Wye Park is dead, our job is done. But before we go we’d like to leave something to occupy your time now save-wye is slumbering peacefully. There are still some awkward questions remaining in this story, and we thought we’d pass on the names of some of the people who can supply the answers. Remember: Wye was lucky. Imperial were terrible property developers and shockingly weak when it came to organisation, planning and delivery. The one thing they did seem extremely adept at was working the private, hidden network of councillors, officials and quango members through which this scandal was put together in the first place.
When Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz stood up to address the village on January 9 he thought the college had secured secret prior agreements with some of your key public representatives, a deal so strong that the death of the community and countryside of Wye was just a matter of time, money and a little sham negotiation… then bring on the builders. What exactly made Imperial feel that way?
You deserve to know, preferably with the rapid help of some form of independent inquiry into this extraordinary saga. Those responsible for allowing Imperial to think its dreadful pipedream was simply a shoo-in need to be called to account. We, remember, are just two blokes up the hill. You are the public so please, for everyone’s sake, make sure this final essential task gets finished.
And if you’re reading this Professor Borys, let us try to put our message in words you’ll understand. What you tried to do in concert with your tame puppets in local government was immoral, undemocratic and despicable. You sought to ride roughshod over the rights of ordinary individuals who never deserved to be the victims of your overweening greed or the underhand deals you thought you had cut in order to to send your bulldozers onto the green fields of Wye. You and your cohorts have damaged deeply our trust in the way our lives and our communities are governed. For the sake of everyone who cherishes not just the English countryside but our rights as individual citizens to fair treatment under the law, we must comprehend why you believed you could get away with this monstrous chicanery so that we ensure it never occurs anywhere in this country again.
Project Alchemy has done incalculable harm to the reputation of your college and led to the squandering of more than £1 million that could have been used to revive your estate in Wye, not destroy it. The whisper in the corridors of Imperial is that this shameful episode means you will not succeed Richard Sykes when he retires as rector in 2008, with the near-automatic seat in the House of Lords that position brings. What a terrible miscarriage of justice that would be when it should have cost you your job.
There are many questions one could ask of Paul Clokie, and not all of them are to do with Wye. How, for example, did he migrate from being a member and onetime leader of Kingston Council to Ashford and then, within a matter of months, emerge as the leader of the authority, a place where, to most of his peers, he was a complete stranger? But we will leave that to someone else — perhaps, ahem, the Kentish Express? — to investigate now. The statement of Cllr Clokie’s which interests us most is this, issued last week when Wye Park was falling apart after Richard Alderton, the planning chief, judged that it could no longer be allowed into the local development framework…
Whilst I continue in principle to support Imperial College in working up proposals for re-development of their brownfield land at the Wye campus, I want to place on record that it was never my intention in signing the Concordats with Kent County Council and Imperial to support the working up of proposals on this scale, or of proposals which incorporate large scale residential enabling development on greenfield AONB land.
Straightforward stuff, you’d think. For anyone without a memory that is. What Cllr Clokie needs to explain to the public is this: how could he have been ignorant of something that was so obvious to everyone else? And why, if he was ignorant of it, did he keep on sounding as if he knew exactly what was going on all along?
Paul Clokie was a member of the Project Alchemy group set up by Imperial College to further its ambitions in the company of ABC and KCC. He signed both concordats. He was furnished with the ‘key messages’ briefing paper which we published only last month. He and KCC’s Paul Carter parroted verbatim from the brief provided by Imperial’s consultants when he wrote to government ministers urging them to take up this ‘exciting vision’ with its 12,500 promised jobs. Whitehall knew exactly what was on the cards when this missive landed on their desks: huge development in the AONB and they wanted to distance themselves from it immediately. So why didn’t the man who wrote the letter, Paul Clokie?
Until the public revelation of the massive scale of Wye Park here in August, Cllr Clokie was Imperial’s staunchest of allies. When we disclosed that the project was put into ‘economy mode’ he wailed to the Kentish Express, ‘Households in Ashford will have 12,500 jobs and that is what people need to bear in mind.’ How can Paul Clokie reconcile his belief that 12,500 jobs were on the way with a £1 billion science and research park with his statement that he never, in signing the concordats, intended ‘to support the working up of proposals on this scale’? Where exactly did he think all the money, bricks, mortar and people would go?
And why did he not apparently talk to his officers? Last week save-wye asked Richard Alderton some straight questions and got some commendably straight answers given how tough we’ve been with him in the past. We asked Mr Alderton if he could confirm to us what Ashford had been told by Imperial about the scale of the development. He said…
When Imperial first discussed their ideas they used financial models with different assumptions about the amount of development for different uses — including the suggestion of 250 acres of housing. Our advice to them has consistently been that only housing properly related to the primary science/ research use could be justified on planning grounds — not enabling development justified simply to make the scheme viable. We have also advised on several occasions, including the earliest stages, that Imperial should seek Government and private sector funding for the project so that there was no need for enabling development.
In other words, a development of 250 acres — which was on such a scale that it could only take place if it involved the greenfield AONB land — was on the table. Yet the leader of ABC, a man who signed both concordats, and was a member of the Project Alchemy working group from the beginning, says he never knew. Before he makes his way out of the Civic Centre for good, perhaps he might care to explain this extraordinary lapse — of memory, judgement or both, who knows? — to his electorate.
Council officials are often in an awkward position when controversial plans are on the table. They may have private reservations — in the case of Wye Park huge ones in the case of some — but their duty is to the authority, and their actions have to be guided by council policy or, as it is better known in Ashford, the personal diktat of Paul Clokie. Not that ABC’s chief executive needed any spine stiffening. He appears to have held no doubts about Wye Park since day one, and was a keen and active backer until the very moment it began to fall apart. From the outset Mr Hill, like his leader, was a member of the Project Alchemy team, gaining privileged access to the documents you have seen leaked here over the last few months. In February he was sticking to the official line, telling Kent on Sunday, ‘The concordat launched a vision, not a plan.’
Yesterday he was in the same paper…
Again, we have to ask… how on earth could he have been so ignorant of what was really going on? Why is it that an inside member of the team had to rely on investigative reporting by this website in order to discover the truth about Imperial’s plans to concrete over Wye? Didn’t he ask David Brooks Wilson and Imperial’s consultants at all these friendly meetings for some guidance on scale and the direction of the project? If he didn’t, why not? If he did, what exactly was he told? The truth or fiction?
And if it was fiction, will ABC and KCC now send a bill to Imperial for all the wasted officer time — which Paul Clokie has refused to estimate — that will have to paid out of Ashford’s council tax revenues in order to accommodate yet one more failed ABC pipedream, like the ridiculous Discovery Centre? What redress does Ashford intend to seek for, apparently, being misled at some great expense all this time?
We could fill an entire article on save-wye.org with questions about Wye Park for the contradiction that is Wye’s borough councillor. Here are just a few…
1) On February 16, you were asked at a parish council meeting why you continued to have a business relationship with Imperial College. You told the meeting that you were under contract to provide consultancy advice on promoting the college’s catering and conferencing facilities but this contract had been terminated by the college at the end of 2004. Since then, you told the meeting that you had no contract and no retainer with the college. Perhaps you would care to explain, then, why you continue to have a college email address, logon to Spectrum (ICL’s intranet) and an office at South Kensington:
2) At that same meeting and subsequently, you have continued to insist that you knew nothing about Imperial’s plans for Wye until David Hill gave you the news on November 18. Why, then, are you named on the Project Alchemy website and included in the incredibly complex arrangements that were made to inform hundreds of people of the unveiling of the Concordat on December 9? This document (full version available for download) was created on November 8 — a full 10 days before you claimed to have been ‘brought into the loop’. If you knew nothing then, why was David Hill going to get you to invite people on behalf of Project Alchemy?
3) On Friday evening, you put round WFG just about the most smug email of your career, claiming the credit for ‘changing minds’ and squashing Wye Park. Given your record on this and other issues, would you mind explaining why you have been in regular email and telephone contact with David Brooks Wilson, advising him how best to overcome local objections to Wye Park and briefing him about the characters that Imperial have described as ‘the enemy’? We have read a succession of emails that, putting the most generous interpretation we can on them, raise disturbing questions about your allegiance throughout these last nine months. We’ll only print one, sent to Mr Brooks Wilson on June 6 which seems to show you displaying remarkable knowledge about meetings that month and the next crucial to the future of Wye Park:
4) Even more importantly, perhaps you would like to explain to your constituents the true extent of your relationship with Mr Brooks Wilson. Why, for example, would he list you as one of his most important business contacts? Below is an extract from a handover form produced by Mr Brooks Wilson’s outgoing PA, Claudia Hutt, to leave for his new secretary, Hollie Richmond. It lists everything that is most important to ‘this busy man’ and, so that she can place people immediately, lists his closest and most important acquaintances. There are only eight names under ‘Business contacts’ including Jeremy Newsum, the chief executive of Grosvenor Estates; Simon O’Donnell from the Hines Group; and Tim Walker the No2 at the country’s most successful lobbying firm, Bell Pottinger. So why is your name the first on the list?
We know of your genuine and heartfelt affection for Wye and its residents, Ian. We know, too, that you put in long hours on work that most of us would find too tedious to countenance. But this was the big one, a threat to our community and countryside which, if it had been successful, would have destroyed the area we love forever. Your constituents had the right to expect active, visible, unequivocal leadership. Instead, when we needed clarity, you gave us slippery prevarication. When we needed direct, strong public support, you gave us silences or whispered murmurs about ‘working behind the scenes’. When the outcome was certain you found your voice at last and e-mailed John Hodder, the parish council chairman, and Ben Moorhead, the chairman of Wye Future Group, to say you had not been more visible because ‘with the two of you so superbly effective in action, there was simply no need for a third.’
That doesn’t wash. You were a member of the authority and a close confidante of its leader as he hatched this plot with Imperial. You had a duty to speak out in a loud, clear and independent voice and you ducked it. We know you’ll argue till the cows come home that you were never in the Imperial camp. But do you think it’s possible that David Brooks Wilson and his colleagues had, for whatever reason, somehow come to believe otherwise?
Councillor Paul Carter, Conservative leader, Kent County Council
Paul Carter is a property developer by profession. And it shows. Though he inherited Wye Park from his predecessor as leader of Kent County Council, Sandy (now Lord) Bruce-Lockhart, Cllr Carter demonstrated no lack of enthusiasm for talking up Imperial’s plans on any possible occasion, at least in the early days. He fell silent after June though, doubtless understanding that the ‘economy mode’ into which it had slunk was terminal. But how does he feel now?
Here he is spouting off to yesterday’s Kent on Sunday…
Well, thank you for confirming (not that we didn’t know already) that it was Imperial’s realisation it had bitten off more than it could chew with the stroppy locals that sank Wye Park. But… come again, Paul?
‘Very disappointing news’? For whom exactly? Your dining chums in the cosy tight Kent network of councillors, officials, and quango hangers-on where this nightmare was dreamed up? Your fellow property developers who just couldn’t wait to start driving in the bulldozers to create four thousand identikit boxes on land that supposedly has the same degree of protection from greed-driven development as a national park?
Seriously, we’d like to know, because we never found anyone in the village who wanted Wye Park and we live here. Nor could the BBC when they went looking last week. In fact the only faint evidence we can unearth that such people ever existed lies in the statement of one Ian Cooling who said certain unnamed individuals were afraid to speak their minds because they might get a brick through the window. We found that statement hard to accept when it was made, and utterly inconceivable now.
We have three questions for Paul Carter. Why on earth is he dismayed that a plan which would have destroyed a cherished rural environment and put a quasi-industrial and housing complex in its place has now been felled by a well-directed outburst of local democracy? Why does he continue to believe that the Wye area, with some of the lowest unemployment in the county, needed all this ’significant employment growth and future jobs and prosperity’ (for which read ‘hordes of lowly-paid east European plasterers and brickies temporarily imported to build cheap housing and enrich the pockets of the building industry thereby’)? And precisely for whose benefit did he pursue this dreadful monster so assiduously?
Pete Raine, amateur dramatist, one-time conservationist and now strategic planning director of Kent County Council, has successfully managed to infuriate just about everybody during the Wye Park saga. One of the original members of Project Alchemy back at the beginning of 2005, Mr Raine’s enthusiasm for Wye Park and Imperial College knew no bounds. Indeed, he was so excited that, on the express orders of Prof Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, he set up and chaired a supposedly ‘independent’ environmental consultation panel which only met once. So concerned about the bias he displayed towards the college, English Nature and the Kent Downs AONB unit refused to attend. One delegate described how Mr Raine — at its first and only meeting — could barely contain his impatience with those who insisted on questioning the environmental wisdom of building thousands of homes on Grade I farmland.
If there’s a scintilla of integrity left at County Hall, a committee should be formed to investigate the conduct of Mr Raine, who lives in Stowting, throughout the short life of Project Alchemy. If it does meet, we’d like answers to the following questions:
1) Why, if ‘there were no plans, only an idea’, did Mr Raine repeatedly tell anybody willing to listen that he was personally delirious with excitement at the prospect of Wye Park. Just two weeks ago, he told a Meridian TV correspondent reporting on the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s objection to Imperial’s vision, that ‘we think this is a terribly exciting project’. Why did he tell Mary Gold in the Bricks and Mortar section of Friday’s Times the same thing. And why, during the same interview, did he tell Ms Gold that he was ‘not prepared to comment on the veracity of the Wye website’ after we had blown the lie behind Imperial’s plans?
2) On what authority did Mr Raine copy to David Brooks Wilson emails and correspondence sent to him by save-wye.org and others concerned about the plans for Wye Park. Why, despite an express request for material not to be shared with third parties, did he continue to do this up to the bitter end?
3) Would he care to look at the following slides he produced for a presentation to a KCC committe in April and now, finally, admit, that he actually got them the wrong way round? That what he said Wye Park wasn’t, in many ways was exactly what it would have been? And what he claimed it could be was entirely a myth created by Imperial College’s consultants and PR lizards to be swallowed by the callow, credulous yet sadly ambitious muppets who swam in Imperial’s wake like ravenous gulls following the offal trail from some North Sea trawler?
We know why you got this wrong, Pete. Mostly, those were Imperial’s words, not yours. But it’s time someone broke this to you. If you want to earn that six-figure salary, you really should be able to discern the difference between the two.
No-one can accuse Charles Findlay of wrongdoing. In order for that to happen he would have to have done something in the first place. And, when it comes to vast environmental nightmares on his own doorstep, doing things just isn’t Charles Findlay’s style. Cllr Findlay lives in the village and Wye Park was the largest potential development project to have occurred in his constituency in history, hopefully ever. And his opinion of it?
Your guess is as good as ours. He said nothing when the Concordat was announced. He said nothing when we revealed that a secret version had been agreed nine months earlier. He was silent when his own authority cravenly killed Freedom of Information releases to us on the orders of Imperial College. Not a word escaped Cllr Findlay’s lips when we revealed, with detailed maps, the full scale of the horror that Imperial College wished to visit upon the area he represents. His only public brief mention of the subject was at the annual parish meeting in May. Here is an extract from Justin Williams’ verbatim report of that astonishing event…
At one point, parishioner Vinny McLean demanded: ‘When are our councillors going to get up to speed and start representing us?’
Cllr Findlay, who did not mention Wye during his review of the past year with Kent County Council, said that, as no plans existed, he could not form a view. He said: ‘I will take a view whether I go along with the village. I will listen to all the views. There are wider aspects here — Brook, Mersham and Aldington are part of me. It is wider than Wye.’
There was one more private intervention, though it was scarcely on behalf of Wye. In April Cllr Findlay wrote to Professor Borysiewicz after a village ‘consultation panel’ to say that he thought some of his constituents taking part had been somewhat ‘over-argumentative’ and that he regarded Prof Borys as rather ‘brave’ to put himself in front of them. Oh, and there was one other aside as Cllr Findlay passed the Wye Future Group stand last Saturday, the day after the great victory, when he told those manning it, ‘You’ll have to give all that money back now.’
That is the sum total of what your county councillor had to say to constituents who had just escaped, by a cat’s whisker, losing the land they loved, and facing instead the prospect of their homes being blighted by uncertainty and vast construction works for years to come.
In 2005 Charles Findlay was elected to KCC with a majority of almost two thousand votes out of fewer than eight thousand cast. Last year he claimed more than £20,000 in allowances and expenses from the authority, which means that, at the current rate, he has another £50,000 or so to pocket before, in 2009, the voters of Ashford East have a chance to pass judgement on his performance, if it can be called that.
Our question for Charles Findlay is very simple. What on earth are you for?