Here’s your chance to make a difference

Downloadable versionOne 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.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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11 Responses to Here’s your chance to make a difference

  1. Kerry Bethel says:

    Herewith my letter:-

    K J A Bethel 118 Bridge Street Wye TN25 5EA

    Mr Richard Alderton Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre
    Tannery Lane
    Kent TN23 1PL

    18 August 2006

    Dear Mr Alderton,

    Draft LDF

    The Imperial Plan for Wye in planning terms is seriously weak for the following reasons and all references to it should be withdrawn from the Core Strategy document:-

    1. The Imperial proposals are clearly not in the National Interest which is a prerequisite of any development within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    2. Another prerequisite is to demonstrate that there are no alternative sites. There are a number of sites not designated an Area of Natural Beauty within the borough that would be far more suitable for Research, an Scienc/Industrial Park and housing development and be nearer existing transport links.

    3. The final condition is that environmental harm is minimised. It would not be possible to avoid massive environmental harm. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty surrounding Wye would be permanently scarred if thousands of houses and a large science/trading estate were built. This area is one of ABC’s and the Nation’s treasures and must not be lost to future generations.

    Safeguarding AONB’s is not just confined to the residents of Wye and environs but is a duty shared by the vast majority of the country and any attempt to create a precedent in Wye will attract massive national opposition and condemnation.

    It fails all 3 of the tests.

    Yours sincerely

    Mr K J A Bethel

  2. Mike Copland says:

    Mr Richard Alderton
    Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre, Tannery Lane
    Ashford, Kent
    TN23 1PL

    21 August 2006

    Dear Mr Alderton,

    I write to ask you to remove mention of Wye from the Core Strategy Document of the Local Development Framework for the following reasons:

    • Wye College was located in Wye for a reason

    Over the last 100 years, Wye College and associated Government offices developed as a world-class centre researching plant and animal sciences – the basis of agriculture, horticulture, veterinary disciplines, and their interaction with environment and biodiversity. The College Estate with its varied topography and soils provided an outstanding environment for this research work to flourish.

    • The College Estate should be used for environmental not industrial research

    With global warming, the loss of biodiversity and rainforests, and world famine looming, it is the time to invest in such centres. However, Imperial College has no interest in the future of the poor of this world but only its own short-term financial gain. Other more visionary organisations could once again turn Wye into a world centre but Imperial plans to prevent this from happening.

    • Imperial proposes a dangerous research facility within a rural community

    Imperial’s Biofuels Research Institute would deal with volatile, inflammable substances and the Science Park would experiment with pilot fuel plants, belching toxic fumes and possible risks of explosion. Such a magnitude of stupidity beggars belief. How could any rational person contemplate placing it in this precious site? How could County or Borough Councillors support such a dangerous enterprise in proximity to housing?

    • Imperial’s vision proposes to destroy the existing village heritage

    The proposed site in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, alongside important Sites of Special Scientific Interest, close to an historic village with important remains from Roman settlements, and existing and unspoilt housing from the Middle Ages forms an important tourist and walking centre, and would be totally devastated by this proposal.

    • Imperial proposes a housing estate and industrial park better placed elsewhere

    The proposal to build a new Institution, Science Park and massive housing estate will cover the area with concrete, car parks, buildings and roads, destroying the landscape views, the heritage and biodiversity, polluting the air and waterways, and completely negate the area for tourism and rural enjoyment.

    • Present infrastructure is inadequate to support any additional development

    There is insufficient electrical power coming into Wye to support a major industrial need and a new set of high voltage pylons marching across the Downs is surely totally unacceptable. It is unlikely sufficient needs could be met with underground cabling which anyway would scar the landscape, while wind turbines on the Downs or a heat and power unit would all destroy this cherished landscape.

    Gas and water supplies are also inadequate. It would require major works to install new underground supplies and it is likely that the demand for water would be difficult to meet, even with a new supply line. Sewage and waste disposal are a major problem with the sewerage system in Wye already incapable of taking additional volumes with even moderate rainfall causing overflowing sewers at the bottom of Bridge Street. Telecommunications are inadequate and would require more unsightly masts.

    • Imperial’s proposal would gridlock the village

    The road system in Wye is already at saturation point and the railway level-crossing a major bottleneck. However, extra businesses and housing on the scale envisaged with workers and householders coming into the village to shop or attend the school, local surgery, church and facilities like the village hall would be overwhelming and a complete disaster.

    The alternative of bulldozing large wide streets across the AONB and into the village and building new schools, supermarkets, cinemas and sports halls would mean the destruction of everything that Wye stands for and an unacceptable intrusion into rural life.

    • Imperial’s proposal will destroy local ‘green’ businesses

    Today unique businesses operate on Imperial’s land. Biological Crop Protection and WyeBugs provide specialist biological control agents for the entire UK and export into Western Europe. These and other businesses and their employees are all under threat by Imperial’s short-sighted vision.

    • Ashford should put the heritage of the area above a developer’s greed

    Ashford Borough Council must stand up for its cherished jewels in the crown like Wye and remove any mention of Imperial’s vision for Wye from the LDF and use every muscle of its powers to prevent this travesty from taking place.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr Mike Copland

  3. Judy Ellis says:

    Mr Richard Alderton
    Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre, Tannery Lane,
    Ashford, Kent
    TN23 1PL

    Dear Mr Alderton

    I am writing to ask you to remove the Imperial College Plan for Wye from the Core Strategy Document of the Local Development Framework.

    The designation of AONB was granted to Wye and its surrounding area for valid reasons and the Ashford Borough Council website indicates that it is one of Ashford’s main tourist attractions:

    ‘Wye is the ideal base for walkers to explore the North Downs. The village is a world famous centre for agricultural study and best known for its mediaeval College buildings. The Wye Crown is well worth seeing, carved into the North Downs by students of Wye College
    Climb the Downs at Hastingleigh and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views over the valley. Footpaths allow you to explore the area, which is now a National Nature Reserve and which includes the locally-famous area known as the “Devil’s Kneading Trough”.’

    ABC clearly recognises the beauty of Wye and its Downs. Surely therefore the inclusion of the Imperial College Plan for Wye in its Core Strategy would contradict this vision. What is more, AONB national policy guidelines demand that such areas can only be built on if a matter is in the ‘national interest’ I cannot see how this can be demonstrated.

    The extent of the building programme proposed by Imperial College is a major cause of concern. I should like to draw your attention to the report published last week by the Campaign to protect Rural England.

    ‘Countryside campaigners CPRE today (Wednesday) name those councils whose planners – working with developers – are leading the way in breathing new life into our towns and cities and sparing our countryside from the bulldozer.

    But we are also pointing the finger at those councils with the worst record in losing greenfield land. These are the ones which achieved only very low levels of using previously developed, brownfield land for new homes – or which allow developers to build homes at wastefully low densities. But despite the strong overall progress, the figures show some councils were still performing very weakly. Thirteen councils covering medium sized and larger towns (40,000 plus people) built less than one third – or 33.3% – of new homes on brownfield land. These were: Ashford (33%), Boston (28%), Corby (at 9%, England’s worst land recycler), East Riding (23%), Eastbourne (30%), Great Yarmouth (31%), Harlow (23%), Kingston upon Hull (33%), Milton Keynes (13%), North Lincolnshire (16%), Rugby (30%), Swindon (32%) and Waveney (25%). This compares to the Government’s national target for at least 60 per cent of all new homes to be provided through building on brownfield land or by converting existing buildings.

    Ashford in Kent may actually be performing much more poorly than these Government figures suggest – which is particularly worrying since it is one of the Government’s growth areas in the Greater South East, earmarked for massive housing expansion.’

    I feel that the integrity of Ashford Borough Council and its Planning Department are at stake here. I am sure you will agree that the Core Strategy Document needs to demonstrate that Ashford planners are leading the way in sparing the Garden of England from the bulldozer.

    Yours sincerely

    Judy Ellis

  4. Harriet Vasanthakumar says:

    Richard Alderton, Head of Planning, Ashford Borough Council, Civic Centre, Tannery Lane, Ashford, Kent TN23 1PL
    August 23rd 2006

    Dear Richard,

    When I worked as Environmental Officer within your team at Ashford Borough Council, you made it clear that the intention of the Council was to “put Ashford on the map”. You have done well – you secured the Ashford International station and the Designer Outlet, and you competently laid out the Council’s plans for Ashford’s Future under enormous pressure from central Government to deliver huge levels of housing growth.

    Imperial College’s proposals for a ‘Wye science park’ would continue this legacy – Ashford will firmly be on the map. But it is my belief that the town will go down in history for the wrong reasons. Ashford BC will be known as the first local authority in the country that willingly sacrificed its nationally protected land – one of just 40 sites in the country – for large scale housing development. The land Imperial proposes to build gives justice to the words ‘the Garden of England’ – Ashford will turn this area of outstanding beauty into one huge housing estate.

    There are many additional reasons that I object to the proposals:

    1) there are plenty of alternative sites – Eureka Park, for example, is just a few minutes down the road
    2) the proposals are clearly not in the national interest – Imperial College proposals offer nothing unique
    3) there is no way that massive harm to the environment can be avoided
    4) the public consultation has been hopeless – Imperial College made no attempt to ask villagers about the proposals – people were just told.

    For this reason, I’m asking that any mention of the Imperial College plans for Wye are removed from the core strategy document until there has been proper public consultation. This gives the Council the upper hand – you will have maintained your integrity and represented the views of local people. It also gives you the time to negotiate a better deal with Imperial – one that supports world class research AND protects those aspects of the Borough that really keep it on the map – its outstanding beauty.

    Yours sincerely,

    Harriet Vasanthakumar

  5. John Rogers says:

    From John Rogers

    17 Oxenturn Road
    TN25 5BH

    23rd August 2006
    Mr Richard Alderton
    Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre
    Tannery lane
    TN23 1PL

    Dear Mr Alderton,

    Draft LDF and Imperial College

    I write to ask you to remove any mention of Wye from the draft Core Strategy document in the LDF about which there has been no proper public consultation. I understand that this section was added after the public consultation exercise in respect of the main document without any further consultation in respect of the addition.

    The proposals by Imperial College are fundamentally flawed for the following reasons:-

    1. Whilst it is acceptable and welcome to see Wye College reinvigorated by the creation of a research facility within the existing campus on brown field land, the suggestion of a huge housing development together with a commercial “science park” on the AONB is wholly unacceptable.

    2. National Policy Guidance stipulates that development on an AONB can only be permitted if it can be shown to be incontrovertibly in the national interest. I note that the word “national” has been replaced by “public” in the draft Core Strategy document. Please explain the difference and the significance of the change.

    3. Another justification for building on an AONB is the argument that there are no alternative sites. This is clearly not the case. There is ample suitable land adjacent to M20 Junction 9 which would provide easy and convenient access to such a development. How can you consider using AONB land in preference to these already allocated sites?

    4. The influence that Imperial College is bringing to bear on the drafting of the LDF appears to be quite contrary to the democratic procedures that we expect from our planning officers and the Borough Council and, indeed, Kent County Council. How impartial can our Planning Authority be if and when Imperial College submits a planning application?

    5. The proposed development will cause massive harm to the environment and will destroy the special character of Wye and its lovely surroundings irrevocably. What price the Borough Council’s one time boast that Wye is the jewel in its crown?

    Yours sincerely,

    John Rogers


  6. Dr Alan Rogers says:

    25 August 2006
    Richard Alderton
    Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre
    Tannery Lane
    Ashford TN23 1PL

    Dear Richard

    Wye Park development

    I am writing to request that any mention of the Wye Park development be removed from the core strategy document which the Council is currently preparing.

    Along with many people I am shocked at the way in which Imperial College’s scheming has been connived at by our elected representatives. However this is not my reason for wanting the removal of the Wye development from the strategy which are based on strictly planning reasons.

    1. There is no justification for the destruction of a part of the Kent Downs AONB. Even if the creation of such a “park” is considered to be in the national interest, its location in Wye and the AONB is not such a consideration. The two matters – of creation and location – are entirely separate. Indeed we now know that Imperial College is considering location in London which surely proves the point.

    As an aside I might remind you that some of the seminal work on AONBs was done at Wye College in the 1970s. How ironic it would be if Wye went down in history as the place where the AONB idea was effectively destroyed!

    2. Following on from the above, there are other sites within the Borough where such a development could take place. All the advantages of job creation (even if not on the impressive scale that Imperial College has suggested) could be gained without landscape destruction, major road construction, increased traffic congestion etc.

    Yours sincerely

    Dr Alan Rogers

  7. Don Thake says:

    Your correspondents have already picked up that it is ‘Richard Alderton’, not ‘Richard Aldington’, but it might be worth posting a correction, in case your readers rise to your challenge and either don’t get as far as us or, in haste, overlook the understandable difference. In the meantime, below is the letter that I will be delivering tomorrow.

    From 92, Bridge Street, Wye, TN25 5EA 01233 812965

    Richard Alderton,
    Head of Planning, Ashford Borough Council,
    Civic Centre, Tannery Lane, Ashford, TN23 1PL August 28th, 2006

    At the May CPRE meeting in Bethersden, you said that your policy for the villages around Ashford was of organic growth, typically of the order of 40 houses in each over a period of 10 years. As you know, Imperial College’s proposal for Wye is in direct conflict with that policy, envisaging as it does a quadrupling of the village’s size within a similar time frame and imposing this on a totally inadequate road network.

    I am, therefore, writing to ask you to maintain that policy in the forthcoming Local Development Framework and, if you have to recognise the existence of Imperial’s so far unspecific proposal, to list the national planning guidelines that you would have to apply, should a planning application from Imperial come forward.

    It has been implied elsewhere that Imperial has been given privileged access to the LDF process to secure wording which will favour such an application. I don’t believe this, firstly because privileged access to any of those affected would destroy the integrity of the process and secondly because any change to the nationally established planning rules governing AONBs would be beyond the powers of Ashford Borough Council and even of Kent County Council, opening it up therefore to the challenge of ultra vires.

    As things stand, there is little evidence of the project being in the national interest (the purpose of the proposed research remains both vague and changeable), even less that it could not be carried out elsewhere and no possibility of mitigating the environmental impact. Wye and its surrounding landscape would be destroyed.

  8. David Hewson says:

    A small number of letters went out with the name of Aldington instead of Alderton on them but they were corrected the same day as was the downloadable copy on this site. Apologies… real work sometimes intervenes.

  9. Helen J Self & Brian F. Self says:

    Dear Mr Alderton

    We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the development plans for the village of Wye and its environs proposed by Imperial College, London and supported by Ashford and Kent County Councils.
    Although we do not live in Wye we believe that there are issues of county and national concern relating to this project which ought to be addressed.
    There seems to be a credibility gap between the voiced concern over global warming (said to be the most serious problem facing the world), the destruction of our environment and the reality of relentless development, whilst County and Borough Councils fall over themselves to take maximum advantage of the present government’s relaxation of planning laws.

    Given the exponential growth of Ashford, the need to preserve areas of scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty in East Kent are increased rather than diminished. Kent is already under intense pressure from industrial and residential development, leading, inevitably, to increased traffic flows, diminishing water supplies and recreational areas.
    It is necessary to concede that the development of bio-fuels may be important, but not that it should involve the destruction of one of Kent’s most renowned beauty spots. Moreover, the research done by suggests that the sale of land in Wye is intended to fund scientific development in Kensington, not in Kent, leaving only the science park for Wye. Yet, there is little evidence to show that we require another science park when there is already one at Sittingbourne and a second being developed by UKC in Canterbury and this is certainly not sufficient justification for the despoliation of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
    The general public, anywhere in the country, loses confidence in the democratic system when these supposed ‘safeguards’ are overturned and development plans agreed upon through a process of secret meetings, during which the last people to be consulted are those most directly affected. In this case, the residents of Wye.

  10. Mike Holland says:

    Richard Alderton,
    Head of Planning,
    Ashford Borough Council,
    Civic Centre,
    Tannery Lane,
    Kent TN23 1PL.

    Spelders Beck,
    Spelders Hill,
    Kent TN25 5PD

    4 Sept 2006

    Dear Mr Alderton

    I write to ask that all references to the Imperial College plan for Wye be removed from the Core Strategy document. It is clear that they have not been subjected to proper process of public scrutiny and consultation and the project is suffers number of basic planning flaws including the following.

    The “tests in national policy guidance” to which the ABC draft refers include the requirements that major developments in an AONB are clearly in the “national interest”, there are no alternative sites, and that harm to the environment can be minimised.

    There is no reason that it is in the public interest to site the proposed research facility and science park at Wye. There is no existing academic centre to which proximity is essential and no core of skilled research or development labour resources to exploit.

    Wye is peculiarly unsuited to this type of development. Infrastructure is lacking, power and utility provision is inadequate and road and rail access is very poor. To change all these factors would require massive construction programmes implying extraordinarily high financial costs and associated negative environmental impact

    There are clearly many alternative sites for the science park Imperial wants to build both locally and nationally. The nearest one just a few minutes down the road – the under-utilised Eureka Park. Almost all are better suited and would cost far less to develop than Wye.

    Massive harm to the environment can only be integral to the proposals as they are emerging. No amount of landscaping can mitigate the permanent loss of green field environment occasioned by the building of thousands of houses and a large science park on what are now precious rural spaces in this overcrowded corner of the country – spaces that are valued and appreciated not only by the by local residents, but also by the thousands of visitors (local and distant) that enjoy this special region all through the year.

    It is not only the village of Wye that will be irrevocably altered for the worse: the surrounding areas cannot help but be negatively impacted upon by the construction of access and utility infrastructure, and the massive increase in traffic. The rural and tranquil characteristics of the villages – the very reason for their popularity – are likely to disappear.

    This prime example of unsustainable development has, in my (not inexpert) view, a single prime objective: to unlock the maximum amount of funds from the agricultural land that Imperial College inherited and for which it currently has no further use.

    This is not a good enough reason to over-ride the protection of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and destroy the countryside around Wye forever.

    Yours sincerely

    Michael D Holland
    International Natural Resources Planning Consultant and local resident

  11. Dylan Bradley says:

    Richard Alderton
    Head of Planning
    Ashford Borough Council
    Civic Centre
    Tannery Lane
    Kent TN23 1PL

    43 Bridge Street
    Kent TN25 5ED

    Wednesday, 06 September 2006

    Dear Mr Alderton,

    I write to request the removal from the Core Strategy document in the LDF of all references to the Imperial College plan for a Science Park in Wye.

    I have been appalled by the behaviour of our elected representatives and council staff in relation to this matter. As you will be well aware this behaviour has included in-depth discussions with a potential developer in order to create an LDF favourable to the developer, duplicity and a degree of economy with the reporting of information relating to the nature and scale of the proposed Science Park. I very much hope that the conduct of Ashford Borough Council will be examined in an enquiry by the Local Government Ombudsman. However, this is not why I wish to see reference to the Science Park and Wye removed.

    In the first instance I request this because this section appears to have been added after the period of public consultation and as a result has not itself been consulted upon. Further I would raise the following points:

    1 Developments in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) are required to pass a number of tests. One of these is that the development cannot be located anywhere else. Clearly, given Imperial’s consideration of London as an alternative site demonstrates that the Science Park need not be located within the AONB.

    2 Given the AONB designation it is clear that environmental quality in and around Wye is high (the village itself is entirely within the designation). It is also clear that Wye is not an area in need of economic development compared to other parts of Ashford and East Kent. Surely it would make more sense to create economic opportunities where there is greater need and less environmental impact. It seems to me that a research centre and science park of the nature proposed could well be a driver for regeneration through the multiplier effect and ought therefore to be sited where the marginal impact would be greatest. It appears only to be in Imperial’s interest (as the landowner) to site the Science Park in Wye.

    3 The development of the Science Park and enabling housing along the lines put forward by Imperial would lead to irreparable damage to the AONB, a point made by Pete Raine, Kent County Council’s Strategic Planning Director, and reported in the media. It would be ironic if environmentally friendly research into biofuels came at such a high price.

    4 Finally, there is a national issue at stake too. Development of the Science Park would set a precedent for similar scale developments in other AONBs and perhaps National Parks. This would clearly be against the wider public interest.

    I look forward to hearing your response on the above points.

    With best wishes,

    Yours sincerely,

    Dr B. Dylan Bradley
    Rural Development consultant and Wye resident

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