Alchemy: Threats, distortion and confusion

Ashford Borough and Kent County Councils were apparently happy to be parties to a document which threatened the closure of Wye College unless Imperial was granted planning permission for its science park project.

newbanner.jpgA secret document, written by Ernst & Young and originally intended for public release alongside the second concordat on December 8, never made it into the public domain. Entitled ‘Wye Concordat: Frequently Asked Questions’, the unfinished document was one of several kept on the secure website set up by the parties last year to circumvent freedom of information legislation. Written by Hugo Peel, the man appointed by E&Y to handle publicity in advance of the public announcement, it contains a series of rash promises by Imperial about Alchemy — renamed Wye Park — that we now know to be utterly bogus.

The document was seen by all the members of Project Alchemy – including Paul Clokie and David Hill of Ashford council and KCC strategic planning chief Pete Raine. So enthusiastic were the members of the group that they were apparently happy to sign up to a document that contains an explicit threat to anybody who cared about the future of Wye College. At the bottom of the four-page document is this:


The message from the three Alchemy partners to the people of Wye was clear: welcome our vision for the campus or your college will ‘almost certainly close’. Given their craven behaviour subsequently, we are not surprised that Cllr Clokie and Mr Hill were happy to put their names to such an extraordinary sentence. But had they bothered to make a few enquiries, they too could have discovered what the rest of us now know to be fact: namely that the decline of Wye was deliberately engineered by Imperial almost from the moment it took it over.

Indeed, this is confirmed earlier in the document in a section entitled ‘Risks?’ and the question: ‘Why do we need this facility?’ Because, say the Alchemy partners, ‘The college was under threat of massive down-scaling, possibly closure’. Who did Mssrs Clokie, Hill and Raine think was behind this threat? The men in black?

We know that as time has gone on and the Wye Park ‘vision’ has disintegrated, Imperial’s estimates of the number of jobs Alchemy would deliver has varied wildly. What we didn’t know was that the college was having trouble with the sums right on the eve of the big announcement last December. How many jobs, the document asks, and what sort? ‘We conservatively estimate around 7,000,’ says the FAQ.

But just seven lines later, we are told that ‘Alchemy will act as a major economic driver, delivering some 12,500 job opportunities.’ Did nobody at our credulous local authorities wonder why there was a discrepancy of 5,500 jobs? These people had been cooking up this charade for at least 10 months before this document was drawn up. We wonder what they talked about for all that time if they couldn’t even agree on the number of sits vac that would need to be filled.

Elsewhere, the FAQ is riddled with spurious claims that don’t stand up to the slightest intellectual rigour. For instance, we were to be told by Project Alchemy that the ‘vision’ is ‘recognised by central and regional government (Milliband; Prescott; Livingstone; etc) that housing the workforce and faclities for them to work and study at follow on as a result’. Leaving aside the preposterous assertion that, somehow, the Mayor of London would be interested in what was going on in East Kent, the claim that David Milliband and John Prescott had expressed a view on Alchemy on December 8, let alone that they ‘recognised’ housing would follow on, is a blatant canard. As we will show with further Alchemy files next week, Imperial’s obsession with secrecy meant letters only went out that day so there wasn’t any possibility of government ministers having expressed a view on Wye Park.

Other red herrings include:

• ‘The existing communities around Wye will be actively engaged in the future of the place’. Ten months on and the people of Brook, Boughton Aluph and Hastingleigh still await communication from Imperial.

• Alchemy was to be ‘part government funded’. An interesting statement given that the Government did not know anything about this on December 7 and one directly contradicted at a lunch on May 23 at County Hall when Richard Sykes emphatically ruled out seeking government money:


• A ‘green public transport system is definitely on our agenda’. Funny that the public was never allowed to hear this one given that ‘green public transport’ is one of Ashford’s favourite chestnuts — who can forget the way that the McArthur Glen shopping centre was sold to the exisiting businesses of Ashford town centre? A monorail was to be built, they were told, which would speed people between the two centres and safeguard the old shops in the High Street.

• Imperial deluded itself and its partners into thinking that Wye residents would welcome its plans with open arms. The FAQ suggests that, rather than a ‘clash with the community’, the college’s ‘interests are the same as the residents: ‘we sense that the points of agreement on what Wye should look like are far greater than our points of difference‘:


We don’t know why this document was never released alongside the concordat as originally planned. Did somebody within one of the two councils get cold feet about the wisdom of so publicly siding with Imperial with its threat to close Wye? Or perhaps it was merely overlooked in the incredibly complex arrangements for the public announcement on December 8, arrangements that we’ll be showing you next week. Either way, if there is ever to be an independent inquiry into the councils’ involvement in Wye Park, then the Project Alchemy files must surely come within its remit.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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One Response to Alchemy: Threats, distortion and confusion

  1. Mike Holland says:

    These continued revelations of conflicting reports and spin on what the science park might involve make me wonder if there ever really was one. Rather they tend to confirm my very earliest suspicions that the whole exercise is designed to raise the value of the Wye College Estate land from agricultural to housing rates in readiness for the disposal of an unwanted asset. The potentially vast returns involved in this simple change in designation would in itself be worth considerable investment. Forget the rest!!

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