It was barely one month before Sir Richard Sykes brought him on board as Imperial College’s Director of Estates and he was just a few months into his job as the vice-chairman of planning committee of the South East Regional Assembly. But David Brooks Wilson — the new Wye Park supremo — was writing letters to ministers objecting to the Government’s plan to strip county councils of their role in the planning process … letters which now make very curious reading for anybody interested in the concordat saga.
Mr Brooks Wilson wrote two identical letters on March 18, 2002 to Lord Falconer, then the minister of housing, planning and regeneration, and one on the same date to Stephen Byers, the secretary of state in the Transport and Local Government office. The proposals, published in a green paper in December 2001, were driven through when Byers’ local government powers were subsumed into John Prescott’s now-defunct Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Brooks Wilson chose to write the letters on the headed notepaper of the real estate advisory company, Noble Wilson, which he is chairman and CEO of. Noble Wilson, it is claimed, has offices in London, Seoul and Hong Kong and advises companies in Europe, the US and Asia but made a loss of £4,000 last year, had assets of £223 and had just £347 in the bank. Its accounts since incorporation in 2001 suggest that the company has never carried out any substantial transactions.
Mr Brooks Wilson had not long left his previous position — as managing director of Eurotunnel Developments — when he wrote the letters. This is what he said:
‘As the CBI and Business Representative on the South East England Regional Assembly may I say that whilst the objectives of the review are welcome and overdue, the proposals as they stand are extremely unlikely to fulfil the aims of speedier and more predictable planning decisions.
‘In particular, the transfer of the English County planning powers to others will result in the loss of a strategic vision in terms of the planning process, resulting in more parochialism and the extra layers of consultative community liaison will put two more layers into the planning process.
‘All these factors militate against speed and from a business perspective are to be deplored.’
David Brooks Wilson: Factors are to be ‘deplored’
Let’s leave aside the timing of these letters — as stated above, just three weeks before joining Sykes’s Imperial — and look at the first curiosity: Mr Brooks Wilson was writing in his capacity as CBI rep on SEERA objecting to the proposals contained within the green paper. This is intriguing because the CBI had already decided that it was in favour of the proposals. Indeed, Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, had said when welcoming the Government’s plans: ‘Our planning process is the best friend that the economies of France and Germany have.’ So why did Mr Brooks Wilson decide to write to the Government and contradict his parent organisation’s position?
Clearly, Sir Richard Sykes could not have known about the letters before he appointed Mr Brooks Wilson, but the defence of county councils’ role in planning is extraordinarily prophetic for concordat watchers. As we all know, it was Kent County Council which initiated discussions with Imperial about the future of Wye and it is the same body that has expressed the most enthusiasm for Imperial’s ‘vision’. KCC has, as a result of the changes to planning procedure, little say over Wye Park but of course this did not stop it successfully lobbying SEERA on Imperial’s behalf.
Back in 2002, Mr Brooks Wilson was concerned about ‘more parochialism’ and ‘the extra layers of consultative community liaison’ the Government proposed — both direct references to scrap local and county plans and introduce so-called Local Development Frameworks with their commitments to local consultation. Again, this has proved amazingly prophetic considering how Ashford Borough Council has, despite intense lobbying, toned down its support for Imperial College in its own LDF and written to SEERA objecting to the enthusiasm for the Wye Park project in the South East Plan. And just a few weeks ago, Mr Brooks Wilson met Ashford’s planning chief, Richard Alderton, to press the council to wrap up the community consultation on the LDF before Imperial’s governing body meets next month. Sadly for Imperial, his mission failed and the consultation will finish long after the Imperial Council meeting.
Mr Brooks Wilson lost his position on SEERA in August 2002, but by then he was getting stuck into the property portfolio in South Kensington. The rundown of Imperial’s Kent possession had started and it was already breaking the promises it made to the governors of Wye College during the takeover.
Within 18 months, Ernst & Young had been called in to draw up a plan called ‘Project Alchemy’. Perhaps, given Mr Brooks Wilson’s lobbying of ministers in 2002, a better title would have been ‘Project Prophesy’.
You can read Mr Brooks Wilson’s letter here