After a year of arm-twisting and at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds, Imperial College’s attempt to distort the planning process by having its ‘vision’ incorporated into the core strategy of Ashford’s local development framework (LDF) has come to nothing.
Last night’s meeting of the LDF task group accepted a recommendation from the borough’s head of planning, Richard Alderton, that the publication of a map by save-wye.org showing Imperial’s true ambition in Wye — 4,000 houses across 250 acres of farmland — made it unwise to include a reference to the scheme in the core strategy. Accordingly, the Wye policy, which ran to a page and, as revealed on save-wye.org, had been substantially written by Imperial’s planning consultants GeraldEve, was removed.
The removal of the Wye policy is a body blow for Imperial and David Brooks Wilson, the man in charge of Wye Park, as it prepares for a management board meeting on September 29 which will decide whether to continue to spend money on the project. As we revealed here earlier this summer, Wye Park is on hold pending a final decision by Ashford on the core strategy. Imperial has spent close to £1 million on the project so far, and its removal from the core strategy is likely to make the project too risky for the college which estimates it could spend a further £3 million on a planning application and subsequent judicial review. At its last management board meeting on June 12, delegates were told that the college needed to ‘bottom out the risks’ on the project, an oblique reference to the uncertainty over the core strategy which has infuriated Mr Brooks Wilson and his deputy, Nigel Buck. Their frustration with what they perceive as feet-dragging by Ashford has been revealed in a series of email leaks to save-wye.org
Mr Alderton told last night’s meeting of the task group that officers had had two meetings with representatives from Wye Future Group and the parish council. The groups had argued that a policy on Wye is not needed and that it ‘implied an acceptance of major development in Wye and would make the core strategy unsound’. They sought to have it removed entirely or any reference limited to development on brownfield land only.
Referring to the series of leaks on save-wye.org, Mr Alderton added: ‘Recently an initial masterplan has been published on a website and subsequently gained wide circulation in the press. It shows a very substantial development over a large part of Imperial’s ownership — including the exisiting built area within Wye but predominantly the agricultural land.
‘The emergence of the masterplan does not, on its own, provide a basis for determining whether or not a policy for Wye is appropriate. However, further consideration has been given to whether such a policy is necessary in the core strategy. In this connection, existing national, regional and local policy provides general guidance against which any proposal for Wye which emerges would be considered and there is thus no ”policy vacuum” which a core strategy policy would be needed to fill. It has become apparent that it is difficult to articulate additional criteria without venturing into what could be seen as site specific issues, which is not appropriate in a core strategy document.’
Therefore, the group agreed with Mr Alderton that it recommend to the council’s executive in October that the core strategy does not include a policy on Imperial College’s Wye Park scheme. However, it will keep a modified version of the section on Wye published in the core strategy preferred options document, first published last year:
The group agreed that this would be reworded referring to the retention of a ‘high quality knowledge-based presence’. Mr Alderton added that efforts should still be made to retain Imperial’s presence in Wye.
Read the full text of what the task group agreed here