Congratulations are in order, we think, to Telereal Trillium – we hear that, instead of demolishing the college house in Occupation Road they will refurbish them and let them to tenants. Some of our long-standing Wye College employees have lived in those properties and although things have moved on so that we have no longer ‘Wye College employees’ there are many essential people who still need housing in our village. Telereal Trillium would do themselves as well as us a favour by making inexpensive accommodation for rent to local families. Still, as we said, congratulations are in order if the rumour is correct!
I was recently given a book about the place where I was born – it was unrecognizable as the place of my childhood. Recent residents focused on imagined improvements that will ensure that they will inhabit a chocolate box fantasy world. As the southeast is destined, it seems, for increased housing development the wish to fantasize appears to increase in proportion to the amount of concrete. Here in Wye we have suffered serious challenges to our perception of our place. It has been summarized by some as ‘Wye is a dormitory village’, a sentiment that may seem justified if you are around the station waiting to commute or looking at the road damage caused by 4X4s along the back roads. But, is this melancholy outlook justified?
Wye was, despite the many agricultural students, an aging rural village. Twenty years ago the primary school had very few children born in the village and had a very wide catchment area. Today we see streams of children and their parents dissipating into the houses – new and old. There is, at present, a dearth of enthusiasm for ‘community projects’ but that will surely change as the children become teenagers and parents engage along with their children.
However, there are issues that should concern us about the local developments. This has been recently drawn to attention by the objections raised to the Telereal Trillium plans to develop the Wolfson House site. Parishioners will remember that this building was a student residence built through the charitable donation of the Wolfson Trust. The abject failure of Imperial College to revive the fortunes of Wye College led to the sale of the College real estate that included the Wolfson House site. The Telereal Trillium proposals are for modest sized houses, squeezed onto the available land (see the site plan above). The reports which they commissioned lack any sincere sensitivity to either the village or the original site and its educational purpose, giving the impression of a developer’s ‘quick fix’. Nevertheless, in the real-politik of today something has to be done to the derelict sites left by the former owners. One hopes that these houses will still be affordable as well as sympathetic to young local people who will need to be housed as they commit themselves to the area and the community.
Surface water and sewage – always a problem for old villages
Finally, although the site has a higher elevation than most of the village, the sewerage system has frequently revealed its antiquity and incapacity to carry the increased volume of foul-water already issuing from the modernized village. The optimism or should we say disregard of the commissioned reports does not auger well for the village’s residents nearer then river, or indeed, the rest of the village!
The deficiencies in the reports may be exemplified in, for example, the foul-water assessment which states:
“Soakage testing has not been carried out at the site. Surface water runoff from the existing site is assumed to be discharged to soakaways. Soakaways and other concentrated infiltration devices need to be positioned at least 5m from buildings or roads in accordance with the requirements of the Building Regulations. There is space available for soakaways either side of the development….”
The local housing situation in Wye has been dire for a considerable time. In particular, it has meant that our children can no longer expect to live in the village; that would be too much to ask, wouldn’t it? Mobility is the essential characteristic of economic globalization – summed up by Norman Tebbit in his famous advice to job-hunters ‘get on yer bike’. When Jack Woodford was our Parish Councillor, he and his notebook were always seeking solutions for young and old with housing needs in the village. Of course, Imperial College and the subsequent developers will argue that this supports their case for building in places such as WYE 3 but, instead of saving the current housing stock which they have left to degrade, they propose new houses and flats that will be well beyond the pockets of our young people.
In Wye there are no restrictions placed on who may or may not purchase dwellings, that seems to be alright in the Channel Islands where incomers may only purchase a house after they have been resident for TEN YEARS living in rented accommodation. Similarly in St. Ives second-home ownership has become so contentious that any new homes that are built may only house local people. So far the second-home ownership is concerned, in Wye there are relatively few (though there have been more cases in the last decade) but we have an issue of vastly exaggerated house prices that puts even a modest home out of reach for children raised and wishing to live in the village.
So, in the ‘conversations’ about housing needs that are supposed to be generated by the recent Government White Paper we may ask will Wye be another victim of a minister who will over-rule a neighbourhood plan and a local parish council too timid to protect the interests of its own children?