The signing of two concordats with Imperial College has put Ashford Borough Council in a difficult position and may have prejudiced the planning process, the leader of Kent County Council has admitted.
Confirming that the county council is taking legal advice and may be forced to tear up the agreement with Imperial College in the face of a challenge that could end up in the High Court, Cllr Paul Carter said the Ashford council could find itself in difficulty as a result of the signing of the concordat.
‘We have had a challenge that may present problems to Ashford Borough Council and it [the concordat] may prejudice the planning process.’
Cllr Carter still believes that the proposed Wye Science Park would bring high-quality jobs to the region and remains committed to it. ‘The plans can be to the enormous benefit of Ashford, east Kent and the country as a whole … and to Wye also.’
But he admitted that KCC had been taken by surprise by the level of opposition to the scheme and the legal challenge mounted by Wye Future Group. ‘We are taking legal advice,’ he said, ‘it [the concordat] is being reviewed. I do not know which way this will go.’
Paul Carter: ‘I do not know which way this will go’
However, he added, ‘as far as KCC is concerned, we support the principle of a science park in Wye’.
Cllr Carter denied that Imperial had presented KCC and Ashford with an ultimatum which amounted to: ‘approve our plans or we’ll pull out of Kent’ following the engagement of Ernst and Young to advise the college on options for its Wye campus. But he did not answer when pressed on whether anybody from KCC had been shown a report from Imperial during 2004 or early in 2005 which threatened to close the Wye campus and move the science park elsewhere.
‘The last thing we want to do is see this go abroad,’ he said. ‘We must do all we can to keep this in the UK.’
Cllr Carter was critical of the secrecy surrounding the signing of the original concordat and said that the second public document was signed in December because he had not been a signatory on the original.
‘I think it [the secrecy] is regrettable. We wanted to go public as soon as possible.
‘My advice was that it was much better to be open about it so that it does not get leaked. When we decided that we needed to present Imperial’s plans for Wye, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart [KCC’s original signatory on the first concordat] was no longer leader. I was leader.’