This is the last substantive article you will read on save-wye. There will be a few loose ends to be cleared up over the next few days, and we will be bringing you news of another, smaller environmental scandal in our area for which we hope to elicit your support. You will also be able to comment on anything here for a week or two, and the site itself will stay live as a reference source for another year or more if people need it. But our job in Wye is done and we do not intend to outstay our welcome.
Is the Wye saga over completely? No, but the worst part, the threat to the green heart of our community from a massive housing development, science cluster and research unit, most certainly is. There will be arguments to come about smaller scale brown field development in the village. There will be justifiable resentment among many about the dreadfully lacklustre performance of some of our public representatives over this issue, many of whom will now, naturally, clamour to take the credit for Imperial’s downfall.
But it’s not the job of an individual website to bring these people to account, or to monitor the future of more modest development plans for the village. It’s yours, and you have never been in a better position to rise to the challenge. Through the vigorous response of the Parish Council and Wye Future Group, you have proved this small and often sleepy rural community will never again be pushed around by big business — even when it masquerades in the guise of a public body that can pull the wool over the eyes of our gullible councils. There are, though, a few things I need to say before we depart.
The first is a heartfelt thank-you to Justin Williams whose journalistic talents provided the exclusive leaks and revelations which are the principal reason this nonsense has been sent crashing to the ground so quickly. The Parish Council, Wye Future Group and the many individuals who wrote to Ashford Borough Council deserve a huge chunk of credit, but it was Justin’s astonishing ability to winnow out the truth from the hype that set the tone of this story from a very early stage.
The old cliché ‘without whom it would never have been possible’ simply doesn’t do Justin justice. I started this site back at the beginning of the year on a whim, primarily, let it be said, out of anger that the coverage of this issue in the Kentish Express was so poor I wanted to be better informed myself. I tried very hard to get others involved in writing articles for us, but it didn’t work. You are, after all, not journalists, and what this situation required most of all was good, honest tough journalism of a kind you will only get from professionals.
Boy was I — and ultimately you lot — lucky to discover a consummate professional lived just down the road. I’m happy to take the credit for creating this weapon and pointing it in the direction of the dreaded triumvirate of Imperial, ABC and KCC, but it was Justin’s extraordinary journalistic abilities that found the ammunition and ultimately pulled the trigger with such deadly accuracy. You will never know the lengths to which he went in order to get those leaked documents out of the heart of those closest to this very secret project. But let me assure you, they were above and beyond the call of any duty, the untiring work of a tenacious, talented reporter of the kind that’s rare in newspapers this day. Back when I was a journalist in what used to be called Fleet Street I worked with and learned from some of the most famous names of the day. Justin stands alongside the finest, and it’s a credit to his own selfless love of the Wye area that he was willing to spend so many days and nights applying those skills to the most parochial of local stories.
There are others to thank too. Those many anonymous supporters who quietly helped us ferret out information and try to make sure it was correct and capable of being published without revealing the sources. Some people risked their jobs to help tell you the truth about Wye Park, simply because they felt, very strongly, that what was happening in Wye was deeply, fundamentally wrong. You know who you are and it’s important you now know that an entire community is deeply grateful, alongside everyone who loves the English countryside and feared its protected status would be struck a fatal blow by Imperial’s plans. I must also thank our secret little printing press in the village which, with the help of financial support from individuals, has been quietly placing printed material in all the right places, making sure that those who weren’t connected to the internet didn’t stay out of the loop.
The most important of those distribution points was, of course, the New Flying Horse which displayed our newsletters prominently, week in and week out. That can’t have been an easy decision for Cliff Whitbourn. He works for a large Kent company that would have profited mightily from an extra four thousand homes on the doorstep. But Cliff backed our work from the earliest days, was a fearless commentator in his own right, and one who, unlike most, wrote under his own name from the start. I can tell you now that his courage and determination to keep this issue in the public eye kept us going when flak from other quarters made us wonder why we were bothering. Given the dearth of coverage in the Kentish Express, it was on the counter of the New Flying Horse and the shelves of Wye News that through a constant flow of news stories and opinion articles we began to spread the message that this was not a done deal, in spite of the £1 million Imperial was willing to throw on planners and consultants to get it off the ground.
Sometimes things got a little heated. Reporting is like that. Journalism doesn’t exist to tell you what you want to know. It’s there to tell you what you ought to know. It’s uncomfortable, it’s aggressive, it sometimes takes no prisoners and upsets people who want to be on your side. That’s the name of the game, and one more reason why we now need to depart the scene.
Also, we were making this up as we went along. No-one had ever really run a website like this before, least of all us. We invented our own rules, we did what our consciences told us, and if that occasionally caused disagreements and flak then so be it. To paraphrase The Godfather we were wartime consiglieri and we were willing to do whatever it took to make Imperial’s true ambitions public and, with a bit of luck, stymie them.
Until recently we never, in our wildest dreams, believed it would all come tumbling down this early. But then, to be honest, I don’t think either of us understood at the outset how bizarre and far-reaching the college’s ambitions were, or how much duplicity we would uncover along the way.
We’ve learnt a lot over the last nine months. One thing I will pass on. This is the 21st century. Things happen quickly and are difficult to roll back. The old methods are important, but they are not the only methods, and if you stick to them alone, hoping you have the time and space to spend months debating the wording of a constitution, you will one day walk out into the sun and discover the world has changed about you for the worse. It is also essential to communicate, quickly and regularly, with the community at large, which in this case was utterly against Imperial’s plans, in spite of what a couple of people would have you believe.
I hope the village will benefit from the techniques we developed and the mistakes we made, and come to develop its own website, one that acts as a serious and timely forum of communication within the community. But this is your job now, not ours. The war is over. Good luck and best wishes for building the peace.
David Hewson, September 15, 2006