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.
You 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.