A wonderful letter for Richard Alderton

It’s only eight days since we suggested those of you who oppose Wye Park write to Richard Alderton, Ashford’s planning chief, and ask him to leave it out of the core strategy currently being put together by the council.

But what a bunch of letters have come out as a result — more, we know, than you see on the site here since not everyone wants to make their protest public, and some have come from well outside the Ashford area (and why not — you don’t need to live here to care about Wye).

As an example of the literate and informed quality of these responses we would like to highlight just one, from a resident who would like to remain anonymous, which you will find in full below. It’s a cracker: calm, sensible and talking the kind of language planners everywhere will surely understand. If you’re still hesitating about whether to write yourself, please take a look at it… and then find pen and paper yourself.

Dear Mr Alderton,

I am writing to express my concerns about the proposed amendment to the Ashford LDF Core Strategy regarding the Imperial College proposal for Wye. There seem to be a number of issues that mean that it is completely inappropriate for the Core Strategy to include this amendment.

[1] No Alternative sites?

In the amendment, one of the tests is ‘there are no suitable alternative sites, and the need cannot be met more acceptably in another way’. This test cannot be met because by definition there is land available for employment, education and housing with the Greater Ashford Development Framework (GADF). This land would have fewer constraints, could be integrated with the proposed SMARTLINK system, and other public services in the town, and directly contribute to the redevelopment and vibrancy of Ashford.

The only apparent reason for saying that there are no suitable alternatives is because of Imperial Colleges (ICL’s) land assets, which are a historical legacy. Because much of it is agricultural and within the AONB it could not be sold for enough to buy land within Ashford, such Eureka Park, Cobbs Wood/West Victoria Way (and hence linked to the proposed Learning Campus and help fund the strategic road!) or Waterbrook that would have greater suitability.

Surely spatial planning should be dictated by strategic public need and sustainability, as agreed through the GADF and Ashford’s Future work, not one landowner’s short-term ability to raise capital from local assets. I understand the problems around raising capital for such a major scheme, but the proposed it looks like a cynical attempt to manipulating planning law to turn cheap agricultural land into valuable developable land.

[2] Numbers contributing to Ashford’s Future targets

It needs to be clear whether this proposed additional housing, would be part of or in addition to the target of 31,000 houses for Ashford. There are critical constraints to growth (transport capacity, water) and if this large development is in addition, then much of the previous Ashford’s Future capacity work would need revisiting, costing time and funds that the partnership clearly does not have and should not have to consider as a priority. If the jobs created will count towards the 28,000 target for Ashford, then is logical that any additional housing should be within the 31,000.

[3] Conflict between fund-raising and developer contributions and build quality

Because the purpose of the house-building is to raise capital for the research facilities, ICL will argue that they should make minimal s106 and any strategic tariff contributions and they will seek to minimise the build costs of the homes. That will affect the growth area as a whole because of the desperate need to make the most of those mechanisms to fund critical infrastructure. Other landowners in Ashford are unlikely to respond well to any special treatment given to ICL.

If ABC insists on normal contributions and high quality (and hence higher build costs) then more houses will need to be built to raise the amount required by ICL or maybe the scheme will not be viable at all. The bigger, or denser, that Wye gets the more that will be lost in terms of social cohesion, distinctiveness and quality of life.

Another option would be to build high value properties to generate sufficient margin. However, it is unlikely that staff at the research facility would be able to afford those, instead commuters would, thus creating a high volume of traffic into and out of the village on a twice daily basis. Not very sustainable and wouldn’t contribute the college’s role in being the focus of the village (town) community.

[4] Long-term sustainability of ICL’s presence

Wye is a great community and a fantastic village, and the college has always been a driving force in that diversity and energy. If ICL don’t invest then Wye is likely to gently decline into a commuter village after 2009. However, the evidence suggests that the proposed science park is high risk and competing against Sittingbourne, Kingshill, Thames Gateway, Canterbury and Ashford itself. If it were to fail then ICL would sell their assets and likely leave Wye as just soulless, detached suburb of Ashford. ICL is effectively a footloose corporation that will follow the market so it seems unwise to rely on their goodwill. It should be noted that the risk would be the similar if ICL, or any other single institution, invested in Ashford, but it would have greater robustness to cope with such out-migration.

[5] Legality of challenging the AONB status

The legal issue regarding the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is problematic in terms of the scheme requiring demonstrating that it is in the ‘public interest’ rather than in the ‘national interest’. It may set a precedent that could threaten other parts of AONBs in Kent and elsewhere in the country, such as in Berkshire where there is proposed expansion of the M4 corridors towns.

[6] Public and partner participation in the decision making process

Public consultation has clearly been a problem for ICL throughout this whole process. This is probably because the Ashford growth area public participation has been handled so superbly that expectations have been raised. This is good because that was the point of the new planning system, but the lessons learned don’t seemed to have been used in Wye.

The GADF process demonstrated that controversial development is tackled best out in the open. The current approach is creating a festering resentment which is undermining confidence in the Borough and County councils, at a time when we need the community and decision-makers in and around Ashford to take bold decisions to transform Ashford town centre into the urban heart that we all want to see.

The arguments presented are just a few that could be used to demonstrate that the tests proposed in the draft amendment to the LDF Core Strategy cannot be achieved. Therefore there is little value in including the amendment in the strategy.

This is not intended to be a NIMBY response. We would personally benefit from the greater access to local services and increased value of our house. The concerns stem from the view that Ashford would benefit greatly from this ICL investment and help make it the cutting-edge, sustainable community that we want to see. Attract the bulk of the ICL presence into Ashford itself so that Wye College can continue as part of that campus without destroying what makes Wye unique.

Wye is great as it is, let us not been seen by future generations like we see the planners and high-rise architects of the 1960s.

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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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One Response to A wonderful letter for Richard Alderton

  1. Kris Eversley says:

    What an awful idea to make Wye the largest Science Park in the UK.
    I’m horrified that such philistines who can think this up exist here.
    Has no-one thought of the impact of the already groaning infrastructure – the awful A28, the terrible railway links, the proposal to have an M20 spur joining Wye to the motorway? I shudder to think of it.
    I will fight tooth and nail against this proposal – I don’t live in Wye, but near Canterbury.
    CANTERBURY DOES NOT SEEM TO KNOW ABOUT THIS PROPOSAL – WHY?

    SLOGAN ‘WHY WYE?’

    STOP NOW, BEFORE THIS MAD GOVERNMENT ACTS.

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