A petition to “Protect Silwood from losing its identity” has amassed over 250 signatures, after it has been announced that redevelopment work on the site is to take place. However, with no straight answers yet available as to what this redevelopment may entail, rumours are running rife through the student body based at the campus.
The redevelopment work in question is still in its very early stages, and reportedly cannot start until the nuclear reactor based on the site is completely decommissioned, which won’t be until 2016. However, with parts of the Silwood site already closed off to students, concerns are mounting as to what the redevelopments may be.
Due to the Manor house on site being a listed building, Felix has been told that it may not be demolished but may be rented out as luxury apartments, although this has not been confirmed. There are also worries that more buildings may be placed on the green belt, although again this too has not been confirmed.
The Manor house on the campus is already off limits to students after being closed at the beginning of the summer. Previously, the Manor house was used for large social events and a conservatory was utilised for coffee breaks in the morning. It sits in the centre of Silwood Park, overlooking a lot of the greenery of the surrounding campus.
However, these facilities have now been moved to buildings elsewhere on the site and students are concerned that having private residents live in the centre of a student campus may detract from the students being able to enjoy their campus in peace.
Felix spoke to the Estates Team, who said they too had no more information that was concrete at this moment in time. Upon contacting Vincent Savolainen, Professor of Organismic Biology who is based at Silwood, he explained to us that the operation of Silwood is split between the parts of the campus in use and the College Endowment, which takes assets from College once they are no longer of use. They then look to obtain “best value” for these assets, which are then reinvested back into the College.
Properties currently under control by College Endowment include the Manor house alongside some of the other buildings on site.
Said Savolainen, “It is now reviewing plans to redevelop the Manor House. The College will ensure that the Silwood Community, including students, are briefed once we have any further information.”
Vincent Savolainen led a meeting last Tuesday at Silwood to address any questions students had, and then emailed the students to answer any further issues. They reiterated that the plans are to take place over a number of years, and there will be no disturbance during exams.
They also explained “Any parts developed as housing would likely be fenced off… The College is absolutely committed to the use of Silwood Park as a field facility and the green spaces are protected by local planning.”
However, some remained unconvinced. Said one student: “It seemed that the staff didn’t know what was going on, although this may be because they too don’t have any definite answers.”
“We have been left with a feeling of helplessness. We feel that because many students at Silwood are only here for a year and the plans may not be put into place for so long, we don’t really have a leg to stand on.
“We are in the middle of nowhere, but now we can’t enjoy our campus if people are living on the site as rented tenants.”
Nika Levikov, a taught postgraduate that is now in her second year at Imperial, started the petition that is looking to amass 500 signatures.
She told Felix that she was initially concerned when the students were informed the Manor House was being sold, and then rumours began to spread about further redevelopment.
The petition, hosted on change.org, is targeted at Simon Harding-Roots, the Chief Operations Officer, who oversees the Estates team, which includes Estates Master planning and Development, Estates Projects, and Estates facilities, as well as Campus Services.
The petition states that “Right now this campus is threatened by infrastructure development that would close off these areas to all students and staff (including the basketball court). To Silwoodians, both past and present, think about what we could lose and what would be left for future students. Sign the petition to keep Silwood beautiful!”
Said Levikov, “I received information from a source I’m unable to disclose here that management is planning to declassify Green Belt land and sell it so that areas, like the Japanese Gardens, will be destroyed and turned into public housing.
“I felt having this information was enough to go public with a warning to all Silwoodians about what kind of plans are being discussed in the hopes that management would begin a dialogue with students.
“Otherwise I feared that plans would be confirmed and land sold before students had the chance to react.”
She went on to tell Felix that she would like to start a dialogue with the management over potential plans. “I think students who have worked so hard to come to study at a university like Imperial have the right to know what is being planned since they are all directly impacted by any kind of development. Destroying nature for profit is not an option.
“Tim sent an email to all Silwood students reassuring them that redevelopment is not for that purpose. If this is the case, then students should be told clearly where the money is going and why it is needed.”
Levikov was unable to attend the meeting Vincent held since she is currently based abroad.
Felix also spoke to Matt Jones, a PhD student based at Silwood and currently the Silwood Park Union Chair. He confirmed that the information available at this stage is very vague, but the land will be used to generate revenue in the future.
“For Silwood to be sustainable, it needs to generate revenue, and currently land is being under utilised. Whilst it would be sad to lose a lot of it, compromise has to be made.
“The problem is, we don’t actually know what land we are planning to sell off. They showed us a rough map but in no way is it finalised.
“There are always rumours at Silwood. Why they are now having these meetings is because they realise the rumours are more damaging than that is actually happening.”
He explained that he has been invited to a meeting in then near future with the Silwood staff and the Estates team, to discuss the plans further.
“Tim [Barraclough, an academic at Silwood and colleague of Vincent] has gone into the effort of answering people’s individual questions, although I can’t say if it will be a shift in opinions [of other students].
“Some people are always going to stick to their initial opinions, but hopefully we are now opening up a dialogue between the students and the people planning this.”
It seems for now that there are no definitive plans for the site, but many questions still remain unanswered. Felix will report on updates as they come in.