The Kentish Express is on its usual amateur-hour mettle this week. The growing furore over the Wye Concordat merits just six paragraphs on page five, most of them devoted to a press release confirming the naming of the project’s architects, a story you first read here three weeks ago.
But fascinating tidbits do manage to work their way past the KE’s publc interest threshold filters all the same, even if, in this case, you must turn to Page 49 to locate one. Much of this page is devoted to one Paul Hudson, a man who just happens to be an associate of someone we are beginning to be very familiar with around here: the interesting Mr David Brooks Wilson.
Paul Hudson: planners should be promoters not regulators
Mr Hudson uses the KE to make some quite extraordinary comments about the planning process. ‘My interest is making the planning system deliver what the customer wants,’ he crows. ‘Part of my challenge will be to champion the cause of planners and the planning process.’ He wants, he says, planners to be seen as promoters, not regulators, of development. ‘I would hope we can make the process simple, effective and efficient.’
These are the kind of aggressive, pro-builder words you might expect from the development director of a construction firm. You might think local authority or government officers would also ask themselves whether the planning system might just possibly be there to deliver what the public wants or needs too, not simply pour concrete everywhere so that the fat cats can sit back and fondle their wallets
But no, Mr Hudson, who hails from Maidstone, is not a private enterprise ‘build and prosper’ chap at all. Essentially part of the Kent planning, development and quango clique that never seems far from the decision-making fringes of the Wye Park Project, he has spent much of the last few years working on two bodies, Locate in Kent, where he was chief executive, and at the South East England Development Agency, as ‘executive director for development and infrastructure’.
These wholly unelected bodies seem to attract very similar-minded people, most of them grey men in grey suits. Who else sat on the board of Locate in Kent in 2004-5? Why only Mr Brooks Wilson, Imperial’s shadowy overlord for the entire Wye project, and Mr Pete Raine, director of strategic planning for KCC. You can see some other interesting names too, from Pfizer, for example, if you read the latest annual report, available at the foot of this story. By one of those extraordinary coincidences, Mr Brooks Wilson is a former member of SEEDA too. Oh yes, and back in October 2004, SEEDA bought the hideous International House office block in the centre of Ashford working ‘under the umbrella’ of the ‘Ashford Delivery Board’, chaired by the leader of the local council, one Paul Clokie.
Why are the opinions of a faceless planner like Mr Hudson suddenly news for the KE? For two reasons. The first is the piece comes from Trevor Sturgess, a decent journalist who knows a story when he sees one. The second is: something has actually happened. Mr Hudson has suddenly found himself a new job. From June he will be the government’s chief planner, working for John Prescott in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
So the man who thinks planning is there to deliver for the ‘customer’ will be advising John Prescott, perhaps the last person in the UK who can put a stop to a project that appears already to be rubber stamped by both Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council, without a single vote among elected representatives. Just to rub in that last point KCC’s leader, Paul Carter, is quoted in the article as criticising fellow authorities for running ‘planning prevention departments’. No chance of that with a builders’ friend like Cllr Carter in charge, is there?
It’s a good job we don’t believe in conspiracy theories around here, though I can’t help but wonder whether these chaps might happen to bump into each other by accident in the first class compartment from time to time.
Thank you, Mr Sturgess, for providing one reason to buy the KE this week.