Revealed: the sham of the ‘environment group’

The environment group supposedly set up by Kent County Council’s strategic planning director Pete Raine to consider the impact of Imperial plans for Wye is a sham being orchestrated by the college.

Documents released by KCC under the Freedom of Information Act show the committee — officially known as the Wye Environmental Consultation Group (WECG) — is being run by Imperial after a suggestion by Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the college’s deputy rector, to Mr Raine. The two letters also reveal that some of those who sit on the group were asked to join it by Mr Raine before Imperial College made public its plans with the second ‘concordat’ in December last year. The group is chaired by Mr Raine and boasts representatives from Imperial College, the Environment Agency, CPRE Kent and the Kent Wildlife Trust among its members. Also on the group is Diana Pound — the former member of Wye Future Group who is now representing WFG in planning matters. Mrs Pound worked with Mr Raine in the 1990s.

Nick Johannsen, the director of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has refused to join the group after raising concerns about Mr Raine’s impartiality over the Wye Park proposal. Regular readers will be familiar with Mr Raine’s publicly confessed enthusiasm for Imperial’s ‘vision’. The release of the two letters appears to confirm Mr Johannsen’s concerns about the neutrality of the group.

In the first letter dated March 10, Prof Sir Leszek writes to Mr Raine: ‘Clearly any future planning application would require an Environmental Impact Assessment. Due to the lengthy nature of such an assessment, it is essential that we begin collating the baseline information and setting out its scope at the earliest opportunity.

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‘Imperial is currently seeking to appoint consultants to begin undertaking this work, but I would appreciate your assistance in establishing a consultation group that can make recommendations on the scope and parameters of the assessment.’

Prof Sir Leszek says that the task would benefit from Mr Raine’s ‘experience and authority in Kent’. He adds: ‘If you would be willing to act as an independent chairperson of such a group I would be delighted.’

The college’s deputy rector then suggests who should be invited onto the group and asks Mr Raine to contact them. He even offers Mr Raine a college pro-forma letter of invitation and says that Imperial ‘is happy to provide secretariat services if you think that appropriate’.

Prof Sir Leszek concludes by saying that he would expect the WECG and consultants appointed by Imperial to ‘work together in a constructive way’.

The second letter is from Mr Raine to those invited to join the group and is dated April 6 — a day before Mrs Pound posted an appeal on save-wye.org to Mr Raine to join the group. The opening two sentences suggest that at least some of those who are now members of the group were informed of Imperial’s plans before the announcement in December. Mr Raine says: ‘You will remember that we spoke before the Imperial College announcement at Wye in December. I said then that I was hoping that an environmental consultation group would be set up and you agreed to come along to it.’

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He adds: ‘The group’s initial remit will be to assist Imperial College’s environmental consultants, who are soon to be appointed, on developing the scope of an Environmental Impact Assessment which will be required should a planning application be submitted.’

Mr Raine says that he sees ‘the WECG as a means of providing professional and impartial advice to Imperial and their consultants so that the EIA can proceed sensibly and without bias’.

The letter is copied to Nigel Buck — then David Brooks Wilson’s deputy in the estates department at Imperial and now acting estates director — and Prof Sir Leszek.

You can read Prof Sir Leszek’s letter to Mr Raine here

and Mr Raine’s letter of invitation here

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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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2 Responses to Revealed: the sham of the ‘environment group’

  1. Simon Webster says:

    Everything Imperial has done with this project to date has been pretty shambolic, so its environment group may well be a “sham”. I am therefore delighted that a widely-repected, environmental expert; particularly one who is avowedly against any development in Wye’s area of outstanding natural beauty, is on the group.

    The group may be a sham but Diana’s well known opinions and professional credentials are anything but. All power to her elbow…

  2. G.M. says:

    Ashford Borough Planning Department is also in a shambles it seems when it comes to domestic outbuildings planning applications. A simple application for a wood building to house a double garage for off-street parking (Scotton Street) incorporating a Granny Flat to potentially house an 86 year old Granny has been rejected by Ashford Borough Council Planners on the grounds that :

    “The proposed building, by virtue of its height, mass, bulk, design and scale would represent an unduly large outbuilding of a size that cannot be considered subordinate or subservient to the main dwelling. As a result of the above in combination with its sitting to the rear of the established building line the building would represent backland development of a prominent, unsympathetic and incongruous form that relates poorly to grain, form and context of the surrounding area. Consequently the development would detract from and be harmful to the visual amenity of the area”

    One wonders who was given the job of making this selection of words for a building, architect designed, that cannot be seen from any of the houses on either side of us as it sits behind trees that are more than 100 feet from any neighboring buildings. It is on a boundary fence overlooking the Allotments and open countryside (owned by Imperial College) and that complies in all respects with current policy to get cars off the road and with Government Policy to support applications wherever possible to house our elderly at our homes.

    It was clear when the Planning Office arrived at the house that her intentions where not good. She arrived without an appointment, spoke only to introduce herself as a “stand in for the other person who usually does these things” and then she walked through the house and into the back garden all the while looking fixed at the ground. She then marched to the rear of the property and asked whether the area behind us was owned by Imperial College. She then turned took a few pictures of the trees and our driveway and departed without hardly a word. Of course we knew then what we had suspected all along: that it would be rejected because it faced Imperial College open land – there seems little other reason for it than that.

    Of course we will be appealing the decision, as the Planners have clearly misunderstood the application and their reasons seem quite odd given that the new building which is in effect a double garage with an upstairs area that only has windows looking over the open space and our own garden. There are also several other buildings in adjacent properties that run along the same fence line.

    Anyway, it seems rather odd that the only possible reason for rejection of this worthy development is that it overlooks Imperial College land.

    More particularly, it seems ridiculous when one looks at the proposed Imperial College Science Park, Research Centre and thousands of houses that will surround the Scotton Street houses, cause unbelievable traffic jams on Scotton Street, create a scare on our local areas of outstanding natural beauty and destroy the village way of life.

    Really ABC, you can do better than this. I am sure Sir Richard Sykes, Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the college’s deputy rector, Mr Raine and Mr. Brooks Wilson would not want Imperial College being shown up as not only anti-environmentalists, but also anti-the-elderly, biased and completely unrealistic for if this proposed Imperial College Plan is to go ahead, everyone on Scotton Street will need to have access to offstreet parking. Why? Because Scotton Street cannot cope with the College Traffic now, let alone with this monsterous plan to surround the Village on one side with houses and industrial buildings that will dwarf the Village and destroy the environment.

    May I suggest that someone with some sensitivity scrutinizes every planning application that comes from Wye from now on. Each rejected Planning Application from Wye Parish from now on may simply make Imperial College look like bullies who are intent on destroying the natural AONB in Kent with absolutely no regard for the village folk, the elderly or local community. In addition, these sorts of decisions could make Ashford Borough Council look like they are employed by Imperial College ; or that they are not in touch with the parking needs in Wye or Government Policy on housing the Elderly at home.; or that although they may be prepared to allow Imperial College to destroy the AONB, they have some other strange rules that apply to the local community when they say that “the development would detract from and be harmful to the visual amenity of the area” is almost impossible to believe that the ABC Planners could make such a strong statement about a small wood clad building that is architect designed to fit in with the area , is almost entirely hidden by trees, hedges and fences and is not overlooked by any other houses anywhere.

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