There is a time bomb ticking underneath the desks of local politicians and council officials in Kent. It’s marked ‘Wye Park’ and with the publication of Imperial’s own private presentation today it just got an awful lot louder.
The damning words are there on page eighteen of the presentation given to Imperial’s management board, under the section entitled Context/Objectives. After two smug self-congratulatory sentences declaring that a ‘specific Wye reference’ has now been added to the draft east Kent and Ashford sub region of the South East Plan and the Draft Regional Economic Strategy, the report adds…
Though some politicians in Kent seem to have forgotten the fact, there are rules governing the way local authorities deal with the planning and development process. They’re not hard to understand. If you think of why we elect representatives in the first place — to, er, represent us — they make common sense. Councillors and officers are supposed to remain neutral on planning developments until they come before a committee for a decision. The rules on this are strict. They say that any councillor who is viewed to have pre-judged a matter is no longer impartial and must take no further part in the planning process.
This is the very argument Paul Clokie, the leader of Ashford Council, has been throwing in threatening terms in the direction of Peter Davison, the leader of the Independents who has had the temerity to question the Wye Park plan. Never mind that Cllr Clokie, in signing the Concordat in support of Imperial, appears to have thrown his hat in the ring with the builders already. Anyone who has an opposite view is threatened with being banned from key meetings or worse.
Signing the Concordat was bad enough. But read Imperial’s own words again. It says that its working policy for the draft Ashford Core Strategy was produced with the advice of its own legal counsel (which is acceptable) and ‘politicians support’. Not even ‘politicians advice’, note, but support. In other words some local politicians — plural, so it’s more than one — had told Imperial in June that they backed Wye Park, even before they had seen a single plan. And these, remember, are the selfsame local authorities to which Imperial must apply for planning permission to build its huge encroachment to the AONB. Can anyone reading the words above expect that those who oppose Imperial’s plans can now look forward to a fair and impartial hearing from the councils that will make the decision?
This is a perversion of democracy, whatever one’s particular political persuasion. We argued earlier this week that the stench of rottenness hanging over Ashford Borough Council can only be cleared with an independent inquiry. This simple sentence, in a presentation Imperial never thought would become public, make that demand even more urgent today — and we must now extend it to Kent County Council, too. Until these two authorities publicly come clean on why they have behaved in this extraordinary fashion, they cannot hope to claim to be the impartial judges of the development process their electorates have the right to expect.
Politics gets two more mentions in the selfsame report. Under ‘Next Steps/Decisions’, Imperial says that as part of ‘delivery to Sept/Oct’ it will be examining ‘political feasibility’. With whom one wonders? A couple of pages earlier, under the heading ‘Reputation/Political’, the document mentions as a risk the question of ‘Stability of Political Environment’.
And well might they worry.