How Wye could have been a new town after all

You read here yesterday how Kent County Council knew, back in 2004, that Imperial College craved to reap £100 million from its land holdings in Wye, more than ten times the sum that the estate cost it in the first place. Anyone in the development business knows that this kind of money doesn’t come from tiny little closes of middle-class housing. You only get them from substantial developments spanning hundreds of acres.

Did KCC realise too?

Oh, yes. From the very beginning, and they refused to squeal not even when Imperial College was from the outset pushing a scheme which was even more grandiose than the one which led to Wye Park’s downfall. In 2004, when not a soul among the general public in the village knew something was amiss, KCC officers sat down and listened to Imperial detailing how it wanted to turn the historic village of Wye into a new town, and all because it wanted the money. Read this astonishing verbatim note to see what was going under your noses two years ago with the very idea of destroying Wye as we know it.

The author is Leigh Herington, a senior KCC planning figure who was to be a constant member of the council’s team handling Wye Park. KCC do not date this document but we believe it stems from a meeting of KCC officials with the rector of Imperial College, Richard Sykes, and his deputy, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, some time in late 2004 or early 2005, long before the public of Wye knew something was up and was told this was ‘only a vision not a plan’.

At this meeting Herington scribbled…

Picture 1-2

In other words, Imperial told KCC at this stage that it wanted to turn over almost its entire land holding in Wye to residential development, on a scale that would have involved up to ten thousand new homes. Why? Well one reason seems to have been the idea that Richard Sykes was calling in his favours as a previous chief executive of the drugs giant Glaxo. The new Wye could be a pharmaceuticals town, as Herington noted, with Pfizer and the company Sykes’ Glaxo became, Smith Kline Glaxo, as potential tenants.

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None of this happened, of course, even with ‘Rector support’. It was all just part of the sell. Did KCC ask a few questions? Certainly. They wanted to know why Sykes couldn’t build his pipe-dream in Ebbsfleet or Ashford instead, where there was a wealth of empty office and commercial space begging for tenants. But no, said Imperial. Ebbsfleet, part of that nasty Thames corridor, failed on ‘lifestyle’ grounds. And they didn’t want to be in Ashford either because they wanted something of ‘Oxbridge quality’.

And then there was the clincher. Read it for yourself in Leigh Herington’s own hand writing, what would happen if Richard Sykes didn’t get his way…

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That’s a big fat underline, isn’t it? Do you think KCC understand the meaning of the word ‘blackmail’?

The threat Imperial College delivered to KCC and, soon after, Ashford Borough Council, was simple: give us what we want or we will go. They did go, of course, handing over the few remaining academic course to the University of Kent, not long after the famous concordat was signed.

But KCC certainly knew what was on the cards with the kinds of sums and potential developments being quoted by Imperial in these meetings. As early as November 2004, Mike Bodkin, another KCC officer who would later work in Wye Park, noted….

Picture 7

In other words there was absolutely no way Imperial could meet its stated goals without going deep into Wye’s protected countryside. Nor did this change greatly over time. In March 2006, as the serious planning process got under way, Imperial updated its demands. Leigh Herington was scribbling down some new notes. They read..

Picture 8-1

So, after a bit of negotiation, we were now down to twenty acres for the college, twenty acres for a research unit, and between a hundred and four hundred acres of commercial housing. Plus the ‘endowment’ — a £100 million sweetener which the college would pick up as soon as the bulldozers moved in.

Your county council was under no illusions about what the Wye estate was worth, and the plain fact that there was only one way Imperial could release its ‘value’. Just to make sure of what it surely knew instinctively it commissioned the land agents Cluttons to come up with a valuation of the Wye estate in September 2004. Cluttons, living in the real world and utterly oblivious to the madness about to descend upon the village, seemed a little taken aback to be asked to value what had, only a few years before, been an independent university.

David Perry, the partner asked to wander round the Wye estate and put a price on it, commented, ‘Clearly one or two areas have the potential for residential development, but the value of the existing use is difficult to fathom…’

Cluttons wound up suggesting the historic Wye quadrangle might be used for sheltered accommodation ‘if internal partitions will allow it’. But Imperial’s greed could never be sated with a spot of housing for the elderly. Tune in tomorrow for the latest titbits from this amazing bunch of revelations dragged out of your county council through what we can only presume, at their end, to be very gritted teeth.

Documents

Leigh Herington’s first note

Leigh Herington’s second note

Clutton’s report

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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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2 Responses to How Wye could have been a new town after all

  1. Alan Paterson says:

    This all bears out the fact that our worst fears really were a growing reality for quite a time. We are led to believe by local and central government politicians that we live in a democracy where major decisions are taken with full consultation and concensus. We all now know that this is far from the truth.

    Thank heavens that this is a caring and articulate community which, when the stench of rat became apparent on 9th January, quickly pulled together in our various ways to oppose and eventually see off Imperial’s inappropriate scheme just before it became a ‘fait accompli’.

    Well done David and Justin for persisting with these FoI Act enquiries and revealing the extent of the secrecy displayed by those who pretend to be our servants. And they wonder why the turnout of electors continues to fall…………

    The good news is that the work of Wye Future Group continues. We our ears to the ground and have remaining funds safely invested in case they should be needed before this saga is over – and we continue to seek funds.

    Our latest effort is a 2007 Calendar featuring 12 local scenes, taken by the winners of our photographic competition. Thanks to the initiative and hard work of Moya Ross we now have available at £7.00 each something we can be really proud of, from Wye Post Office, Wye News and Tickety Boo, or Ann Sutherland (01233-812671) or e-mail ann@sutherlands.clara.co.uk . Envelopes can be provided to send to relatives and friends as an ideal Christmas present for anyone with an affection for Wye.

  2. Paul Hemsley says:

    Alan Paterson’s comment regarding the declining turn-out of electors requires some thought.
    If Government ,at all levels, is so corrupt & contemptuous of those who appointed them ,what is the future of democracy.
    If we should all become so apathetic of the system who will left to manage our Local & National destiny.
    Let’s pray that there are some sincere, trustworthy, genuine, considerate,intelligent & responsible people still willing to serve.
    I would hope that the likes of Clokie,who views critiscm of his ludicrous shortcomings as impertinent, the mysterious Findlay who inputs nothing at all & just simply collects his pay check, & Cooling who sat on the fence for so long & proved so ineffectual ,are not indicative of the general state of affairs.
    However the daily scandals from Central Govenment, the sorry state of Education & our Health Service & the increasing crime levels, all of which were top of Blair’s agenda all those years back, does not inspire confidence.
    Please somebody out there tell me that it’s always been this way,that there is a future, & things will get better.
    Maybe pressure groups such as Wye Future Group & supporting websites, such as your own well thought out example, will become models of resistance.
    Or is there an alternative other than looking forward to my pint in the Fly tonight.

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