On Thursday Ashford Borough Council leader Paul Clokie was rubbishing the suggestion of architect Sir Terry Farrell that the government abandon huge development in places like Ashford and focus instead on developing unused land closer to London in the Thames Gateway. ‘Silly’, said Cllr Clokie. Today it doesn’t look so silly at all to his far more senior counterpart at Kent County Council, the leader Paul Carter, who has told the Kent on Sunday he agrees with Sir Terry.
Where exactly that leaves ABC and KCC as joint partners in the stumbling Concordat with Imperial over Wye Park is anyone’s guess. KCC and Paul Carter have been remarkably silent of late on the whole thing. But Cllr Carter’s remarks sound utterly incompatible with the original Concordat idea.
He told KoS, ‘There’s an enormous number of brownfield sites in the City of London airport, across to Dartford and I’d very much support the use of brownfield land before we encroach on greenfield.’ Which makes Wye Park look a non-starter if he means what he says.
As always, Paul Carter qualified his views somewhat, stopping short of calling for housing proposals in Kent to be scrapped. ‘Some of our towns could benefit from limited growth. We’re still going to have to accept housing growth, but let’s get it to the right level and maximise the opportunities in outer London. Obviously, Dartford and the Thames Gateway part of Kent is important to us and I think there’s room for all of that to take place, but we don’t want to go over the top until we’ve made sure that brownfield development takes priority.’
It’s very difficult to see where thousands of houses that aren’t just on greenfield land but AONB land too fit into that kind of perspective, or how the original Concordat, which envisaged turning Wye into a small town equivalent of Oxford, could be described as ‘limited growth’.
Interestingly, Ashford’s usually reticent MP Damian Green is quoted in the same issue trying to scotch our report that the original Wye Park project is on the skids. In a quote reminiscent of Cllr Clokie, he says people are ‘putting two and two together and making 14’ since Imperial’s hazy comments, which have stopped short of a denial, says the college ‘remains committed to exploring the scientific vision for Wye’.
Let’s be clear about this. The grand plan for thousands of houses and a huge commercial development is stiff on the table. But Imperial remains the primary landowner of the Wye area and desperate to get some return on its property. While it is privately realising that wholesale destruction of the AONB is not something it will get away with, the college is investigating smaller scale development in the village, which may well involve flogging off properties to be part of some kind of science ‘cluster’.
Effectively it has one already with some of the companies that now rent Imperial property after being spun out of the old Wye college as commercial concerns. This is an entirely different level of project, one which save-wye will follow and attempt to clarify as it progresses. It would be helpful if public representatives did their electorate a favour by calling on Imperial to make its position clear, instead of sitting back and accepting the fog of indecision which Sir Richard Sykes and his acolytes are happy to allow to hang over the village for as long as it suits them.