Now the nationals are starting to look

It took a while, but Wye Park is now beginning to creep onto the national agenda, in ways which surely won’t make for easier sleeping within the ramparts of Imperial College. The Sunday Times has today produced a long and detailed article on the plan, focusing on the opposition to it, the threat to the countryside, and raising the possibility that there may be animal testing on any new site.

The paper’s deputy political editor interviewed Imperial’s rector Professor Sir Richard Sykes for the article who boasted, ‘It would be research at the cutting edge. The government is very interested.’ He also told her that Imperial would up sticks and abandon the area if it ran into serious planning problems (though most locals would argue they are in that position already).

Kent County Council told the journalist that opposition to the scheme was so entrenched ‘it is certain to lead to a public inquiry’. The article also features Countess Sondes, the American-born aristocrat whose attempts to attract a small non-foods research centre backed by the UN to Wye spurred Imperial into its much larger attempt to build several hundred acres of housing and ‘science’ park.

Sondes told the Sunday Times, ‘Imperial’s work is stunning — their science is superb. I hope my centre could be located at their science park. We would be so fortunate to have this centre of excellence here.”

She is not involved in the housing developments. Nor is her ‘here’ the same as our ‘here’ either. She lives many miles away on the Lees Court estate in Faversham, though if she wanted her ‘here’ to be our ‘here’ she has plenty of opportunity, since she owns 4,500 acres there. I wouldn’t keep your fingers crossed though.

Finally… many thanks to all of you who keep e-mailing asking for more information about the secret meeting which appears to have taken place at Kent County Council headquarters on Tuesday involving Paul Clokie, of Ashford Borough Council, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the former KCC leader, Wye borough councillor Ian Cooling, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, and David Brooks Wilson. We will happily publish any information on this little tête-a-tête if people wish to provide it.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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20 Responses to Now the nationals are starting to look

  1. J Arthur says:

    I would feel confident that if Mr Cooling did attend this meeting he would, through save-wye and elsewhere immediately tell all what was discussed and the outcome.

    He has steadfastly condemned the Concordat secrecy and would not be party to a similar style of conduct.

  2. Sarah says:

    I don’t understand. Why is the wife of a deceased aristocrat who owns loads of land not a million miles away from the Kent Science Park in Sittingbourne, who also has some rather good dinner party contacts in the UN (don’t we all?!) being used to promote Imperial’s vision for Wye?

  3. David Hewson says:

    I think perhaps we need a section entitled ‘Things we don’t understand…’

    Sadly I suspect it might be rather long!

  4. Kerry Bethel says:

    Perhaps the good lady herself, Countess Sondes, would care to network with the Wye Residents as well as she does with her dinner party coterie and explain the part she is playing in the potential devastation of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty?

  5. David Hewson says:

    Anyone who would like to make representations to Countess Sondes can do so through her website at, in writing or by e-mail. Judging by the tone of her website, which seems very countryside-friendly, one would think she would be against the destruction of AONB countryside.

  6. Sid Smith says:

    Surely Cllr Cooling will now brief the Parish Council on the “secret” meeting to enable them (P.C.) to pass the relevant details on to the parishiners of Wye.This would enhance his stance and reputation by further opposing development on as promised in previous statements.

  7. Ian Cooling says:

    David, apologies for taking so long to respond – distracted by the Bank Holiday weekend, but here goes. As usual with Cooling, preliminary apologies for another cliff of words! –

    Yes, there was a meeting in Maidstone – a working lunch in fact. It was a replacement for the lunch that Allan Willett was originally to host. The idea was picked up by Paul Carter, the KCC Leader; who also developed a little further.

    Like you, I was very puzzled by the somewhat lop-sided guest list first time round. I mentioned this to others and the second list was a more balanced effort with the invitation net widened to include a number of individuals representing stakeholder groups (mainly environmental and conservationist) from outside Wye, as well as local government and Imperial. In other words, a mini version of the sort of consultation Imperial have finally got round to running in Wye, but with the net cast a little wider

    And will I be telling everyone what went on? ‘Fraid not – but before J Arthur and the erstwhile Sid Smith start to melt their keyboards with outraged indignation, let me explain why.

    You and others who have read my March Open Letter to the Village will know that I see my principal role at this stage of whatever process it is we are involved in, as making sure that the views of the community of Wye as a whole are heard and heeded.

    By that, I mean the whole community of Wye – including those who don’t join groups, write letters to the papers, contribute to websites or speak into anything that looks like a microphone whenever one drifts past. It is important to me that the quiet voices have their opportunity to be heard as well as the noisy. To these ends, I shall continue to talk to anyone who wants to hear me and listen to anyone who wants to talk to me – and that includes Imperial, KCC and the rest outside the village, as well as the residents of Wye.

    I was invited to this particular lunch meeting as Wye’s Borough Councillor and was therefore at the table as advocate for my community. In that role, some of the key points I made, in the margins of the meeting or to the table as a whole, were as follows: First, the two main worries I hear voiced in the village at the moment are: 1. That there should be no massive development on green field sites within the Imperial estate and 2. That the more strident voices will cause Imperial to shrug their shoulders, walk away and close down the College.

    Following on from the latter point, I went on to make clear that, for example, the negativity and cynicism of more than a little of the content on this site is in no way typical of mainstream opinion in the community. It is my view that the number of individuals writing or commenting on the site is tiny compared with the totality of those affected by whatever may happen at Wye. So, while the site has played a very important role in this issue and I hope it will continue to do so, I stressed that it is important not to give undue weight to the views expressed here, within the totality of the debate.

    I went on to say that another minority view, which should not be regarded in any other light whatsoever, is that offered at the last Withersdane consultation. Namely, that ever more lengthy waits at the level crossing and ever more damage and decay to the lanes leading into and out of Wye are in some ill-defined way “very good things”. They are, of course, nothing of the sort. And the community has been telling me to “do something” about both for many months – long before Imperial’s “vision” was revealed.

    A final point I made was to remind those at the table that 35% of any housing built would be for affordable housing. This is an important issue that I very much identify with. I well remember Karen Hymers (who helps run our village football teams) telling me not all that long ago that of the then 31 playing members of Wye Wanderers, 14 were born in the village, grew up in the village, still identify with the village sufficiently to turn out for our football teams – but can no longer afford to live in the village. If some of those young families can return to their village, I shall be well content.

    And that was the essence of my role at the table, with some examples of the points I made. It is not for me to report the words of others from such a gathering. If anyone does, it should probably be the host. Call me old fashioned, but I truly believe that if I am to act effectively for my village, people must be able to trust me not to run to the press, this website or the bar of the New Flying Horse after every such meeting.

    There is one simple reason for this – if I cannot keep my mouth shut, then I will not be invited again. If that happens, other doors will be closed to me and my ability to act as an effective advocate for my village will be severely damaged. No longer will I be able to take the village’s views, concerns and worries to the top tables and to the key individual decision-makers. In my view, that would not be a particularly sensible way for me to go about my business as Wye’s Borough Councillor.

    So, J Arthur, I hope you will agree firstly, that there really is no direct comparison to be drawn between the past nonsense surrounding the so-called “Concordat” and my present dealings with the high heid yins as advocate for my village. And secondly, that for me to maintain my personal discretion in present circumstances is a positive and not a negative for Wye.

    Naturally, I’m more than happy to respond to any queries arising out of this lot.


  8. J Arthur says:

    The whole tenor of Mr Cooling’s comments are showing a marked drift away from his previous position of opposing any development on AONB/green field land to ” no massive development” on green field land. What does this mean? Only grabbing 200 acres instead of 400? His current position clearly shows he is moving towards the Imperial position. This is very worrying, indeed.

    He makes much of being the conduit of all views in the village as if he and he alone was bearing the brunt of an enormous range of different opinions whereas it is very clear that the overwhelming majority viz. the mainstream, want the college to remain and are happy to see a sensistive redevelopment on existing brown field sites. To pretend differently is a diversionary tactic.

    Never has there been a more important point in Wye’s history for its elected representatives to be prepared to willingly and openly report what occurs at meetings attended by them on the village’s behalf. Our heritage is under attack!

    Mr Cooling must learn to grasp the reality that it is more important to retain the trust of villagers than to toady up to intending developers of the AONB!

  9. M Sorken says:

    I would like to echo comments made by J Arthur, Ian Cooling should let his feet touch the ground long enough to realise what his priorities really are. I can just imagine how Mr Cooling’s chest swells in self-righteousness as he comes up with words such as cynisism and negativity to describe the decent effort made by to reveal the truth in this ghastly business. What an outrage!

  10. David Hewson says:

    When people start describing any journalism as ‘cynicism’ and ‘negativity’ what they generally mean is: I wish that had never been said. There are clearly occasions for secrecy in local government. There are also occasions for frankness, and I happen to believe this is one, though there are restrictions on local councillors in this area, and we hope to write more about that soon. That said, I am cynical about the motives of some of the organisations involved here and decidedly negative about any plans to build in the AONB, though I could be very keen and enthusiastic for a genuine plan to renew the College that Imperial has so assiduously destroyed.

    As to whether this site is representative of general opinion in Wye I have no idea. To be honest I don’t know what ‘representative’ means in a situation where those who have the information sit on it in near silence, and when they do speak either talk in riddles or contradict what they’ve said earlier. As we’ve made plain from the beginning, we are not here to be a representative campaign, simply a place that hopes to raise some real and interesting questions (though whether you agree with them or not is up to you).

    And finally, thanks to the lady — a complete stranger — who ran up to me while I was posting a letter last Sunday and said how grateful she was for what we were doing. Though doubtless she was unrepresentative too…

    As I have said time and time again, if people wish to write articles that take contrary views we will happily run them. Unfortunately we’ve not had a single offer from anyone who thinks Wye Park is a wonderful idea.

    PS. A quote from the late Lillian Hellman: Cynicism is an unpleasant way of telling the truth.

  11. G West says:

    I must take issue with Ian Cooling for saying that alot of the content on this site did not represent the mainstream view within the village.

    I cannot recall an article or comment that advocates anything other than for the College to be encouraged to retain a presence in Wye and be allowed to redevelop on existing brownfield sites but NOT to use any greenfield land for commercial or residential enabling development.

    This, Mr Cooling, is what the vast majority of villagers want and save-wye should not be disregarded for allowing these views to be expressed. As a politician you should be aware of active minority interest as you were probably elected by only a meagre portion of the possible total electorate.

  12. J Arthur says:

    Forgot to ask Mr Cooling “other than some bodies from outside the village who did you recommend to represent WPC, WFG or other bodies or individuals from Wye at this luncheon?”

    Or was it just you and you won’t say what happened! This really is a no win situation for the villagers.

  13. International Centre for Non-Food Crops
    Sunday Times, May 28th 2006 – Comments

    I would like to clarify on some of the comments which were made in the article which appeared in the Sunday Times, 28th May.

    1.The proposed International Centre for Non-Food Crops is totally independent. We are not involved in any plans for development at the Imperial College Wye Campus. However, we have had preliminary discussions with Imperial College about the possibility of co-locating with them. It is my understanding that Imperial College is yet undecided as to whether it will put forward a planning application for a Science Park and Housing Development at Wye. Where the International Centre for Non-Food Crops is eventually sited is still in the planning stages – it could be in the UK or abroad.

    2.The International Centre for Non-Food Crops will not be involved directly in research.

    3.The International Centre for Non-Food Crops will not be limited to the area of bio-fuels. We believe other uses of crops will be central to our work including industrial, pharmaceutical, neutraceutical and personal care.

    4.Discussion about an International Centre for Non-Food Crops began at a dinner in New York for African Parks hosted by Paul Van Vlissingen and Richard Burge.

    5.My quote of “once in a life-time opportunity” relates to the opportunity that exists today to bring change using non-food crops and working with the infrastructure of the United Nations in helping the developing world and lessening dependence on fossil fuels. There is a strong view we are looking at the “next revolution in agriculture”. The “once in a life time opportunity” was not intended to relate to the Science Park at Wye.

    6.We are in discussion with the United Nations and the World Bank. This is a very ambitious project and is in the early stages of discussion.

    7.I would never think of this project as anything other than “our project” as opposed to “my project” as I have worked closely with many extremely talented and committed people.

    8.I have no financial gain from developing this Centre.

    The Countess Sondes

  14. Ian Cooling says:

    Hmm, not for the first time, do I find it slightly ironic that those swift to make accusations of secrecy (coupled with some rather curious personal comments that may or may not help move the discussion forward), do so from behind the secrecy of aliases.

    But no matter – some specific rejoinders:

    1. My position on the greenfield land is unchanged. To quote from an earlier posting up here “What is and remains unacceptable to that same large majority (of the villagers), would be speculative money-making development on greenfield land within the AONB. And that is where my personal line is drawn too”. If “J Arthur” reads that as “moving towards Imperial’s position” he is, quite simply, wrong.

    2. Wilful misreading of my posting above is therefore a matter for “J Arthur” to discuss with himself. But to help that conversation, may I also make clear that I never have and never will claim to be the sole “conduit” nor to be the only person carrying any “burden” of message. To suggest that is to exhibit quite an unusual lack of awareness of the much-praised work of the Parish Council along with WFG, the Withersdane consultation group and so on. Of course all have been making clear the wishes of the community to keep the College open and for building to take place on brownfield sites – but I was the only person making those points that day and to that gathering. We (all of us) need to hammer that message home as often as we can and in as many ways as we can. Of course my contribution is only one contribution; to suggest that I think otherwise is inexplicable.

    3. I have made clear my reasons why I shall not be breaching the confidences of all sides, villagers included, at or about such discussions. I’m content to be judged by the community as a whole on the value and rightness of my doing so. Let me give an example of the sort of confidence from a resident that I shall protect. One of the villagers who discussed affordable housing with me said that s/he would not be at all worried if some of the greenfield land was used to build some affordable houses, quoting the example of Long’s Acre. Sadly, s/he went on to say “but don’t tell anyone I said so or I’ll get a brick though my window from the antis.” That villager spoke to me in the way s/he did because s/he knew I could be trusted not to blab the name around the village. Trust built in this way can be of help to a wide range of people in a wide number of ways. Once broken it is gone forever and in all ways.

    4. With regards to the comments of “M Sorken,” (so easily moved to “outrage”) on my priorities, I would again point to an earlier statement I made: “My priority is clear: I have lived in this village for over 35 years and I have every intention of spending the rest of my days here. I was elected to my position on the Borough Council by the villagers of Wye and the wider Parish beyond – I was not elected by Imperial College, nor by ABC, nor by KCC. I owe my duty to Wye. As a Borough Councillor, I have a wider duty, in law, to the Borough as a whole – but I am clear that my prime duty is to the people of Wye.”

    5. To David, I’m afraid I’m not alone in seeing more than a little negativity and cynisism in the writings and comments on this site. I don’t actually have any problem with that, I would certainly agree with you that there are few things more useful in such circumstances than a healthy dose of cynicism. What does worry me slightly is the Nelsonian view (not yours, t’others) that nothing of the sort is happening. Perhaps even more worrying is that when I suggest to those who would like to see other views up here that the best way of achieving that is for them to post their own views, the most common response is “there’s no point, their minds are made up”. I know this is not the case, but it is worth bearing in mind this is the impression that has unfortunately been created over the past few months in the minds of others.

    6. On “G West’s’” points, as with “J Arthur” there is what I can only assume is a wilful misreading of my comments. As I have made clear more than once, here and elsewhere, I welcome the existence of the Save-Wye website. One of the most significant contributions to the entire debate since it emerged into the public arena last December, has been Justin’s skilful, professional and presistent use of the FOI legislation. As I have also said up here, in the early days I was receiving more information from the site than I was from the local government machinery – a bizarre situation.

    7. With regards to minority interests, may I suggest that a closer reading of what I have written here and elsewhere would confirm that my approach throughout has been to keep in touch with the community as a whole so I can represent their views, including the views of the minorities.

    8. Finally, “J Arthur’s” postscript. I made no specific recommendations as to who should be at the table, merely that there should be a wider range of views represented than on the guest list for the original lunch meeting. The choice of who should be invited was the host’s and I played no part in the choice.

  15. David Hewson says:

    Just to reiterate… we have called for a variety of opinions here many times. We have never once received an offer of an article from someone in favour of the development. Nor have I ever met anyone in the village or the neighbouring area who has been of that opinion, but if you’d like to write something, do please get in touch.

    In the very first article on this site last December I wrote, ‘This website exists so that people who are interested in and affected by these proposals can air their views, from both sides, and allow the residents of the Wye area to make an informed opinion about their future.’

    Nothing’s changed. And we’re still waiting for the other side, wherever they are.

    I should also point out that we are still waiting for a response from Pete Raine to the one inaccuracy a council figure has claimed which you will find in the comments here:

    I want this site to be accurate and I’m more than happy to correct mistakes. But if offers to clarify these ‘mistakes’ go untaken then the people who feel they are being hard done by have only themselves to blame.

  16. J Arthur says:

    When Mr Cooling is faced with difficult questions or points of view that differ from his own he resorts to verbosity, wild unfounded accusations of others wilfully misrepresenting his words or actions and uncorroborated stories of the threat of intimidation being prevalent in the village. This is a pity and does nothing to move the debate onto the actual issues.

    However, everyone will be delighted that he has reconfirmed that he is opposed to any development on AONB/green field land.

  17. J Osborne says:

    Presumably Ian Cooling’s comments about anyone making a comment on this site revealing their identity, would apply to the abolition of secrecy at the ballot boxes and his revealing the name or names of those casting the most dreadful aspersions of potential intimidation existing in the village?

  18. J Arthur says:

    If Mr Cooling is confronted with a difficult question or a view different to his own he attempts to fudge with verbosity, make wild unfounded allegations of wilful misrepresentation and uncorroborated assertions that a vein of spiteful intimidation runs through the village. It is a pity because this approach does not raise the level of the debate to the point of addressing the issues.

    However, on a positive note it was good to see Mr Cooling reconfirm that he OPPOSES any development of AONB/green field land around the village.

  19. Ian Cooling says:

    For “J Arthur”.

    Happy to let other readers judge whether you are misrepresenting my comments, wilfully or otherwise. Yes, the illustration of the sort of confidence I shall always respect will remain uncorroborated until the person concerned gives me the go-ahead to say who they are.

    With regards to the wider issues of the extent to which feelings in the village are running high, perhaps too high, I refer you to the transcript of the Vicar’s sermon at the village service, which is available in the current issue of the Parish Magazine.

    For “J Osborne” – No and Yes (see above).

  20. David Hewson says:

    OK – I am now closing this thread because it has wandered a million miles from the subject of this story and is getting rather tetchy. I can’t believe anyone in Wye seriously believes they will get a brick through the window because of an opinion and I hope anyone from outside reading this thread realises that is totally out of keeping with the village.

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