Wye’s countryside: a cash cow to be ‘unlocked’

Everybody familiar with this saga has suspected it from the moment that Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz told us that we had to accept Imperial’s ‘vision’ or be responsible for the closure of the Wye campus. But reading hard proof that the Wye Park ‘vision’ is nothing more than a smash and grab on the AONB to release funds for Imperial’s coffers still leaves you open-mouthed at the audacity of these academics with bulldozers in their eyes.

There it is, on page 14 of the management board report, the motivation behind the use of public funds to run a coach and horses through national planning policy:

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Imperial has spent huge amounts of time and resources trying to get Wye Park included in every strategic, regional and local plan and has succeeded largely by persuading local politicians and civil servants that it will create something unique and ‘internationally significant’ in Kent. It becomes clear watching the presentation that only a monumental effort to have Imperial’s carefully-crafted wording of the core strategy for Wye removed from the Local Development Framework is going to end this deception and kill the ‘vision’ once and for all.

The presentation makes great play of the ‘scientific imperative’ which, you may remember, was to be the centrepiece of Wye Park: research into biofuels and biomass use in power generation and transport. It would involve engineering plant properties, fractionation technologies and designing engines for biofuel use. The management board is told what the likes of Cllr Paul Clokie and Pete Raine have been told: that there are huge opportunities for external funding for this kind of work — Research Council UK, the National Energy Technology Institute and the EU.

The scientific justification for Wye has, the board is told, the confidence of the academic community at Imperial. But, there is a fly in the ointment:

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The scientific imperative, as we first revealed on save-wye.org, has now become BP’s Energy Bioscience’s Institute — a £250million centre which Imperial has hired Foster and Partners to design into its South Kensington campus. As a result, the presentation makes clear that Wye is now to be used to ‘enable the science’, in other words to make space at South Kensington and pay for the new buildings. The EBI will be up and running next year — far too early for Wye Park — so Imperial plans to move up to 80 of its scientists — presumably in the medical sciences — to Wye Park. It may pay them up to £150,000 each to sweeten the move from the West End of London to a new town of 10,000 people on once virgin Kent countryside.

New build and refurbishment of buildings at South Kensington between 2007 and 2011 will cost up to £40million. So half of that total is to be ‘written off to Wye building project’. Nobody at KCC or Ashford has been told this, which may go some way to explain why officers continue to believe the assurances that Imperial is ‘committed to the scientific vision for Wye’.

But this document makes plain that what Wye would get is nothing more than a glorified science park without the biofuels centrepiece we were all promised. Does this justify turning planning policy on its head? Does it justify the destruction of an AONB and a village once described as ‘the jewel in Kent’s crown’?

Imperial has recognised that, outside the leader’s office, there is great disquiet among members about what Cllr Clokie has signed them up to. Consequently, the college is now pushing the ‘national interest’ case hard because, as the presentation makes clear, if it submits a planning application, it will immediately press for it to be called in by the Secretary of State. But a close reading of the presentation reveals this ‘national interest’ line for the lie that it is: Wye Park will take staff and incubator companies — the phrase Imperial uses for its spin-off firms that take its ideas and commercialise them — from South Kensington to free up space and money.

Until now, our local representatives and their officials have cravenly accepted every deceit pumped out by Imperial’s ridiculous spin machine. To most of us, it has beggared belief. Now, however, with the exposure of the biggest deception of all — that this was ever going to be anything other than a cynical attempt to make huge sums from building houses on protected land — perhaps we will start to get some straight answers from KCC and the rotten borough of Ashford.

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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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