Ever get the feeling you’re being stitched up?

You would have thought, given the fiasco of the concordats and the threat of complaints to the local government ombudsman, that some of our most senior public servants would learn to shut up when it comes to their enthusiasm for Wye Park and all things Imperial.

charterhouse.jpgYou would have thought, perhaps, that senior officers at both Ashford and Kent County Council would refrain from talking enthusiastically about a scheme that would not only breach national planning law but which, we are told repeatedly ‘is only an idea, not a plan’. So it is with considerable surprise and dismay that we learn of a particular conversation between two officials of KCC at a recent visit by Yvette Cooper, housing minister, to Ashford.

There they were — one of them a very senior officer already familiar to readers and a lower-ranking official — gazing out of the window of that concrete and largely vacant white elephant, Charter House, in the general direction of Wye and the North Downs.

‘That’s the area where Imperial hopes to have this development,’ said our senior cheerleader for Sir Richard Sykes.

‘Won’t it be difficult to get it through planning restrictions?’ asked the underling.

‘They have been trying to get planning restrictions in Wye lifted for years.’

‘Any chance of success this time?’

And the response of our senior public servant? ‘Oh, yes.’

Not, ‘I don’t know, there’s not been an application,’ or ‘It’ll be down to the local planning authority,’ or even, ‘I don’t know, a planning inspector will decide this one.’ Just: ‘Oh, yes.’

Very little surprises us any more but this does. Even in a county run by people who are linked to developers through a series of not-for-profit companies we like to call the Brooks Wilson Pinball Machine, this exchange is astonishing.

Readers may well ask about democracy, about national planning policy and guidance, about weighing an application against the environmental damage it would cause. But it seems that, before a single line has been written on a planning note, some of our most senior public servants have decided that this development is going to proceed and to hell with the small matters of democracy and the protection afforded by the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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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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3 Responses to Ever get the feeling you’re being stitched up?

  1. Kerry Bethel says:

    Who was the blabbermouth?

    (a) Pete Raine

    (b) Countess Raine of Dartmouth

    (c) Claude Rains

    No prizes offered.

  2. Jo says:

    Who is the ‘they’ who have been ‘trying to get planning restrictions in Wye lifted for years’? ABC? KCC? Kelly’s oft-renamed department? Property developers?

    However, another department (DEFRA) recently published a report which one hopes will give a little food for thought to Kelly.

    “Conservationists have identified increased house building as one of the main threats to endangered species and habitats, new research revealed this week. The report, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pinpointed new homes as a particular concern for wildlife. Two thirds of the lead partners from the UK Biodiversity Partnership thought new developments were a significant threat. New infrastructure, mainly housing related, had been identified as a significant threat to habitats in more biodiversity plans than anything else, including global warming. The planning system would have a crucial role to play in safeguarding biodiversity, the report said.” (as reported in Inside Housing, 23/6/06).

  3. Jo says:

    PS Kerry, I’ll go for (a).

    Mr Raine is apparently fortunate enough to have a second home in France – I assume it’s somewhere nice in the countryside, where he can escape to for peace, quiet and greenery.

    Perhaps he should reflect on the fact that most people who live in Wye (or anywhere else, for that matter) can’t afford two homes, and this IS their quiet home in the countryside.

    Where will WE escape to when Wye becomes a traffic-full town of 10,000+?

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