And this is the end for save-wye.org too…

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.

Justin2The 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.

NewfieThe 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

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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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22 Responses to And this is the end for save-wye.org too…

  1. Paul J. Curson says:

    Congratulations! I know Wye from my childhood, whilst staying with my aunts in Folkestone. Living in a rural community myself, I only learnt of the proposals of Imperial College recently from The Perfect Village. Having just read the article in today’s Times, I am delighted by the news on contacting your website. My every good wish for your community.

  2. Cliff Whitbourn says:

    David and Justin,

    as you know, I am not normally given to overt expressions of praise. However, you are two of the most tenacious, erudite and honest willed people I have known.

    I have yet to cancel my commission for a ‘Wicker Man’ (especially designed for errant elected officials) however, just in case!

    Yours,

    Cliff Whitbourn

  3. Diana Pound says:

    This is from an experienced environmentalist who works at a strategic level and who wishes to remain anonymous but who wanted to pass this message on to save-wye and WFG:

    I think it has been one glorious campaigning coalition albeit with
    constituent parts. Honour is to be equally shared …..

    ……..as a former voluntary sector lobbyist, I’m of the opinion that
    this has been one of the most influential local campaigns I
    have ever witnessed. You must all be very proud. Please pass on my
    congratulations anonymously to all concerned. It is a magnificent
    achievement……although it’s now time to nail the lid down.

  4. John Walters says:

    Think we now have the answer to the question posed at the first public meeting when Sir Les was asked by a local resident “If you are capable of studying the rings ariound Saturn, do you think you could sort out the level crossing in Wye?” There was no answer at the time. Now we know why!

    What an incredibly farcical, muddled, ill-conceived, expensive and ultimately embarrasing fiasco this turned out to be for Imperial and their collaborators. We owe a fantastic debt of gratitude to David and Justin for enabling us all to see the sordid machinations behind the headlines. I once laid claims to be a journalist myself in a former life but having seen the professionlas at work, I realise why that was short lived!

    We now need to gird our loins in readiness for the next chapter in this saga. Its hard to imagine that the next salvo could be anywhere near as
    horrendous as this first!

  5. Eddie Bennett says:

    I would like to thank Boris and ICL for bringing together our community in such a fantastic and positive way.

    The daily rush for a fix of save-wye coupled with a burst of emails from WFG will I suspect be sorely missed. On the other hand I feel privileged to have made so many friends and aquaintances as a result of this whole debacle and I know that whatever the future brings our community will be so much the stronger for it.

    A sincere thanks to you David and Justin, to you Ben, our WFG Chair, and especially to John Hodder who marshalled us all so admirably early in 2006.

  6. John Morris says:

    Well done Justin and David we all thank you more than can be said.Thanks also go to all the groups,individuals and the Parish Council for opposing such Imperial arrogance in thinking that AONB was there for cashing in on. Can we now expect a statement from our County Councillor now that there is something to comment on?
    As John Walters says we must “gird our loins ” and be vigilant to another assault,this time on the Brown Field Sites. This we will support subject to sensitive educational redevelopment and a well managed and cared for estate.

  7. Justin Williams says:

    Thank you for your very kind words, David. If it hadn’t been for your nose for a great story, we would have missed the boat many times throughout. So you owe yourself a big pat on the back for more than simply setting up this site, running it, directing the artillery and writing some of the most erudite and entertaining copy it has ever been my pleasure to read.

    I will miss save-wye.org. It became a bit of an obsession. Like David, I was appalled at the coverage given to this by the local press. That’s what got me started but it became much more when I realised that we were all being lied to over and over again. Imperial can rest a little easier now that we’re off the case and they can reinstate the one or two staff they have suspended and treated like dirt since the leaks started. It would probably be a good thing to do as they were not the source of the information published on save-wye.org since July and employment tribunals get funny about that sort of thing.

    I’ve come to know a lot about some very colourful and interesting characters along the way. I’ve come to realise that democracy in Kent is under huge threat from vested interests, a new ruling class and a corporate ‘elite’ who believe they can simply work up money-making schemes using Powerpoint presentations and a nod and a wink on KCC-sponsored jollies. If our local press has an ounce of integrity left, it will turn its attention to this ‘corpocracy’ and the way that our public funds are being used to sponsor the business aspirations of two dozen or so people.

    The people of Wye can be very proud of what they have achieved: Imperial has been sent packing, our local authorities are severely chastened and the beautiful Kent Downs AONB remains protected in perpetuity.

    It has been a privilege to work with David and a privilege to serve such a wonderful community.

  8. Nick Dunlop says:

    I want to add my own thanks to David and Justin for the indispensable role they have played in this success. We all must express our deep appreciation also to Justin’s sources, some of whom have no doubt put their careers on the line to help save this little piece of England.

    Save-wye has proved again that for a democracy to function properly you need a free press. And proved too that with the Internet everything has changed. We were just so lucky to have two such superb journalists in the community.

    The great thing about this campaign is what a true team effort it has been among so many people. From the save-wye revelations to the legal challenges, from the 200 letters to ABC to the Farmers Market stall, mailings to 500 professors, newsletters in every letterbox, fund-raising events, planning work and all the rest, it is really true to say that everyone played a key role in the outcome we have achieved. It was the combination of it all which proved irresistable.

    Nobody will want to be messing around with this part of Kent for a while. We have shown what people power can do.

  9. John Rogers says:

    I recollect that we sent Shell packing years ago when they wanted to create an oil distribution depot on the Oil Depot site in Bramble Lane. Wye has not lost its touch thanks to all the wonderful people who have done so much.

  10. Ben Moorhead says:

    Just to add to my earlier thanks. Its very sad we won’t be hearing more erudite stories and exposes but we know our friends up the hill( and my neighbours) are still there which is all that counts.We’ve made great friends on this expeditionary travel and that too is so valuable.
    Sometimes I have literally cried laughing which is unusual when you are in a life or death of a community situation. These guys are heroes. If anyone can find out how we can vote them best website of the year please do let me know.
    Ben

  11. Sean & Tammy says:

    Well done to you folks down the hill in Wye!

    To borrow from Star Wars: a small bunch of rebels has defeated the evil Imperial forces, so David & Justin, which of you is Han Solo and which is Luke Skywalker? (We’re ewoks jumping up and down celebrating now that our planet has been saved)

    May the force (and AONB planning policy) be with you!

  12. Sarah says:

    Without save-wye many of us would not have felt such a passionate desire to defeat Imperial. The site has been a great success – informative, funny, controversial and thought provoking. Many people will miss the daily ritual of tuning in, but we realise that your work is done. Thank you.

  13. Dave says:

    A day to be remembered in the history of Wye. To all involved you should feel be proud of your achievements. I think we all have learnt not to take our village and surrounding countryside for granted. Hopefully those involved in threatening to destroy our environment will be called to account if they have contravened any laws no matter what their status.

  14. tony flaig says:

    I am pleased to see you have won, it is a little disapointing that the politicians have given you little or no support. Paul Carter leader of kent council particularly stands out, for me, as he has pontificated with his vision of Kent (towards 2010, which might as well have been titled towards my Knighthood) and recently made critisims of Labour Housing Policy, whilst ignoring his own council backing of Imperial College.

    I have mentioned your campaign several times on my own site, I think mainly because it was so outrageous, well done. But I would still watch these B*st*rds, they still own the land may be an executive house or two.

    I think over in Bapchild Nr Sittingbourne another Science Park has gone one better and needs 6000 houses, these scientist must breed like rabbits damn blighters.

  15. Barry says:

    A few random thoughts from the last 24 hrs:

    – If any good comes of all this, it will be that we all recognise that if we wish to enjoy the pleasures of an attractive countryside we must be prepared to pay a fair price for our food.

    – If the mantra of Imperial over the last 9 months has been “We have no firm plans”, then that of the protest movement has been “We are not nimby’s”. Only now will that protestation be put to the test. If just 10% of the energy which has gone into fighting the negative could now be put into pursuing the positive, just think what could be achieved.

    – If all the citizens of the world lived our lifestyle, would there be any room on the planet for any AONB’s ? Our committment to the environment is demonstrated not just by the quality of our protest letters, but the content of our fridge and dustbin.

    http://www.fordhallfarm.com

  16. Congratulations on your success. I saw the article in Bricks and Mortar yesterday and was just about to write anyway.

    I am secretary of a Residents Association in St Andrews which is battling against the same withdrawal of the democratic process in Fife. We are in the midst of campaigns of opposition to the Draft Structure Plan and Draft Local Plan which we fear will ruin the attractive and historic town of St Andrews and its setting. The Plans themselves are too complicated to go into but last week the Labour-majority Council and the University announced a similar agreement to yours to sell off swathes of university land for acres of housing and a business park, “promoting the knowledge economy in Fife”. There is already a business park in Glenrothes and in these days of telecommunications it could as easily go there, where employment is needed.

    The first the Fife East Area councillors (majority Lib Dem) knew of the agreement bewteen the Council and the Uni. was four days before when they got the papers for the meeting. When they objected at the meeting to their lack of inclusion in the discussions, their complaints were arrogantly and instantly dismissed without any reasons being given and the venom from some of the Labour councillors in the room towards the East area councillors was palpable.

    We have long suspected dirty work at the crossroads and the use of economically successful St As as a milch cow for the rest of the county, made worse since NE Fife was amalgamated with the rest of Fife. Local concerns, put forward by East area councillors, are always defeated. We fear that new Planning Laws will make the loss of democracy and more power to developers even more likely. We are extremely concerned at the devious nature of planning up here and the lengths they will go to to keep things from the ordinary public. The need for consultation is bandied about with high-flown words in opening statements, but even if it takes place, it is a largely a farce. I note the FIO was useful, we too have been using this with some success, we even have an office in the town which is handy.

    Apart from letting off steam, I would be most grateful for any help or advice you might be able to give us in defeating the ungodly. It is quite difficult to raise support here as there are 7000 students (out of 17000 pop.) who have no interest in the long term status of the town, and quite a lot of OAPs who would rather play golf! There is now a nucleus, but we have so many problem happening all at once it is difficult to know which way to turn next. UDI for East Fife seems the only possibility!

    Anyway, we’re really glad you have won. Well done.
    Angela Montford
    CSARA (csarasec@tiscali.co.uk)

  17. Kerry Bethel says:

    All I could see from where I stood
    Was Imperial’s greed and nothing good.
    Now what I can see from that grassy slope
    Is happiness and lots of hope.

    (inspired appropriately from poem “Renascence” by Edna St Vincent Millay)

    Thank you David and Justin.

  18. Jean MacEwan says:

    Greetings and congratulations from a Hythe family who have visited and loved Wye for thirty years. We have followed the various websites and items in the Press with much anguish, and some hope …. now vindicated!
    This afternoon (Sunday) we shall be wandering round your lovely village, and I at least will be shedding a few tears of relief!

    Jean MacEwan

  19. sue powell says:

    15/9 has become one of Wye’s notable dates: our local histories will need revision from now on! The powerful triumvirate of Parish Council, WFG and save-wye rightly proved to be an unstoppable force. and despite a wardrobe costing £1 million, the Emperor emerged as having no clothes……

    sorry to have missed Friday night at the New Fly, but we waved and cheered from Newcastle. As I’m sure did many other Wye-lovers around the globe.

  20. Time for an environmentally sustainable population policy for the UK? You can campaign for a policy aimed at population stabilisation and gradual decrease, to curb continuous development. If you’d like to, you can sign the Optimum Population Trust’s petition at:
    http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.petition.html

  21. Jack Woodford says:

    The last contributor has hit the nail on the head…why are we building all these house…and where are all the people coming from, particularly around Ashford.We come back again to the question of why a Tory Controlled Borough Council is in agreement with a Socialist Government in the building of all these house around Ashford, and would have done the same in Wye and District! Before you cast your vote next May in the local elections, just think back on these issues and many others, that we are all aware of.

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