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.