My colleague, David Hewson, has already said this, but forgive me for re-iterating it: we don’t believe in conspiracies round here but we have noticed some remarkable connections between the people who run our county and the people who have come up with or are openly backing the Wye Park proposal. And here’s another one, make of it what you will:
On May 23, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent — Alan Willett CMG — is hosting a lunch at his house in Chilham. We have no idea what fine vintages will be drunk, nor what Kentish Fayre will be consumed but we do know that the subject of the discussions will be Imperial’s ambitions and we do know who is on the guest list:
- Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College
- Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Deputy Rector of Imperial College
- Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, newly enobled chairman of the Local Government Association, former leader of Kent County Council, signatory to the original ‘concordat’ and a man who can’t seem to decide whether he’s in favour of Imperial concreting over half the AONB or not
- Paul Carter, current KCC leader, second ‘concordat’ signatory and cheerleader for Imperial
- Paul Clokie, leader of Ashford Borough Council, signatory to both concordats and a man who recently told colleagues that he would not meet anybody from Wye to discuss their concerns under any circumstances
- Dr Hilary Newport, the director of the Kent branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE)
- Charles Findlay, strangely silent member of Kent County Council for Wye
And here are two who have been invited but, we understand, have not yet responded to the invitation:
- Damian Green, MP for Ashford who was rather slow out of the blocks on the Wye Park scheme but is now making noises about it
- Ian Cooling, Wye’s borough councillor
Alan Willett: Lord Lieutenant
What’s all this got to do with the price of executive housing? The lunch, according to the invitations sent, will be a chance for all those connected with the proposals to ‘get to know each other socially’. We do not know whether Mr Willett is doing this as part of his official role or what his views on the project are.
But we do know two things:
- Alan Willett recently opined in Kent on Sunday on the need for Kent to embrace new opportunities. This is what he said: ‘We can live in fear of rapid and far-reaching change, or we can draw upon the lessons of our history here in Kent and adopt and adapt these new forces as we have done so many times over the last two millennia. It is all a question of finding the balance between change and continuity. And I have no doubt that with a strong sense of belonging and pride in our great county, Kent’s many varied communities will meet these.’
- He is, among other things, the director of a property holding and development company called Arkady which, in March last year, changed its name from Arkady Properties. According to the accounts filed in March last year, Arkady made a loss of £56,374 on a turnover of £18,495.and had assets (in property) of £1,455,462 and investments of £1,479,110.
Arkady Ltd also increased its share capital twice last year. Firstly, in June from £1,000 to £6million and then, again, in October from £6million to £12million. Mr Willett was also allotted extra shares twice last year: in June, he was allotted £3,523,560 in £1 ordinary shares and in August was allotted a further £1,748,274.
Derek Wyatt: A big wide vision of Kent’s science parks
We also know that Mr Willett is the father in law of one Derek Wyatt, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, who, as keen Kent Connections (subtitled the ‘Brooks Wilson Pinball Machine’) enthusiasts will know, is the only person to have raised Imperial’s proposals in Parliament. Mr Wyatt has been lobbying the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to stop the expansion of the so-called Kent Science Park at Sittingbourne and spoke enthusiastically about the Wye Park in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on March 29. This is what he said:
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a science enthusiast and has increased science research funding substantially in successive Budgets, but at university level. At the same time, he has ensured that our investment in share option tax breaks are better than those of California. According to last year’s league tables in “The Times Good University Guide”, notwithstanding the usual reservation about league tables, Kent was placed 44th and Greenwich was 94th. However, Kent has one newcomer, which constitutes the most stimulating part of the discussion. It is Imperial college, which is currently in Kensington, but owns Wye College near Ashford.
‘Imperial is ranked third in the UK, after Cambridge and Oxford, but first in technology and science. Although it is a university college of London, it recently announced its determination to become a full-blown university. Imperial is hampered by its location at Kensington, and it could not develop a science park except on its site at Wye.
‘I was the only Member of Parliament who attended the Kent and Medway discussions on science parks in September 2004. Kent county council said then that there was no intention to develop a science park at Ashford. However, late last year it announced a £1 billion science and technology park to be based at Wye college and run by Imperial and Kent county council.
‘I am not sure that one can have two science parks in Kent — one in Sittingbourne and the £1 billion science park. There is simply not enough investment or companies. If I were a young entrepreneur and I had a choice, I would choose Imperial, because of its history, rather than an independent science park.
‘The downgrading of the Kent science park to a technology cluster means that it will be no more than a glorified business park. The Minister should seriously consider asking the Thames gateway to downgrade the Kent science park as a flagship project, because it has been superseded by events at Imperial.
‘Let me state some of the things that the Kent science park wants to do. According to its website yesterday, it wants to increase its floor space to 145,000 sq m. It wants a new £29 million motorway junction and southern relief road to connect the science park to the M2 and A2. It wants approximately 5,000 new dwellings—on top of the 8,000 that my community has already been asked to provide in the next 10 years. It wants a £3 million enhancement to the public transport system as a link to it, through the provision of additional buses and bus routes. We are not sure who will pay for that. It is prepared to put down a £5 million endowment for providing the academic campus but I believe that that, again, that is superseded by Imperial’s intentions.’
It seems a shame that Mr Willett did not think to include his son-in-law, who clearly has strong views about the Wye Park scheme and science parks in general, on the guest list.