Where are the councillors when you need them?

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Many years ago I possessed a rubber brick for throwing at the telly when it annoyed me. Somehow it got lost which is a shame because fifteen minutes into the programme on Wye, in the Perfect Village series, I was screaming for something, anything to lob across the room.

Not that this was the fault of Ptolemy Dean, the nice sounding conservation architect chap who fronted the series. He apparently grew up in Wye, loves the place, and, reading between the lines, hates what Imperial wish to do with it. Quite why he never actually said as much baffles me, and I suspect many viewers who watch him drooling over the beautiful interiors of the college itself ought to have been told, also, that these days, under the Imperial regime, the uniformed security people will stop them being enjoyed by the general public.

No, what got my goat was something else: Pete Raine, KCC’s planning chief, sitting in the garden of the Tickled Trout talking smugly about something he clearly hopes will happen, then freely admitting, ‘If I was living here and I was in that situation (i.e. facing up to Imperial’s massive development scheme) I would be very concerned.’

The gloating, self-satisfied demeanour of this chap beggared belief. There he was, sipping his beer, gleefully telling millions of TV viewers that Wye ‘desperately needed the jobs’. And why? In order to stop Ashford becoming a commuter town. Er, and that was it. Ptolemy Dean is an architect, not a journalist, so none of the obvious questions ever followed (*I have since been informed this is not the whole story — please see my comment below).

Let me tell you what they should have been.

  • How can an area with some of the lowest unemployment in Kent be ‘desperately in need of jobs’?
  • If Wye is so deprived, why are the house prices the highest in the Ashford area, and the school and other facilities positively bursting at the seams trying to cope?
  • And why is it Wye’s responsibility to provide jobs for Ashford? The town already has a multitude of industrial and commercial developments on its periphery, and stacks of land to build lots more, in places that have planning permission, and do not involve the destruction of protected countryside. Why not turn round to Imperial College and say: build it there instead?

Of course, Pete Raine doesn’t want to address those questions, and got clean away with his ‘reasonable man’ act, at least for anyone who hasn’t been following this story closely. He just managed to enjoy his beer, smile and remind us all that we must remember what a great and impressive international institution Imperial College is, and, presumably, how we should all be grateful that the likes of Richard Sykes will deign to send his bulldozers in our direction.

As to the performance of Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz all I can say is… will the people who hand out gongs please make a note of this report should they ever, God forbid, think of elevating this man to the House of Lords. In it he says, for all to hear, that the scale of any development is ‘completely unknown’. Readers of this site now understand otherwise, of course, though Imperial remain in a state of near meltdown over the fact we have had the temerity to tell the public what is going on in secret under their very noses.

The Raine-Borysiewicz show reminded me of Little and Large, only it was even less funny, and hampered by the fact that both were reading from the same lousy script. On a larger point, I can’t help but wondering why this vast development, one which Raine, on an earlier occasion, compared to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, seems to be something that only the non-elected are now allowed to discuss in public. Why did not a single democratically chosen public representative appear in this show? Why are their voices so absent from everything to do with Wye Park everywhere? From what source came the astonishing case of prolonged laryngitis which seems to have afflicted our councillors on the subject of what could be the largest single development project in the Ashford area in decades?

Until an election comes along there’s precious little you can do if public representatives decide they are going to sit out the most crucial development in their neck of the woods. But you do wonder whether they should continue to claim the public money they receive from our taxes and which now supports their silence on this issue.

How much is it exactly? Under the member allowances which ran from April 1 last year to March 31 this, Charles Findlay, Wye’s county councillor who has yet to say a meaningful word in public about Wye Park, received a total of £19,562 in allowances and £847 in ‘mileage, fares and other authorised payments’ — a total of £20,409. Wye’s borough councillor Ian Cooling has been steadily climbing the ranks of the most highly remunerated on Ashford Council. In the last financial year his travel expenses alone came to £2,138.53, not far short of his leader Paul Clokie’s £2,679.10. But at least Paul Clokie’s travel expenses seem relatively static over the years; Cllr Cooling’s rose from a mere £20.70 in 2003/4 to £770.18 in 2004/5, and then last year’s personal best of £2,138. In total he received £12,552.59 for his Ashford duties. Between the two of them, Messrs Findlay and Cooling have trousered over £32,000, which is a lot of money for keeping quiet.

It’s only fair and reasonable that councillors should receive the authorised remuneration for their work. But isn’t it fair too that in return we should expect them to find their voice on such an important issue from time to time? We elected them for that reason.

No-one elected Pete Raine or Prof Borys to come along and destroy our community just because one of them happens to think it makes a worthwhile exercise in social engineering and the other sees it as a way to line the pockets of his college with grubby millions in ill-gotten gains. Their dismal, duplicitous performances on this short TV show make me wonder, not for the first time since this dreadful saga came into being, what on earth is happening to democracy in Britain today.

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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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16 Responses to Where are the councillors when you need them?

  1. Steve Lloyd says:

    According to PR, apparently the area desperately needs local jobs to avoid
    becoming a commuterville to London.

    1. No area with sub 5% unemployment desperately needs jobs. There are many
    areas in greater need.

    2. Ashford will inevitably be a commuterville to London because in 2 1/2 years
    time we will be 36 minutes from Kings Cross train station – it’s unavoidable.

    3. What a price to pay – concrete over 100s of acres of AONB land in a vain
    attepmt to avoid becoming a commuterville.

    The sooner this pie in the sky, hair brain scheme is put to rest the better – along with its sponsors hopefully.

  2. maggie mansfield says:

    Has Ptolemy Dean been asked to join the Wye Future group? He should be.

  3. John Rogers says:

    I agree with everything David says. Do he or Justin have TV contacts who would be prepared to host an investigative and comprehensive programme to air publicly this disgraceful story. What about “Dispatches”?

  4. David Hewson says:

    I’ve never moved in telly circles I’m afraid, John. Every time I turn on the box it seems to be full of dross. Real hard edged journalism seems very difficult to locate, and given that the government managed to cull the jobs of the chairman and Director-General of the BBC for essentially allowing the Corporation to tell a few awkward truths on Iraq I suspect you may have to rely on the print media and little minnows like save-wye for some time to come.

    Mind you, I couldn’t help but notice that after we published the first actual maps of the planned development, and lots more confidential papers besides, the Kentish Express chose to run… not a single word on Wye. So you may just be lumbered with the awkward squad from up the hill, and Kent on Sunday from time to time, until things change.

    PS. I am reliably informed I have been unfair in accusing Ptolemy Dean of going soft on His Smugness Pete Raine. Apparently the conversation in the garden of the Tickled Trout was not as pally as the televised version appears to show. In fact, ‘the exchanges between Raine and Dean became quite heated. Either Endemol (the producers) did not want an element of drama, or someone pressed them for an anodyne broadcast.’

    Similarly, parish councillor Richard Bartley’s comments were edited to take out anything remotely controversial. So it was cutting edge TV only in the sense that there was a lot of cutting…

  5. Ian Cooling says:

    Thanks David – may I respond?

    Probably the obvious start point is that it is Mr Dean who decides who appears on his programme, not me. Had I been invited, I should have been delighted to accept. But I wasn’t, so I couldn’t.

    With regards to my claims for travel expenses, I should perhaps emphasise that these represent refunds (of train fares, for example), or payment of motor mileage allowance at a nationally agreed rate. This latter is intended to reimburse the cost of my fuel and a proportion of my running costs. I suggest this is not a system unique to Borough Councillors.

    To avoid any confusion, I should perhaps also make absolutely clear that I do not have an entertainment allowance of any sort. Any entertainment I offer on Borough Council business, meals for example, I pay for out of my own pocket.

    My different levels of claiming merely represent me claiming at different times in the cycle. For the three years since my election in May 2003, my annual travel claims have averaged £976 and I stress, these are refunds – not income.

    So far as my representing the village that elected me is concerned, I’m afraid that I am not by nature one of those politicians who feels the need to spend a great deal of time telling the world what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not, I just get on with the job. In March, I posted up here a copy of my Open Letter to the village (grateful for a link here), which laid out what I was doing and would continue to do – and I am doing just that.

    One of the questions I am asked most frequently about the Imperial business is “Where do you stand in all this?” I’m always happy to say so, as I did in my Open Letter, but I follow up by saying that what I think is actually irrelevant. What matters most is what the villagers of Wye think, because it is my job to take those messages to those making the decisions that affect Wye – and make sure they hear and act on those messages.

    And this I have been doing – relaying those messages on to the decisions-makers and seeking to change their minds; persuading people that there are other ways of looking at things; trying to persuade Imperial that there are so many other ways of raising the funds they seek, that there is no valid reason at all for the green field developments they appear to be contemplating. Nor will they overcome the local and national hurdles in the planning legislation, so they should simply remove that item from their agenda – and the sooner the better for everyone concerned.

    Above all, I am talking and working with others in the village. I have worked closely with the Chairmen of the Parish Council and the Wye Future Group and continue to do so. I attend meetings of both where I can (or, in the case of the WFG, when I am invited). I also work with the Wye Business Association. For example, in talks with Imperial I have represented the interests of WBA members who are also Imperial tenants, as am I, to try and establish the impact Imperial’s schemes on those members.

    But don’t ask me about this – ask John Hodder, Ben Moorhead and Ann Sutherland.

    More widely, I keep up a steady correspondence with a number of villagers (including some readers of this website) by letter, phone and e-mail. Others I see at various village gatherings, in the street, in the Co-op, in the pubs and restaurants, in their houses and so on. I also try to meet with a small number of different villagers each month for an extended chat at home about their concerns and to answer their questions. These concerns and questions are, of course, often very personal and may only touch lightly on Imperial’s machinations.

    For example, my case book for this week and last includes: continuing the pressure on KCC for action to reduce the appalling accident rate at Kempes Corner; maintaining separate pressure to mitigate the destruction of the by-ways network in Crundale and the Stour Valley by 4×4 vehicles; standing behind the Village Warden’s efforts to reduce hooliganism on the buses at school time; continuing (too slowly I know!) to bring the CCTV project to fruition; bringing home the last £11,200 of the grant to finalise the Historical Society’s Heritage Project (the Church Booklet will be launched on 15 September), organising the Wye Business Association’s Exhibition on 16 September and helping two other village organisations raise funds.

    Separately, and at a more personal level, I’m advising and helping two council tenants who are having maintenance problems with their houses; helping another tenant obtain compensation for financial loss as a result of bad service by ABC contractors, paving the way for a former council resident of Wye to return to the village through a house swap, keeping an eye on the new warden arrangements at Luckley House following Veronica’s retirement; helping a resident obtain redress for the disgraceful way she was treated at a clinic elsewhere in Kent; helping another resident with a land boundary issue and so on. There’s more of course, but these examples will help illustrate my point.

    I’d better stop there anyway, or the two guys on the other side of the hill will start accusing me of blowing my own trumpet! I’m not – because apart from the Imperial factor, these are all the sort of activities that any Borough Councillor worth their salt will be doing in their village as a matter of routine. There are also more than a few others I know doing as much or more for Wye in their different ways.

    As I see it, rightly or wrongly, the range and variety reflected in this list is what I was elected to do for the people in my village – Imperial and all. However, I do hope the list also makes clear that because I don’t spend my time telling everyone about it, doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. It just means I’m getting on with the job – quietly and I hope, effectively.

    Finally, if anyone would like me to contact them to discuss anything I have written about here (or, indeed, anything else), just mail me back, phone me on 812416, or pop a note through my door at 154 Bridge Street – or just ring the bell and come in for a cuppa!

    Ian

  6. David Hewson says:

    At the risk of provoking yet another comment which is longer than the original piece (which I may well not run), might I just say that I’m not surprised the tv people didn’t bother inviting either of Wye’s elected council representatives to appear. One has said barely a word about it in public ever and the second has added little since an ‘open letter’ back in March (and things have come on somewhat since then, haven’t they?) Endemol’s researchers will naturally go through press cuttings and reach their own conclusions about who is willing to speak up on this project and who isn’t based on the names that appear there.

    I did not, of course, suggest that either of these councillors did no council work at all (I do wish politicians would lose this daft habit they have of trying to divert criticism by vigorously, and in this case at great length, denying something of which they were never accused in the first place). Merely that it would be nice to hear in public their opinions on the biggest single issue to affect the Wye area at the moment. If unelected council officials like Pete Raine can spout off on the subject right left and centre surely those who are supposed to represent us can too?

  7. Ian Cooling says:

    Quick (short!) reply David – to confirm that rightly or wrongly I think my views are irrelevant. What matters is the views of the residents of Wye, which I have been regularly gathering and using as the basis of my arguments for changing minds. Only time will tell if I am successful

    Thanks,

    Ian

  8. Kerry Bethel says:

    Ian Cooling’s quandary is the completely opposite positions over the future of Wye taken by the overwhelming majority of his electorate and his masters in the ABC ruling junta. The views of the two factions are farther apart than the north and south poles.

    On the one hand those he represents view the Imperial moves with complete abhorrence whereas Conservative controlled ABC from the Concordat through to LDF manipulation have danced to the tune of Imperial’s penny whistle – or should I say multi-million pound orchestration?

    This would explain the reason for his reluctance to openly, loudly and unambiguously condemn the scandalous goings-on at ABC and elsewhere as has been factually reported on save-wye.

  9. Cliff Whitbourn says:

    Dear Ian,

    you were elected because of your views and perceptions of need within the local community.

    If you now consider your views irrelevant, stop faffing around and resign.

    Yours, with ever decreasing respect,

    C.H.W.

  10. John Morris says:

    Ian
    One hopes that when a decission is reached by the villagers to any planning application Imperial may enter and a statergy is agreed with you as our elected ABC representative,you will carry out that agreement to the full and not at the last minute renage as you did with the Oil Dump presentation to ABC Planning Committee.
    J.M.

  11. Ian Cooling says:

    That will teach me to pop my head back up above the parapet!

    With apologies for the delay, I shall try and answer the points made by John, Cliff and Kerry. Between the three of them, they raise quite a range of issues, so I hope David will be patient with me. For those who would prefer not to work through this on screen, it prints out at rather less than two pages of A4. First, a reply to John, then to Kerry and Cliff:

    John – as a Parish Councillor, you know this issue is the subject of correspondence between the Parish Council and me. So I don’t think there is much point in starting a “Oh yes you did, Oh no you didn’t” exchange here.

    But I will say, emphatically and unambiguously, that I did not renege on any agreement over what I would or would not say about the Oil Depot. This is for the simple reason that I did not make any such agreement. Also, before (repeat, before) the ABC Planning Committee meeting, I gave John Hodder, your Chairman, a copy of the basic points I was intending to cover with the Committee.

    In discussion with John before that, I said I would focus on flood issues as the other issues had been dealt with (exhaustively) between the Parish Council, Village Design Group and ABC over the best part of three years. I could add nothing useful.

    On the flood issue, I did not support the conditions the Parish Council were seeking on how the flow of surface water was handled for the simple reason that they would have been illegal. They would therefore have been unenforceable and would, in turn, have left ABC open to legal action.

    I think we differ over means not ends. The Planning Committee meeting was the end of a stage in this matter, not the end of the matter. I will be continuing to seek alternative solutions to the surface water issue with ABC officers, the various land-owners, Southern Water, and the Environment Agency.

    Now to Kerry and Cliff’s comments:

    Obviously my views on Imperial’s machinations are of more interest than I thought they were, so here goes. There are more background details in my open letter on the link in David Hewson’s comment above, but briefly:

    1. I can see real benefits in developing the increasingly woebegone campus at Wye, but not at any cost. Development on brown field sites only.

    2. Any new buildings should be well-designed, environmentally-sound and built of local materials. They should be of a ‘look’ and a scale that harmonises with the rest of the village.

    3. The volume of traffic now carried by our lanes to Ashford and Canterbury means they need up-grading – but only to Harville Road standard, not A28. No hideous slash of asphalt across the countryside from Junction 10A.

    4. I like the idea of reversing the 20-year long seepage of jobs out of the village. I do not like the idea that the price we have to pay should be discordant swathes of new housing tramping across the green fields of the AONB. There are other ways of raising funds open to Imperial and they must be used.

    5 I have two serious concerns about the draft Wye policy document in the LDF. First – I see little value to the community of Wye that is not dealt with in the legislation. Second – (and particularly) its late addition to the Core Strategy after the public consultation had closed, but not consultation with Imperial.

    6. I am against any “science park” (or whatever it might be called this week) hosting manufacturing or other industrial processes.

    Against this list, the four main demands made of me around the village are to make sure: that there is no development on the green field sites in the AONB; that there is no big “science park”; that the draft Wye policy is removed from the LDF Core Strategy and that there is no new road slashing across the countryside from Junction 10A. This is what I have been doing for several months – as those who have heard me speak at a number of meetings at ABC, with Imperial, etc. will confirm.

    So far as any judgements on the conduct of politicians, officials, consultants, advisers, Imperialists, etc. are concerned, it would be wrong of me say anything other than that I am fundamentally uneasy about the whole concept of “Trial by Media”, whether that media is the press, TV – or a website. To be valid, such judgements need to be informed and impartial. I have watched, fascinated and intrigued, as the “case for the prosecution” has been assembled. But I have yet to see the “case for the defence”.

    I was originally sceptical about the value of an enquiry by the Local Government Ombudsman. I now believe that there is so much rumour, counter-rumour, accusations, conflicting information, disinformation and lack of information, along with a degree of unfamiliarity with what is and is not permitted under planning law, that such a process is now needed as a catharsis. I gather WFG are preparing a submission for such an enquiry. I now hope that this happens sooner rather than later.

    Finally: a specific point for Kerry – I have lived in Wye for over 35 years and have every intention of spending the rest of my days here. My priority is, always has been and always will be Wye – not ABC.

    Having known me for most of those 35 years, I would hope you (and others) will judge me on the basis of the Cooling you have known over that time; not the caricature that has evolved up here in a rather shorter period.

    Ian

  12. Kerry Bethel says:

    I am pleased that Ian has now unequivocally stated his position on the Imperial issue summarised as follows:-

    NO greenfield development whatsoever.

    NO new roads only limited improvements to existing roads.

    NO manufactoring or industrial usage.

    NO mention of Wye Policy in LDF Core Strategy.

    ONLY sensitive and appropriate development of brownfield land strictly following the Village Design Statement.

    If ABC, KCC and ICL had been open, honest and cared about decent democratic governance then it would not have been necessary for the media, particularly save-wye, to have had to dig and delve to ensure that the facts and the truth behind the Concordat was placed in the public domain thus enabling ‘informed and impartial judgements’ to be made.

    As opposed to implied criticism we should be thankful that save-wye and others have’ without financial reward or Travel and Attendance Allowances, toiled to obtain the many factual disclosures surrounding this affair that we were not meant to know about.

    Save-wye has consistently invited ABC, KCC and ICL to respond to the disclosures and point out any inaccuracies but they have failed to do so. They have been given every opportunity to give ‘the case for the defence’. That they have not done so speaks volumes.

    Ian, I will not allow my views on the Imperial situation, particularly the manner in which the ABC Conservative junta (of which you are a prominent member) has acted, stop me enjoying your splendid company whenever we meet socially.

  13. Justin Williams says:

    I take it that when such an astute operator as Ian calls for a inquiry into Ashford’s conduct or joins the clamour demanding that Wye be dropped from the core strategy, it’s like Gerry Adams calling on the IRA to start decommissioning: something must be afoot. Either that, or there’s been some sort of intervention.
    Of course, Ian, your commitment to the white team is most welcome but may I just point out that if it weren’t for ‘the case for the prosecution’, the appalling behaviour of your council and its blatant attempt to pervert the course of democracy would never have come to light.

  14. Cliff Whitbourn says:

    Ian,

    with respect, you were not elected to keep your head below the parapet.

    Your remarkable expression of angst at the questionable behavior of your, elected and appointed, colleagues with the Borough Council would be laudable had you had not been so involved yourself.

    I look forward to your positive action in bringing an enquiry and perhaps a little less dissembling of the truth.

    Cliff Whitbourn

  15. Ian Cooling says:

    Couple of quick responses:

    Kerry

    No criticism implied at all. As you will have seen up here, I do not always see eye-to-eye with David and Justin, particularly over more than a few issues of interpretation – David and I have some unfinished business over affordable housing for example – but that’s healthy.

    However, I have always given them credit for their skilful use of the FOI powers. In a former existence, I worked regularly with the international press; I know good investigative journalism when I see it.

    Justin

    To be clear – I want the LGO enquiry so that the cases on all sides can be heard. I would also like clarity to be shed, impartially, on such issues as the day-to-day working of the planning laws and the different roles of officers and elected members in local government.

    Only then can the balanced judgements I seek be made – coolly and dispassionately. I prejudge nothing and focus on nobody and no organisation in my piece above.

    Ian

  16. David Hewson says:

    ‘I prejudge nothing and focus on nobody and no organisation in my piece above.’

    Give me a break, Ian. You’ve complained long and hard to anyone who will listen that this site has been conducting a character assassination attempt on you for months, and did so above in the comment, ‘Having known me for most of those 35 years, I would hope you (and others) will judge me on the basis of the Cooling you have known over that time; not the caricature that has evolved up here in a rather shorter period.’

    The truth, as far as I am concerned, is this. Far from setting out to criticise you we gave you a login to the site and free rein to put up whatever articles you wished, with no controls whatsoever on what you might say. You used this when it suited you but when the going got sticky you went quiet and very soon began criticising us for ‘negativity’ and ‘inaccuracy’.

    Far from responding in kind, I was personally excising comments critical of you we received on almost a daily basis from residents (acting under the cloak of anonymity which we mistakenly allowed back then). In the end you tried to post a long comment on this site claiming that we had been conducting such a campaign of vilification against you and I refused to publish it on the grounds that it was simply untrue.

    I still believe this but one of the nice things about websites is that people can easily see everything we have published and make up their own minds. They can browse every article which contains your name by using the Google search function for this site and here is the shortcut that will take you to those stories.

    If you do this you will find that most are either by you yourself or straightforward news reports. The critical comments — and they do exist — come in the form of outside contributions by residents of the village — and I repeat, we excised far more than we carried, though there are still a few I regret publishing. The problem is you do generate a large postbag. That’s not down to us. Any negative baggage you are carrying came, dare I suggest, from your own coy reticence on a subject that was of enormous concern to your constituents, namely the potential destruction of their community and the possibility of being wreathed in building work for more than a decade to come. It didn’t help, either, that your fellow county councillor was similarly struck by laryngitis, a condition which seemingly afflicts him to this day.

    I’m glad you now support some form of inquiry, which this site has been suggesting for some time. I think you would have won a lot more respect in the village had you been seen to support that idea rather sooner than you have, but better late than never.

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