Published: 15:10, 13 December 2007
KENT County Council has been urged to drop its backing for a bid to uproot the world-renowned National Fruit Collection from its home in Brogdale, Faversham to East Malling.
The county council controversially swung its weight behind the bid to relocate the collection to the East Malling research site, near Maidstone, after Defra announced plans to privatise the management of the fruit collection, which has been based at Brogdale for more than 50 years.
KCC's suppport for a relocation is in the face of widespread opposition. A petition in favour of maintaining the collection, which boasts 500 different types of fruit, at its Faversham home was signed by more than 2,000 people.
Now backbench county councillors say KCC was wrong to back a joint bid by Imperial College, Brogdale Horticultural Trust and East Mallling Research when other bids have now come forward that would keep the collection at Brogdale.
Ministers are expected to announce shortly who has won the contract to manage the collection.
A cross-party group of county councillors has demanded KCC review its decision and in a sign of their anger, has agreed to write independently to Defra to say the collection must be kept at Brogdale.
The senior politician who decided to back relocation was summoned to appear before KCC's cabinet scrutiny committee to explain his reasoning.
Cllr Roger Gough (Con), KCC cabinet member for regeneration, told the committee he had done so because it appeared to be the best hope of preventing the collection from leaving the county completely.
He also played down the significance of KCC’s support, saying Defra had told him it would make little difference to its final decision.
"It was an extremely difficult decision because there were two camps in Kent. My concern was that we [could] lose the collection from Kent. The question was whether took a view that was a bit stronger than saying keep it in Kent. I could have done absolutely nothing," he said.
But Cllr Gough faced strong criticism from one of his own colleagues. Cllr Adrian Crowther (Con), who represents Sheppey, said: "We would be talking about 4,500 species being split up and moved. You just cannot do that. It is a nonsense. I am shocked and appalled."
Tony Hillier, who is the landlord of the Brogdale site, said: "It is baffling how KCC could possibly back a move away from Swale. We are disappointed KCC has not given the same amount of attention to other bids.
"Our position is that KCC has been less than even-handed. Its recommendation should have been to retain the collection at Brogdale, not just Kent."