Sir Sandy: Is there an interpreter who can help please?

Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, the flowing-locked former Kent County Council leader who signed the first secret Concordat last April, will shortly be going to the House of Lords. Everyone knows that people in that ‘other place’ often speak in riddles. But does Sir Sandy really have to start now, before he’s even pulled on the ermine?

Consider these baffling comments from the Kent on Sunday

Sir Sandy

Clear as mud: Sir Sandy on Wye Park

The document Sir Sandy did sign committed KCC to ‘an agreed framework for co-operation and collaboration’ with Imperial and Ashford Borough Council ‘to secure the achievement of our collective goals of creating a world class science research facility that will bring prosperity, sustainable regeneration, and act as a major economic driver for the Ashford area’. That’s from the secret Concordat, which we reproduce in full at the foot of this article.

So is Sir Sandy in favour of the idea? Not according to his spokesman, quoted in this weekend’s paper, thus…

He is not supporting a science park but believes the idea should be explored and the proposals, when worked up properly, be rigorously examined.

But this isn’t what the Concordat he signed in April says. It commits his former council to working alongside Imperial to ‘secure the achievement’ of it. So his present position appears to be in direct contradiction to the piece of paper he put his name to a year ago. It gets more baffling.

The paper goes on to quote some correspondence from the man himself, to an unnamed party. In this he restates this new position…

In my time as leader of KCC, the county council never said it ‘would arrive at a favourable outlook’ for a science park.

Well of course it didn’t. If it had, the whole planning process would have been damaged, since it would have been prejudging a planning application before it had been submitted (which is what many people fear in any case). That ‘in my time as leader’ bit is interesting, though. Is he saying his successor Paul Carter has given this impression (a lot of people would agree)? Who knows? But the mystery continues, as, in the selfsame letter, he seems to contradict himself once again…

I do believe that there could be a real benefit for East Kent from a science park of exceptional quality. I understand that Imperial College envisages a science park better than at Cambridge or anywhere in the UK. This could be a major economic and social advantage for the county, it is therefore right in my view that this be ‘explored’. A new science park of real quality, with the best scientists worldwide, would improve the quality of jobs and houses, and ultimately the retail and leisure facilities and town centre of Ashford.

Yes, Wye itself would change, and when initial draft plans come forward this needs to be fully understood and considered. Obviously each of us will have to weigh any economic and social advantage against any environmental, countryside or community damage. I believe we are nowhere near the point of being able to weigh these up — we need a clear proposal first.’

So to sum up…

  • Sir Sandy hasn’t made his mind up on Wye Park
  • Sir Sandy thinks it’s a good idea
  • There are no plans around that let anyone weigh up the advantages and disadvantages, even though these may now include ‘community damage’ along with damage to the environment and countryside.
  • That said, Sir Sandy still thinks it’s a good idea

You do sometimes wonder if these people know what they are signing or even saying sometimes. Oh, and two final points. I am not aware of Imperial claiming publicly that the science park will be better than anything in the UK, and certainly not Cambridge, where there is a busy technological and industrial community on the edge of the city. Why? Er, because Cambridge also has a huge, busy and academically diverse university too, something Imperial is making very sure won’t happen in Wye.

And anyone looking to open a shop in the centre of Ashford should not take any comfort in Sir Sandy’s belief that building homes and offices in Wye will bring business to Bank Street. Over the last twenty years Ashford has effectively doubled in size thanks to new housing development. The town centre is just as deprived and increasingly derelict as ever…

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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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