Imperial College short-change the village of Wye again

Mark mark at
Fri Sep 7 12:39:38 BST 2007

After 100 years of international importance for agriculture, all academic
and research activity on the Wye College Farm has come to an end. The
owners of the farm, Imperial College London (ICL), offered the farm for
rent on a 10 year farm business tenancy. In anticipation of this
opportunity, a steering group comprising local residents, farmers and Wye
alumni spent the last year putting together a community bid for the
tenancy, in the form of Wye Community Land Trust, to which 1200 people
pledged to buy shares.

Unfortunately, the Wye Community Farm Limited tender for the tenancy of
the Wye College Farm has been unsuccessful. See:
(Main points below):

Report from Wye Community Land Trust:
A factual report on the timetable of recent events:

Tues 24 July: The WCF tender bid and business plan were submitted to
Savills, the land agents acting on behalf of ICL, on tender deadline day.
To view the WCF business plan as submitted, visit weblink above.

Fri 27 July: Savills wrote to Strutt Parker, the land agents for the WCF,
saying the tender bid had not been shortlisted.

Wed 1 August: We e-mailed both ICL and Savills, asking for feedback on why
our bid had been unsuccessful.

Thu 2 August: We received replies from both ICL and Savills, explaining
that ICL did not have sight of the tender bids but instead left it for
Savills to draw up a shortlist for interview.

Fri 3 August: We wrote to ICL with a full copy of our tender bid, asking
that they study the WCF business plan themselves and reconsider the
decision not to shortlist us for interview. We said that if we had no
response by 9 August we would take that as final confirmation that our
tender bid had been unsuccessful.

Thu 9 August: No response received (and no response to date).

First week of September: ICL/ Savills due to announce the successful
tender bid.

Several people have expressed the opinion over the last few months that
Imperial College London care nothing for either the history of Wye College
or the here and now of Wye village, and that they would treat the Wye
Community Farm proposal with at best ambivalence, at worst disdain.
Perhaps we must now reluctantly acknowledge that these people were right.

It is a matter of record that over the last 12 months we have written
regularly to ICL to keep them informed of our proposals, and have sought
on every occasion to build up a constructive relationship and demonstrate
the mutual benefits to be had from the Wye Community Farm initiative. We
would have always accepted the failure of a tender bid under a competitive
process as a fact of life, but to be told that the landlord didn't
even have sight of the business plan, even though they knew that a massive
amount of work had been put in by a great many people over a number of
months, is not something which can be accepted so lightly.

In the coming weeks, months and years, you will hear ICL make grand
statements about their commitment to addressing the key challenges of the
day; climate change, sustainable food production and distribution, and so
on. They will also, no doubt, pledge their commitment to working
constructively with the local community in Wye. These pronouncements will
always ring hollow to anyone who understands just how much could have been
achieved should the WCF vision for the Wye College Farm have become

Wye, Imperial & a future for Wye Agricultural College

In October last year (2006), a quiet village in Kent was in jubilant
rejoice at stopping a massive housing development in what is an Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty. At the heart of the saga was a £1billion plan
by Imperial College to build a Biofuel Research Unit and a processsing
plant for biodiesel in collaboration with BP on part of Wye Agricultural
College's 850 acre agricultural estate. The project involved a private
agreement between Imperial and local councillors hatching a secret plot to
get planning approval for around 4000 houses, a development deemed
necessary to underwrite the cost what was referred to as a "Science Park".
Unfortunately for Imperial, BP withdrew Wye from their short-list of
potential venues for their new science facility, opting for Berkely
University in California.  The alternative of a research project in London
was put in place, still to be underwritten by the housing development.
However, the leaking of a private agreement between Imperial, Ashford
Borough Council and Kent County Council revealed a breathtaking level of
arrogance in manipulating the democratic process, leading to the housing
scheme being abandoned, just 283 days after they first announced it. As
David Hewson says in the forward in his book 'Saved': "the failure of
Imperial College and its allies represents, in the short-term atleast, is
one of the biggest environmental campaign successes of recent decades."

However, there is a tragedy underlying the triumph in stopping the
monstrous Wye Park development, namely the end of Wye Agricultural
College. For good or bad, Wye College was very much at the forefront of
the 20th century agricultural revolution and the huge rise in production
seen across Western Europe after the war. Throughout the 20th century, the
mainstay of research at Wye was plant propagation and the development of
new crop varieties, bred for higher yields or incorporating other
characteristics such as disease resistance Wye's international reputation
remained for the next 100 years, as linkages with international
agriculture colleges and research projects across the world particularly
in Africa, proliferated from the 1950s onwards. Despite the mainstay of
work remaining in large-scale industrial agriculture, as is the common
nature of Western Europe, environment management and sustainable
agriculture were increasingly taking up more importance in the college's
research and academic work, with new groundbreaking Masters courses in
Sustainable Agriculture and the undergraduate 'Agriculture & the
Environment' degree (predating Curry's review on farming by about 10
years). Wye was linked with more than 70 institutions around the world at
one time, in countries such as Mexico, Malaysia, Pakistan, Tanzania and
Zimbabwe.  Projects at Wye included work on biological pest control where
Wye was at the forefront of research, improved genotypes in breeding of
pigs and sheep and utilising whole crop cereals in dairying as a means of
reducing need for inorganic fertiliser. Research work done at Wye was
regularly name-checked on 'Farmers Today' over the years.

Wye's Royal charter was unprecedentedly and mysteriously removed in 2000.

Whilst the closure of a number of agricultural colleges across the country
has reflected the contraction in the industry, the extent of research at
Wye and the College's international reputation and links overseas
did put it in a position of preeminence amongst it's academic peers
around the world. In this period of reflection upon the challenges facing
western civilisation with the spectre of peak-oil on the imminent horizon,
one could have argued the logical conclusion to Wye College's legacy
of progressive academic international inter-disciplinary research,
ironically, was a major research project into biofuels, with 850 acres of
land to utilise. However, crops grown for biofuel overseas are resulting
in massive environmental disaster. It was perhaps fitting that an academic
institution with the name "Imperial" should have been involved in a
project largely colonial in remit and execution.

Wye-College - hung out to dry

Instead, in the war of contrasting views of what agriculture and
land-based livelihoods mean to western society in the 21st century, the
reductionist logic of the market, the academic snobbery of a
long-established scientific university dissociated from a more holistic
world view that was manifest at Wye, and the Imperial weight of a
multinational-sponsored research facility and ideological posturing to
achieve this end have put paid to this legacy, reasoning that a college
with falling revenue streams is not worthy of resources being chucked at
it. Yet, more constructive managing of the academic portfolio might have
seen a different story (as it has been, business studies is the only
subject now on offer, transferred to Kent University), so that Wye's
legacy could really have been successfully built upon; instead this
expression 'built upon' was interpreted in a fashion akin to the wisdom
and logic of John Prescott - namely to adhere to house building targets of
28,900 by 2031 in the Ashford area set by the South East England Regional
Assembly (SEERA).

What remains is the wilful dilapidation of a college facility, a travesty
considering Imperial College spent £1 million of public money on
consultants, architects and lawyers to push forward their ill-advised plan
to turn Wye from a village into a town. For a central government that
wishes us to take it seriously in it’s commitment to sustainability
in a time of rising global temperatures, such a careless waste of
resources and squandering of a innovative academic institution does not
favourably cast light on the voracity of it's intentions.

(Source: "Wye College and it's World, a centenary history, by Stewart

Now the good news...

There are many positives to take from the past few months. The tremendous
support for the Wye Community Farm proposal - from people in and around
Wye, throughout the UK and world-wide - has shown that there is a real and
growing awareness of the need to reconnect with where our food comes from
and how it is produced.

The directors and steering group of WCF Limited do not intend to waste the
work done, contacts made and lessons learned. Rather, they are actively
looking for other opportunities to put in place the initiatives originally
envisaged for the Wye College Farm. Indeed, an exciting opportunity has
already presented itself and is in the early stages of being pursued.

In the next few days we will be writing to the 1,200+ people who have
pledged their support for the WCF initiative, providing the update as set
out above. We will also be posting further information on the website,
including the accounts for the project.

Please keep an eye on this site for news on future developments, thank you
for all your support to date, and please do contact us if you have any
comments or queries or wish to get more closely involved.

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