Imperial calls it an ‘endowment’. KCC’s planning chief Pete Raine calls it ‘enabling development’. Whatever the semantics, there is no getting away from the fact that what Imperial is planning for Wye is the largest house building programme outside of Park Farm in Ashford and would quadruple the population of the village.
About 250 acres of housing — stretching from the existing boundary of the village across the fields as far as Silks Farm in the south to Amage Farm in the east — is envisaged. Somewhere in the middle of all this mass of homes, roads and green spaces, Imperial’s masterplanners, SOM, have managed to site the two or three research institute buildings — either side of the road near Withersdane Hall — which will take up 24,000 square metres of land and stand three storeys tall. Also indicated on the map are the red areas where private companies wanting to associate themselves with the ‘vision’ are expected to set up shop. The research institute would house 700 staff made up of 80 principal scientists, 400 researchers, 40 scientific technical staff and 180 admin staff.
Aerial view with development superimposed (save-wye graphic)
Brook itself does not escape the attentions of the housebuilders with two areas of land near the Honest Miller pub earmarked for homes.
There are also 4,000 sq m of greenhouses to be fitted in to all this (including something called a ‘GM area’, which we can only assume refers to genetic modification) and a large trees area. Plus £5 million to be spent on a ‘fermenter’ plant of up to 2,000 sq m, which is thought to mean a refinery for biomass products, even though Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz specifically denied there would be refining in the village in public two weeks ago.
The total cost of all this building work is somewhere between £69million and £94million.
There are new roads on the plans — one off Oxenturn Road and one off Olantigh Road — but not the fabled link to the M20 that KCC managed to squeeze into its local transport plan back in the spring. But that road is mentioned in the presentation and its cost — £25 million by Imperial’s estimates — is going to be paid for by Kent County Council if Wye Park goes ahead. There may not have been a single word of debate in the council chamber on this, like so much else in this saga, but it seems that the county council has already told Imperial that it will go ahead and spend public money driving a new road through the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty from Willesborough.
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s own graphic showing ‘organic growth’ of the village
Overall, the ‘developable area’ is 370 hectares, made up of 15 hectares of the land centred on the current greenhouses and the ADAS site, nine hectares of other built areas and 230 hectares of agricultural land. Only the SSSI near Brook (100 hectares) and the land prone to flooding around the River Stour towards Naccolt are ‘non developable’.
The plan, says Imperial, includes development of all brownfield sites and would stand a greater chance of success if the amount of residential building were to be reduced. However, it adds that it is ‘finance, not planning, driven’ — in other words Imperial sees this primarily as a money-making exercise. Furthermore, it says, ‘extracting finance from the land release [for housing] is supported by KCC and Ashford council’ which may come as a surprise to the vast majority of councillors who have yet to enter into secret signed agreements with the college.
What the management board was not told, clearly, was that Gerald Eve, the college’s planning consultants, received a direct warning in April from a planning barrister: that any ‘enabling’ case (building homes to finance the ‘vision’) was unlikely to be sustainable and that any reference to it should be removed from discussions about Wye Park.