Paul Clokie, the leader of Ashford Borough Council, signed both ‘concordats’ with Imperial College without the benefit of any legal advice, save-wye.org has learned.
The revelation that Cllr Clokie did not seek or receive the advice of either the borough solicitor, Terry Mortimer, or other lawyers, before signing the first secret concordat on April last year or the second public document in December will send shockwaves through the council and raises the ante as Wye Future Group seeks a judicial review to get the agreements quashed.
save-wye.org has learned that, while officers including chief executive David Hill — who were not signatories to either document — did seek and receive advice from the borough solicitor, Cllr Clokie did not.
The leader was asked at last night’s full council whether he had received legal advice but, before he could answer, Trevor Robertson, the democratic services manager, insisted that any discussion of the legal position must be reserved for the closed session of the meeting during which members were brought up to date on the judicial review. Cllr Clokie then batted away questions about whether he would face personal liability should Imperial College decide to recover its costs if the concordat collapsed saying that the council’s consititution allowed him to sign the concordats without seeking council approval.
The likelihood that the concordat might collapse has increased after Cllr Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council, admitted that it may have ‘prejudiced the planning process’ and that KCC was considering pulling out of it. One senior county councillor has told save-wye.org that he is convinced KCC is about to ‘leave Ashford to get on with it’.
Although the concordats were supposed — as it said in the text — to be binding in ‘honour only’, there is a risk that they may end up binding Ashford council to a position that it cannot get out of. In theory, they could also result in those who have enthusiastically and publicly supported the project being barred from taking part in any further discussions on it.
Both the South East Regional Assembly (SEERA) and the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) have included references to the Wye Park project in their regional plans following lobbying by Cllr Clokie, who is a member of SEERA, and Ashford council. Some Ashford borough councillors are now openly questioning whether, should the plan be called in for decision by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as Imperial is pressing for, Ashford will have prejudiced its own position and ruled itself out of making representations.
Cllr Clokie declined to speak to save-wye.org.