He has warned councillors not to be seen to take sides in the increasingly bitter battle over Wye Park or face being excluded from future debate on the subject. But Ashford Borough Council’s head of planning, Richard Alderton, appears to be only too pleased to meet representatives from Imperial College and discuss the progress not only of the Local Development Framework but also to chivvy their architects along in producing their masterplan.
Mr Alderton — who is already at the centre of a storm of controversy after save-wye revealed his secret negotiations with Imperial’s planning consultants, Gerald Eve, (a story you can read here) — is likely to face further questions about the impartiality of his department following a further set of leaks to save-wye.org. The revelations will also add to the pressure on Ashford chief executive David Hill who continues to insist that Ashford retains control of the LDF and is acting in an impartial manner despite clear evidence that Gerald Eve supplied the wording for parts of the Wye section of the LDF’s core strategy.
In the latest set of documents, the level of co-operation between Mr Alderton, pictured right, and representatives from Gerald Eve is laid bare. In a copy of the minutes of a meeting between Mr Alderton; his No 2, Lois Jarrett; Dan Ringlestein, from Imperial masterplanner Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; and Hugh Bullock of Gerald Eve; at the Civic Centre on April 20, Mr Alderton is minuted discussing the potential of legal action by Wye Future Group and the legal advice received by the council. Mr Alderton then seems perfectly happy to discuss with Imperial’s contractors the nature of a discussion by councillors in a closed or exempt meeting. He is also said to be ‘grateful’ when Mr Bullock hands over the core strategy for Wye with Gerald Eve’s corrections on it:
The meeting then turns to the matter of SOM’s community workshops which were to start the following month. As we revealed in our story on the LDF, Mr Alderton was keen to discuss which residents of Wye were to be invited to the meetings. Why? We can only speculate that he was concerned that the meetings were seen to represent the views of the community and lament the lack of a similar commitment when it came to the core strategy of the LDF. Here is Mr Alderton discussing the LDF and telling Ringlestein and Bullock that Ashford council ‘needs to ensure’ that all those involved ‘are seen to be involved’:
Now let’s fast forward to last month and an eye-opening exchange of emails involving Mr Alderton, Mr Ringelstein and Mr Bullock. The head of Ashford’s planning department appears to be anxious about the silence coming from Imperial. Just four days after the college’s management board had put the Wye Project — by then just a land grab to raise funds for expansion at South Kensington — into ‘economy mode’, Mr Alderton was emailing Mr Bullock. Clearly, Mr Alderton had not been told about the change of plan:
But Mr Bullock did not appear to be in the mood for pleasantries. He waits three days before demanding to know when the draft core strategy for Wye would be published — the delay of which was by now causing huge consternation at Imperial College:
Within minutes, Mr Ringelstein responds with the date of the next workshop and offering an update at the next concordat group meeting with Kent County Council:
But Mr Alderton seems to be anxious that SOM might be slipping behind in their work on the masterplan. Or perhaps he was already getting the feeling that the project was in trouble. There hadn’t been a meeting of Imperial’s highly secretive concordat group — which both Mr Alderton and Pete Raine, KCC’s strategic planning director, are members of — for over a month. Either way, somebody was edgy:
There then follows a message from Dan Ringelstein to Nigel Buck and David Brooks Wilson at Imperial in which the architect suggests a response to the ‘agitated’ Mr Alderton. He refers to a discussion between Mr Buck and Mr Alderton on July 3. He also says that KCC and Ashford officers had not been kept up to date with the discussions at the community workshops and, in the light of the project being put into cold storage, suggests sharing some of the work with the two authorities to ‘send the right signals’:
As we’ve already said, Mr Alderton’s boss, David Hill, insists that the LDF process is impartial despite continued evidence that suggests Ashford’s planners are working to a completely different brief. Until very recently, Mr Alderton was denying Wye Parish Council any input on the drafting of the core strategy — despite having given Gerald Eve extraordinary amounts of influence on a document which will set the climate for development for the next decade.
These latest leaks reveal that the level of co-operation with Imperial’s agents extends even further than first thought. They show how Mr Alderton regularly met Hugh Bullock and Dan Ringlestein while denying a single meeting to Wye Parish Council. And yet Ashford continue to claim they have been impartial throughout. Would an outside, independent inquiry come to the same conclusion?