One of the great myths of the Wye Park saga is the idea that the opinions of ordinary people don’t matter, that the question of whether a content rural community should be destroyed forever is to be decided by the experts on both sides of the argument.
We have long argued here at save-wye that this is a grave mistake, and pretty downright insulting for those who don’t have time to take part in long meetings and campaign groups. The power of public opinion is real, provided the public can be bothered to express it. Well, now is your chance. For the time it takes to write a letter and the cost of a postage stamp you just might help bury Imperial’s monstrous masterplan to destroy the Wye we know forever.
That opportunity comes with the approaching finalisation of Ashford Council’s ‘core strategy’ document, essentially a plan for the whole of the borough against which Wye Park would be judged should Imperial try to proceed with it. I’m sure many of you glaze over when you see jargon like this popping up over this site. We do too, frankly. But the core strategy — which incorporated the local development framework we hear so much of — is important, and could prove a final hurdle across which Richard Sykes and his construction crew fail to leap. As a local resident you have a right to express an opinion on it, and if enough of us do that, in one obvious direction, then we will be hard to ignore. Remember: ABC is still trying to tell everyone that only a handful of nimbies oppose Wye Park. Now you have the opportunity to prove them wrong.
Just so that you understand a little of the background let me summarise some of the stories on this subject you will find elsewhere on this site. First, a draft core strategy was produced by the council earlier this year, but since that date the council has added — without anything approaching proper consultation — a clause to help Imperial get planning permission should it try to go ahead with Wye Park. They have also allowed Imperial’s own advisers to write parts of the document directly, allowing the college’s adviser to succeed in downgrading one of the key requirements any eventual planning application would have to overcome.
This is outrageous, undemocratic and sadly typical of this shambolic local authority. But you can do something about it. You can write to Richard Alderton, the head of planning (at Ashford Borough Council, Civic Centre, Tannery Lane, Ashford TN23 1PL) and register your opinion. We’re not going to tell you what to say, because an individual letter means much more than some photocopied round robin.
But here are some points you might like to consider. First, how about urging that Wye should be removed from the core strategy document altogether? It hasn’t been subject to proper consultation. There is no need to rush it through, since Imperial could still make a planning application even if it isn’t included. Its appearance in the core strategy appears to show nothing but bias on the part of the council and you may feel free to tell them so.
You might want to remind the council of few of the things that make Wye special, such as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wye Future Group, which is also urging its members to write to ABC on this subject, also suggests bringing up the national policy guidance which demands that AONBs only be built on if a matter is in the ‘national interest’. How can thousands of homes and a relatively modest office and science park be in the national interest?
You might want to question the jobs figures. True, Ashford has been tasked by the government with creating a lot. But the plans which have been leaked so far show that the initial 12,500 jobs figure is a myth, and the reality would be much smaller.
Finally, you could bring up the clear evidence that there are abundant alternative sites for such a scheme with planning permission already. When large parcels of existing development land in and around Ashford are empty, and often have been for years, why should new building take place in protected countryside?
Ashford Council is in a deep, deep hole over Wye Park. It has behaved with outrageous partiality, and without the full facts of Imperial’s intentions. If enough of us bombard the civic centre with polite, reasoned letters of opposition, who knows? We might just persuade someone in this council that the best thing to do is drop Wye Park from the core strategy altogether, and give the authority the chance to recover a little of its reputation after the secretive shenanigans of the last eighteen months.
And if that happens, we can all pop the champagne for a while. The future of Imperial’s holdings in Wye will not be solved by a victory like this. But it would be a win for the angels. And don’t we deserve one right now?
The council won’t tell us how many letters it’s received for an interminable amount of time. But if you’d like others to see yours just cut and paste it into a comment form here for all to see. And don’t delay either. Time is short.