Ashford Borough Council is poised to kill Imperial College’s Wye Park ‘vision’ by either dramatically watering down reference to it in the core strategy of the local development framework or dumping it altogether. We understand that the series of revelations about the true extent of Imperial’s plans to raise money by developing 250 acres of housing has caused serious concern within the council where officers believe that continued courting of Imperial may get the authority into legal difficulties.
The council had planned to put the final draft of the core strategy to its LDF task group in October. But borough planning chief Richard Alderton has now brought this forward to September 11 after save-wye.org revealed that Imperial’s planning consultants, GeraldEve, had played a major role in drafting the policy for Wye, a story you can read here. We understand that the revelations surrounding GeraldEve and continued secret meetings between Kent County Council, Ashford and Imperial have raised concerns that the current draft policy on Wye could render the entire LDF legally unsound. Furthermore, Mr Alderton has received a large number of objections to the core strategy from Wye residents demanding that the village policy is removed.
Mr Alderton is now due to take counsel’s advice on the Wye policy within the next two days. He will then respond to all the letters from Wye residents individually.
We understand that the publication of Imperial’s preferred land use option, pictured right, which shows up to 4,000 houses, took Ashford by surprise in its scale and that Mr Alderton’s department — which has always been spun Imperial’s great deception that Wye Park is only a concept, not a plan — believes it is now confronted with an actual plan and should disengage from its relationship with Imperial immediately. Where this leaves the next meeting of the so-called Concordat group with Imperial on September 28 in London — due to be attended by Mr Alderton, Ashford council chief executive David Hill and KCC’s director of strategic planning Pete Raine — is unclear.
If the task group councillors recommend either watering down the Wye policy or removing it altogether and it is ratified by the council’s executive on October 19, it will almost certainly be the death knell for Imperial’s vision. It is unlikely that the college’s management board, which has already put the project into ‘economy mode’ will continue with it and spend up to £3million in a potentially lengthy and fruitless planning battle. Any government inspector would be unlikely to grant an appeal if such an enormous scheme goes against the wording of the local development framework.