Saved: the story of a real-life environmental battle

I thought my journalism days were behind me. But sometimes life has a habit of turning things around in ways you least expect. In December 2005 I was in Rome researching what was to become The Garden of Evil.

Out of the blue I took a phone call which revealed that the large London university Imperial College had very big designs on the area where I was lucky enough to live. The next ten months saw an extraordinary battle by ordinary people pitched against an army of well-paid professional developers trying to turn some of the most beautiful – and protected – countryside in England over to the bulldozer.

They were just ordinary citizens appalled by what was being planned, in secret and with the covert support of our own public representatives. The most extraordinary part of all is… we won. After concerted local opposition and a string of revelations on save-wye.org , the web-site I set up as a public forum to discuss Imperial’s plans, the project collapsed.

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I wrote this story because there are many other people out there who are desperate to know how Wye won where so many others failed. The answer is through luck, determination and some very single-minded people. So in some ways this isn’t a story that far from fiction at all… though every last word is true, even though I occasionally had to pinch himself when reminded of that fact.

SAVED is a full length account of the true story of this campaign from its opening to close. It’s not hagiography or triumphalist, because this may be a short-lived victory. Nor does it seek to hide the mistakes that were made along the way, because one important thing we learned during this fight was that honesty and openness were often the most powerful weapons the Wye campaigners had – and sometimes the only ones.

I’m grateful to everyone who helped with the Wye campaign, in particular my colleague in the site, Justin Williams, without whom this story would not have had such a satisfactory ending.

What people said about Saved

Robin Page, the countryside writer and broadcaster who was for many years the host of One Man and his Dog, says of the book…

David Hewson writes thrillers. Saved is a real life thriller, exposing the sham of “local democracy”. A must for all those wanting to save their countryside and communities from the concrete mixers and the planning fixers.

Jonathon Porritt, the well-known environmentalist who is now Founder Director of Forum for the Future, writes…

This is a fascinating book, full of insights into the workings of local politics, new, web-based ways of campaigning, different environmental tactics, and institutions as powerful as they are unaccountable.

As a result of a wonderfully effective campaign, this little corner of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Kent is safe for now. But as the author himself points out, the agents of the kind of wholly unsustainable development that is still eroding our countryside will never give up and never go away. With local democracy in such a state of disrepair, in so many parts of the land, many more battles of this kind will still need to be fought.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, said…

Imperial College’s science park plan for Wye was in essence a smash and grab operation, designed to let the university cash in on its greenfield AONB landholding around a beautiful Kent village.

That it failed was largely thanks to the website save-wye, the brief but gripping history of which is chronicled in this book. We in CPRE were delighted to offer the local campaigners help and support.

There is much in Saved to worry countryside campaigners, but also much to cheer them. The role of the local council is depressing, as is the failure of most local media to question the developer’s official line.

Yet the book also shows that schemes such as Wye Park can be defeated, however impressive their official backing, and that journalism and the democratic process in their truest forms can triumph when the established media and body politic have gone bad.

Professor Roy Greenslade, former editor of the Daily Mirror, and now Professor of Journalism at City University, London, and one of the country’s leading media commentators, has kindly contributed the foreword to the book.

In it he writes, ‘…this is not a story about Nimbyism. It is about right versus wrong; about transparency versus secrecy; about truth versus lies; about democracy versus authoritarianism.’