Councillor Ian Cooling, Imperial’s little helper

People have speculated long and hard about the allegiance of Ian Cooling during the battle for Wye. Whose side was the village’s borough councillor really on? The residents’ or Imperial’s? Councillor Cooling has done little to stem this chatter himself, by spending long months saying little in public on the subject and, finally, conceding in the most obscure of language on this site that his actions ‘probably’ made the college believe the latter (please scroll down to the discussion here to read this for yourself).

Now we can shed a little more light on this subject, one which might, we hope, stay lit until the borough council elections next May. The truth is that his relationship with Imperial — Councillor Cooling’s former employer, which paid him £38,700.13 for ‘marketing consultancy’ between August 2000 and August 2004 — was very cosy indeed.

So much so that when your local councillor brushed off attempts to get him to talk about the local bigwigs’ lunch to discuss Wye he actually sent a copy of his round-robin reply to David Brooks Wilson and got the congratulatory response, ‘If I might say so a very measured and well crafted response, sorry not to have got you last week was moving office, best wishes DCBW.’

So much so that last January, when he was all but silent on the subject in the village, he was able to pen a lengthy memo to the PR man for Project Alchemy telling him how to go about winning over the community to a plan that would ultimately destroy it, by, for example, setting up a web-site and organising a letter-writing campaign to the local press to correct ‘the hugely erroneous record that grows weekly’.

Is this the smoking gun? Well, we’d have to ask how much smoke people need. But let us emphasise, before the man himself turns up to do so himself, all of this was done, ultimately, in your own interest. Read on and work out how grateful you feel.

You’d probably like to forget last January. On the ninth the Imperial heavy mob descended on Withersdane to unveil their vision to the community, one that was hedged in jargon and bluff, but had a clear-cut message inside it: what they wanted to happen would happen whether we wanted it or not. And then? Silence. From the college. From our local councils. And from our local representatives too.

County councillor Charles Findlay never did find his voice throughout Wye Park. It took Ian Cooling a little while to discover where his had been hiding, in public anyway. In private he was a very busy man soon after the January 9th meeting at which Prof Boris offended the entire village by peering down his nose at them and declaring, ‘But to put it in terms you’d understand…’

Ten days after that meeting, and one day before he was due to meet Boris for a private chat, Ian Cooling sent Imperial’s PR man Tom Miller his thoughts on the grand vision, marked ‘Importance: High’. It was high because he was tardy in meeting the promise he had already made to the college: ‘ I’m ashamed to say, I have also spotted a note for me to send you a check list of my points for that meeting. With huge apologies for doing so at this disgracefully late stage, I offer the following.’

Did your councillor tell Imperial they had blown their relations with the village from the outset with their arrogance, vagueness and the obvious scale of their plan? Not at all. Instead he offered a hit list of eleven points the college ought to follow from that point on. These included a newsletter and a new, separate web-site, which did later happen. The exhibition room and the liaison group — surely what became the consultation panel — were suggested here too.

He also wanted media analysis and articles in Ashford’s Voice, the freesheet paid for out of your council tax, and published by an authority that, ostensibly, was still an independent arbiter of Imperial’s plans. There should also be a communication plan for the next twelve months, a reinstatement of a provost for Wye, and more manpower for the college’s local PR officer.

Imperial, advised its former marketing consultant, needed to be proactive. ‘Other forms of communications with the community – should there be letters in the local paper to correct the hugely erroneous record that grows weekly – if so, who should write them? Should someone be responding to the blog set up on the village website – According to the webmaster, there were 10,000 hits on the site last week.’

Do you wonder why the village’s borough councillor was spending so much time offering free advice to Imperial when he couldn’t find much of anything useful to say on the subject to his constituents? We certainly do.

One reason was that Ian Cooling was in Imperial’s loop, and was from the start. Take this e-mail from Tom Miller to Prof Boris on January 4, five days before the meeting at which the plan was due to be outlined to the village. You may not have had a clue what to make of a £1 billion project on your doorstep, but Ian Cooling did, even before the rest of us were told, and he wanted to pre-warn the village’s developers in advance of his position.

—–Original Message—–
From: Miller, Tom E
Sent: 04 January 2006 09:10
To: Borysiewicz, Leszek K; Brooks Wilson, David C; Buck, Nigel
Cc: Raeside, Wendy; Michael, Pamela A
Subject: Fyi – Ian Cooling personal ‘line’
Sharing this for awareness – second par below is ABC councillor Ian Cooling’s line if he is asked about where he stands in relation to the Wye Concordat.

—–Original Message—–
From: ian cooling
Sent: 03 January 2006 17:23
To: Miller, Tom E
Cc: Phillips, June E
Subject: Re: Meeting with Professor Borysiewicz – 4 January
Thanks Tom, I’ll be there.
One point I did not mention in my earlier mail, but which you and Professor Borysiewicz (and others?) should be aware of, is my personal line when asked in the village where I stand in all this.
My response has been simple and to the point: It is the community of Wye that elected me, not Imperial College. I see real and substantial benefits to the community in this proposal but not at any cost. I shall be working with all concerned to ensure that the benefits are fully understood; that the downside is also properly appreciated and effectively addressed and that the community is fully involved (not just consulted) at all key stages.
Hope that makes sense!

No-one outside the inner circle of Imperial College, supposedly, knew a thing about Project Alchemy as it then was called. It was just a ‘vision not a plan’. Yet Wye’s local councillor saw ‘real and substantial benefits to the community’.

And then there was the infamous bigwigs lunch, first cancelled after it was revealed here then secretly reassembled on County Council premises in Maidstone. Ian Cooling attended and vociferously protested our report of it, while refusing to give any details of it when challenged by a comment here. He proudly copied in Brooks Wilson, Prof Boris, Pete Raine, Paul Clokie and David Hill with his response.

From: ian cooling
Sent: 20 June 2006 00:05
To: David Hill; Malcolm Johnston; RICHARD ALDERTON; Paul Clokie
Cc:; Brooks Wilson, David C; Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
Subject: Confidentiality, Discretion and Secrecy
Dear All,
As most of you will have seen, I was challenged on the save-wye website to report on the working lunch (described as a meeting) on 23 May, which was attended by addressees and others. I responded by outlining the points I had made in my role as advocate for the Wye Community. I declined to report on the comments of others or the wider discussion.
A similar request has now been made by the Parish Council. I attach a copy of the reply I shall be sending to them. This covers the same ground. The essence of my position is in the closing paragraphs and this is the line I shall maintain.
I report this now, in case the matter surfaces at the up-coming meeting of the Wye Consultation Panel and/or the Community Workshop.

Brooks Wilson responded with… ‘a very measured and well crafted response’. A pat on the head if you like. No wonder he was approaching Wye’s borough councillor at a local consultation panel meeting later and declaring, ‘Cooling, you owe me lunch.’

Did Councillor Cooling get cross at all with the college over this period? On two occasions. When save-wye revealed that Imperial had erected a large number of illegal and exceedingly ugly signs over the campus he let rip with a highly critical e-mail, and managed to take a swipe at us at the same time, a practice he engaged in frequently throughout the campaign.

Having spent most of the last 10 days trying to persuade the village to engage with your consultation process and not simply criticise or ignore it, you can imagine my frustration when I saw those hideous signs. There were 28 messages about them waiting on my voicemail!

I see from the save-wye website that only 5 signs are being re-considered. I shall treat that with the caution I reserve for all emanations from that site, but if correct, I do have to say I suspect the true figure of signs in breach of planning legislation may be about double that figure.

But what annoyed him most? The signs or the fact that they were damaging the Imperial case. He told Brooks Wilson, ‘They are being cited as clear evidence of ICL’s insensitivity to the historic setting in Wye. Stark and poorly proportioned, perhaps an appropriate indication of corporate branding on 19th and 20th century buildings in the heart of London – but wholly inappropriate in the heart of a mediaeval village in midst of the Kent countryside. “If they put up signs like this, what are their new buildings going to look like?” I hope you will understand when I say that, from where I sit, this has all the appearance of a particularly crass and insensitive move at the present time.’

The college dealt with the signs, naturally, presumably grateful for a little local insight. There then follows one more correspondence about unruly students and that’s it, in this release of e-mails from Imperial after a Freedom of Information request.

What’s left unsaid? When he got around to outlining his position, Ian Cooling told the village that he was against any building except on brown field sites. Does he say this to Imperial? Not in these e-mails. In fact there is nothing anywhere in this correspondence that reflects the growing dismay and opposition to Imperial’s plans from the earliest stages when their scale became apparent. Read the contents for yourself. For the main part they sound like friendly advice, not the impartial, tough questioning one would expect of a huge property developer aiming to rip apart an entire community.

Nor is this everything. We still don’t know how many lunches Ian Cooling had with college staff, in particular David Brooks Wilson. Nor what was said in verbal briefings, of which there were many, though we do know the college was briefed on us and, we believe, on the Future Group too.

As we said to Ian Cooling here in September…

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’.

Now we know what working behind the scenes meant. No wonder Imperial thought he was on their side.

Ian Cooling’s e-mails with Imperial College. Click to download.

Cooling E-mails[1].doc


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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2 Responses to Councillor Ian Cooling, Imperial’s little helper

  1. Kerry Bethel says:

    The first proper Secretary-General of the United Nations, the pragmatic and well respected Norwegian politician Trygve Tie observed that “a real diplomat is one who can cut his neighbours throat without having his neighbour notice it.

    That was before The Freedom of Information Act allowed the illumination of such behaviour.

  2. Richard Bartley says:

    Thank you David for the privilege of another glimpse behind the scenes. Although finding your new article was a pleasant surprise, the contents are neither pleasant, nor surprising.

    Cllr Cooling’s check list of eleven points for his meeting with Professor Borysiewicz 20th January seems to reveal his prominent role in shaping the presentation of Wye Park. As does his intention “to discuss next steps with the Community”. What can he have meant by “I’m sure that, as usual, most if not all [my eleven points] will already be on your list”? His use of “as usual” suggests an established working relationship.

    The apparently cosy association that Cllr Cooling enjoyed with Imperial contrasts with the image that he presented nine months ago. On the 16th February he told Wye Parish Council ‘I have very serious concerns with the fact that I was kept out of the knowledge because I would certainly have been pressing a lot earlier that we have got to talk with the community. I was furious when I was told and I am subsequently reading the website [save-wye] and becoming more and more furious when I realise exactly how much has been denied to me.’

    Was his use of first person plural in the first sentence telling us something?

    At the same meeting Cllr Cooling also claimed that when first told about Wye Park he ‘went ballistic’. When pressed by a Wye resident he replied ‘Could I invite you to think: you feel angry, what do you think I feel? You are certainly not the only one in this village who feels angry.’ He added that the way that Imperial had handled the meeting with residents of Wye on January 9 was ‘a patronising disgrace’.

    His final comment certainly summed up the public view, but did the display of righteous indignation that packaged it convince many local doubters?

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