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.
‘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.’
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