A shape of things to come - when?

27 Sep 2006
THE OBVIOUS concerns of local residents over any increase in buildings in this industrial area of Swale have been well aired in your newspaper, as have concerns regarding uncontrolled housing developments.

However, it should be borne in mind that the Swale area has a preponderance of streets lined with buildings in many cases well over 100 years old. At that time, these housed those who were employed in the paper mills, brickworks, docks and agriculture. Although it's not the most prosperous of areas, Swale has enjoyed a reasonable quality of life.

Now those industries (with no insult intended to present employees and owners, but because of worldwide economic change) have reduced their contribution to the local economy, forcing Swale as a community to look to its future.

This will not be found in the science park development. At the moment, some 100 science and technology parks exist in the UK. Most are joint ventures between local government, a university and possibly a private company. These parks were formed with the objective of revitalising and diversifying regional economies badly hit by the demise of old labour-intensive industries, such as those in Swale.

The UK Science Park Association, of which Kent Science Park is a member, represents some 3,000 high-tech companies employing some 67,000 staff and is the main representative body for these parks. The association's figures show that on average 27 employees exist per high-tech company and 30 high-tech companies per park. This averages out at about 810 employees per park (note these are all high-tech companies). However, many parks have a much lower figure, because the average is distorted by those that combine a university, together with its research facilities staff, major companies such as Microsoft, Unilever and government departments which are an essential ingredient in order to generate, for example, the necessary funding for employing the 9,000 people at Norwich Research Park.

Somehow, I cannot visualise Swale receiving such support, despite all the trumped-up claims by Kent Science Park site director Nick. I wonder what Shell and its 750-plus former employees think of his transforming their derelict research centre into a premier site? The park management has repeatedly failed to produce evidence of major investment, or even interest from quality science research companies. Nor has Kent University shown any inclination to invest in Swale. Government departments? Well the least said the better. Perhaps our MP Derek Wyatt could have a word on that subject.

So what to do? Swale has a perfectly acceptable industrial estate, with ample space and vacant premises, which together with the improved links to the motorway system – should be attractive to many companies.

With the Thames Gateway regeneration programme now in place and funding available (or so we are told), Kent County Council and Swale Council must have firm plans for our bright new future. So let them tell us about it.

When we know what the future is, then — and only then — might it be necessary to proceed with the construction of new housing, especially so as to replace that older stock, if so required.

Finally, perhaps the housing developers could explain to me how those residents of Swale, who because of their circumstances were last year obliged to seek housing council tax benefit to the staggering sum of £41,023, are going to feel when they walk past those unaffordable new homes on the way to find some green fields.

Leslie Hollands,
Park Drive, Sittingbourne.