imperial College’s vision for Wye, but Brigadier Hill’s empty reply was ‘We’ve not got that detail’.
The next questioner came from Charing. This was six miles from Wye he said to reassure the councillors. It raised a mild laugh, to which Cllr Angell replied ‘don’t mention that word’, meaning Wye. If we learned nothing else the meeting confirmed that our elected members find it amusing to silence and make cheap jokes about us Wye folk. Cllr Findlay said nothing throughout, he just smirked.
Among other points from Wye, Brian Roberts criticised ABC’s officers. They should be pro-active and use their eyes concerning the problems of graffiti and fly-tipping, or at least respond to reports from the public. Then Eddie Bennett asked if free public transport could be extended to all junior school children to reduce road congestion. These were just the sort of forward thinking constructive comments that a consultation process should produce. There were other questions from Wittersham, Kingsnorth and Hothfield, and just one from the whole of Ashford. But where were the 108,000 Ashford residents in all this? Only about 2% of the Borough’s population live in Wye but we produced over half the questions and half the audience, not that our input was appreciated.
It was nothing to do with Towards 2010, but the Kingsnorth man, who had spent years and large sums not getting planning permission to develop his seven acres of brownfield land complained about Ashford’s planners. Cllr. Angell disagreed, saying that planning authorities help rather than hinder developers. It seems very unfair that developers in Kingsnorth are not as well served as those interested in Wye.
Question time over and other Wye residents safely silenced, it was time for KCC and ABC councillors to comment on Towards 2010. With so many questions from Wye residents, Cllr Koowaree must have been directing his concern in our direction that Ashford will lose economic regeneration as it needs 28,000 jobs. And for the grand finale, a few words of wisdom from our own County and Borough Councillors. So what did we get for our votes and our money? Just one sentence all evening from Charles Findlay.
He said simply, ‘we have to wait for the planning application – if it comes in the autumn’. So we should do nothing! And that is exactly what he said three months ago in his first public announcement.
Ashford’s borough councillor, Ian Cooling, meanwhile sat in silence in the public seats and didn’t take part in the proceedings.
P.S. For anyone getting excited about participating in a future Joint Board experience, you’d better watch out for adverts in the press as, despite being on the agenda, no-one wanted to agree the date for the next meeting!