Immoral, anti-democratic and, possibly, unlawful

If there was any doubt about what the people of Wye faced if they chose to oppose Imperial’s plans to reorder their village and their lives, that doubt must have vanished now.

A shadowy alliance of interests has come together covertly over the last two or three years, seemingly intent on manipulating the planning system. Last year, while those we elect or employ to look after our interests were engaged in secret discussions with Imperial College, it would have been unthinkable that anybody could seriously consider the turning over of part of the Wye Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for development. As Ian Cooling, Wye’s borough councillor, told the parish council this week, the elevation of AONBs to near-National Park status should have sealed its protection for generations.

That Imperial College should seek to realise some liquidity out of its 800 acres in Wye should not seriously surprise anybody. It is commercial and is managed as a corporation after all. But the apparently starry-eyed assistance offered up by, among others, Paul Clokie and David Hill of Ashford Borough Council and Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, Pete Raine, Alex King and Mike Pitt of Kent County Council has been staggering.

Our representatives have behaved in an, at best, unbelievably naive fashion. At worst, their actions have been immoral, anti-democratic and, just possibly, unlawful.

It now seems, following the Freedom of Information revelations on this website, that our representatives have been colluding in an attempt to manipulate the democratic process in Imperial’s favour for at least two years. Nobody saw fit to inform the local borough councillor even; let alone those whose lives and homes were about to be blighted. In August, on the final day for submissions, frantic lobbying by Imperial succeeded in getting Ashford Borough Council to include the landholding in Wye as a possible area for expansion in its draft of the Local Development Framework.

And still the manipulation continues. The draft version of the South East Plan produced by the South East Regional Assembly — itself an unelected quango that should have died when John Prescott’s referendum for a similar body in the North East failed — has been lobbied by Ashford and KCC to include Wye as an area for the science and technology sector’s expansion. At the end of next month, this draft plan — the blueprint for the South East for the next decade and beyond — will go to Prescott for approval. Oh, and Paul Clokie, the leader of Ashford Borough Council, and Mike Carter, the leader of Kent County Council, are both members of the assembly. Funny, huh?

Until this last week I was pretty much on the fence. But the revelations of recent days have radically changed my opinions.

The Wye Future Group is preparing the ground for a possible judicial review of the Wye Concordat. It is a commendable effort but is it enough? Could it be that this is just opening a front in a battle that was lost in March or April last year? While Wye attempts to get the Concordat overturned, the South East Regional Assembly is preparing to meet on March 1 in Winchester to ratify its submission to Prescott. Once that happens, there will be precious little anybody can do beyond the nuclear option of legal action in the High Court.

Until this last week, I was pretty much on the fence. I could see the danger to Wye but I also accepted that Imperial would have to restructure and, perhaps, realise some liquidity in order to regenerate its dying rural campus. But the revelations of recent days have radically changed my opinions. Our representatives have behaved in an, at best, unbelievably naive fashion. At worst, their actions have been immoral, anti-democratic and, just possibly, unlawful.

The democratic process is being perverted by the very people in place to defend it. It is the politics of the rotten borough and its perpetrators must be exposed, stopped and, when the dust has settled, held to account.

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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