While save-wye is finished, our inquiries have turned out to have something of an afterlife of their own. This is scarcely surprising since Freedom of Information requests and other official exchanges often takes weeks or months to complete.
These efforts are producing material which we feel should be of use to people who are, we hope, continuing the demand for explanations from the authorities and some form of independent inquiry. When similar documents arrive in the future, we will post them here. Please note those of you who use the e-mail notification service will not be alerted to changes because they will simply be additions to this story, not a new post. To get notification you will need to use our RSS service or simply return to the site. Feel free to comment and dissect the material we post here at will since we will analyse it only briefly.
To begin with here are two recent arrivals in the mailbox, an interesting exchange between Professor Sir Richard Sykes and James Brathwaite, chairman of the South East England Development Agency, from last June in which Mr Brathwaite seems very keen to breathe some life into Project Alchemy with the help of your councils. After this you will also find a very full apology to save-wye from the Government of the South East following our complaint about them discussing our FoI requests with Imperial’s PR men.
But first to the SEEDA exchange which, had Wye Park still been living and breathing, would have made a scandal all of its own.
SEEDA tries to offer a little help
On June 22 James Brathwaite, chairman of the quango the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), wrote to Professor Sir Richard Sykes repeating his body’s fervent support for Wye Park and offering some ways out of the difficulties SEEDA clearly knew were afflicting the project. As readers of save-wye will know already, Imperial had locked down the preferred option for land use agreed for the final masterplan on June 12, one which was detailed in the extensive report and map revealed to the public, and supposedly our local councils, for the first time with our leak.
This was not public knowledge at the time, though Mr Brathwaite clearly understood the project was struggling and after pledging his continuing allegiance to the Imperial cause offered some sweeteners to help the college get off the hook. These included defining a ‘smaller’ land take, though given that the public line at the time was that there was no preferred land use option one wonders how SEEDA could define the scale of something ‘smaller’. Smaller than what exactly? He also offered to use SEEDA money to kick start a housing project in partnership with landowners in Ashford ‘with the help of the Borough and County Councils’, presumably with their knowledge at this stage too. The other bait on offer was…
- Seek the help of the Department of Transport to develop and pay to improve the road and rail access from Wye to Ashford to facilitate administrative jobs in Ashford and help the local community to see wider benefit from the overall scheme.
- Approach senior government Ministers for a one off grant of £100 million pounds, kick-started by SEEDA, to be repaid by the IPR and associated products generated by the project over a twenty year period.
- Assemble a range of grants and investments from DTI/DfES/DCLG and HEFCE to help with the scheme I am particularly thinking of support for developments in Environmental Technologies.
Those of you who are we hope working on the case for an independent inquiry might care to ponder this wonderful line, ‘The fact that you have gained support from both Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council will undoubtedly help with your planning application.’ ABC and KCC have, of course, protested that their signing of the concordat implied no initial support in planning terms (which could have been illegal) whatsoever. Now you can know the truth, in SEEDA’s eyes, if you hadn’t guessed it already.
There is another beauty here too, ‘So, knowing your determination to move fast, we have been exploring ways forward that will bring the planning application on your land to a more manageable proportion so that the South East, and indeed the UK, does not forgo this ambitious scheme to an overseas competitor.’ Er… the only reason it would have gone to an overseas competitor was if Imperial had sent it there. This was simply a response to the college’s own blackmail.
SEEDA also seems very hazy on the bio-fuels side of things too, bleating, ‘One of the most interesting features of the scheme for us is the International Centre for Research into Crops for biofuels.’ Didn’t they read the revelations here and KCC’s own documents showing that this scheme merely piggy-backed on the work of Countess Sondes, was entirely separate from Wye Park, and may well still go ahead in Wye in any case (don’t get worried, that’s really little more than a small office facility to be housed in existing buildings)?
In short SEEDA was working behind the scenes to use public money to further a controversial project it clearly didn’t fully understand. Sykes’ reply is brusque and at best disingenuous. It says…
There really wasn’t much reward in being a friend of Imperial, was there?
SEEDA chairman James Brathwaite’s letter to Richard Sykes.
The GOSE apologises
We told you earlier about how we discovered, through an FoI request, that the Government of the South East had blabbed to Imperial’s PR people about the fact that we’d asked them for information on Wye Park. We thought this outrageous. Judging by the reply we have below following a formal complaint, so do they too, admitting, ‘it would clearly appear that in some manner the existence of a Freedom of Information Act request for information pertaining to Wye Park was disclosed to Bell Pottinger or some other third party who themselves passed on the information. It is certainly not our practice to disclose details of Freedom of Information requests we have received, and I must apologise for any lapse there might have been on the part of GOSE in this respect on this occasion.’
Letter from GOSE