Richard Alderton, Ashford’s head of planning, returns to his desk today after a three-week summer holiday in which the quagmire of Imperial College’s involvement in the drafting of the Local Development Framework must have seemed a million miles away. We hope Mr Alderton, pictured right, had a pleasant holiday and, in case he missed them, we’re happy to point him in the direction of the revelations about how Imperial College’s planning consultants wrote the core strategy here and his bizarre series of email exchanges with Imperial and masterplanners Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) here.
For those who haven’t read these messages, they offer an amazing insight into the lengths that Ashford council went to to let Imperial College influence a document which will set the planning framework for Wye for the next decade.
But it seems that this is not the end of the story as far as Imperial College’s involvement in the drafting of the core strategy is concerned. save-wye.org has obtained an eye-opening email from Nigel Buck, acting head of estates, to David Brooks Wilson, the man in charge of Wye Park. Mr Alderton had asked SOM for an update on the masterplan ‘in view of the long period of silence on this’ but an impatient Mr Buck, pictured right, jumps in and suggests that the architects do not respond.
Mr Alderton, says Mr Buck, had been at the previous meeting of the ‘concordat group’ and had been ‘told what he needed to know then’. The concordat group is a secret body which meets regularly to discuss Wye Park. Its members include Mr Buck, Mr Alderton, Ashford council chief executive David Hill, John McCready of Ernst & Young, Hugh Bullock from planning consultants Gerald Eve and Kent County Council strategic planning boss Pete Raine. The group has not met for a couple of months while Imperial — which put the Wye Park project into ‘economy mode’ in June — floundered around trying to come up with a credible line it could feed its hapless partners.
After the revelations about the project on save-wye.org, Imperial has caved in to pressure from KCC and Ashford council and has scheduled another meeting of the concordat group for late September which both Mr Hill and Mr Raine — both unelected and both leading cheerleaders for the project — have eagerly agreed to attend.
In line with the concordat group’s policy of not committing anything to paper in case people concerned about democracy in Kent get hold of it, in his email Mr Buck says that he thinks the silence should continue. He then adds: ‘He [Mr Alderton] should be spending time getting the LDF out not wasting the tiem [sic] of consultants we are paying for and he isn’t!.’
We ceased to be surprised at the levels of co-operation between Ashford council’s planning department and Imperial College and its contractors some time ago. It strikes many people that the Local Development Framework and the Wye Park masterplan are being treated as interchangeable documents, somehow existing outside the functioning of local democracy in Kent. But this email from Mr Buck is something else altogether. It hints at the intense frustration within the college over Ashford’s failure to get the LDF agreed and published according to Imperial’s timescale. It also suggests that Imperial’s estates department regards the planning department at Ashford council as a mere facilitator for its Wye vision. We wonder whether an independent inquiry would reach the same conclusion.