So what do you think really happened?

Alan Paterson writes…

It’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the main points of the Concordat Paul Carter as Leader of KCC, and Paul Clokie as Leader of ABC signed with Imperial last 6th December.

Amongst the ‘Collective Goals’ are the creation of world-class facilities for scientific research, administrative facilities, social and leisure facilities and housing of an appropriate range to cater for a broad spectrum of householders. The project is referred to as ‘Wye Park’ and has the potential to deliver at least 12,500 high quality jobs in the wider Ashford area. Under ‘Funding’ there is the statement that ‘The local authorities recognise that some of that funding will need to be derived from Imperial College’s landholding at Wye’. All these details are clearly set out in the agreement.

Any number of us from Wye were present on 23rd March when Cllr Clokie declared that at the moment he signed the Concordat he believed Imperial’s intention was merely to develop brownfield land.

You might think that publicly-elected officials would know that the whole Imperial landholding is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and would have the wit to ask of Imperial “how big might it be?” – and also know (or at least find out before signing) that Imperial has only some 60 acres of ‘brownfield’ land.

Five possibilities exist. (1) Either Mr Clokie was disingenuous to us in his own Council Chamber (surely unthinkable) or (2) he had been dangerously and irresponsibly naive in not asking Imperial any questions about scale and the extent of their brownfield land. The possibility that (3) Imperial deliberately misled Mr Clokie should also be unthinkable (since if that were the case surely he would quickly have realised that he had been duped and would have refused to have any further dealings with them). Or (4) having been given a ‘nod and a wink’ did he deliberately not ask the extent of their intentions so that he could subsequently be surprised by their scale?

Or was it the case that (5) given the comfort afforded them by the Concordat, Imperial greatly expanded their intentions after the Leaders of KCC and ABC had signed their Concordat?

Which of these is most likely you must judge for yourself, but villagers were told at a public meeting on 9th January by Imperial’s Deputy Rector that since they had a £300/400m shortfall in funding they would need to raise that by building extensively on greenfield land. Remember that the Concordat had been signed only 5 weeks before.

Of course we now know that the 6th December Concordat, for public consumption and to create a ‘photo-opportunity’, was a much later second version of a previous even more secret agreement!

Mr Clokie has always maintained that the Concordat has no legal or binding effect. If it did not exist, would ABC employees have been conferring with Imperial’s agents in helping draft the Local Development Framework documentation by mid-April?

And what are they doing conferring over policy wordings with any developer in any case? Can this be legal? For a developer to have preliminary consultations with a planning authority is commonplace, but then to be invited to help draft the local policy……………???

If this is the way local government works hereabouts then it stinks! At least in a banana republic you don’t expect fairness, openness or ethical standards – but maybe the bananas that have matured this summer are trying to tell us something?

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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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One Response to So what do you think really happened?

  1. David Hewson says:

    I have no idea what has actually happened, though it’s difficult to think of another possibility outside the five outlined here. But I believe we have the right to be told. It is surely becoming clear that there needs to be some form of independent inquiry, reporting publicly, into the entire process which led to the signing of the Concordats and Imperial’s extraordinarily privileged ability to try to shape public planning policy in private.

    This would be in the interests of Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council too, since at the moment both authorities stand, deservedly, accused of either incompetence or duplicity in trying to further what would have been, in the words of one of its proponents, the biggest construction project in Kent since the Channel Tunnel rail link. The Wye Park saga calls into question the basic functioning of local government in Kent. It is in everyone’s interests that the air is cleared on these matters. But what are the odds on any of our local councillors and MPs backing that call?

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