The deal to ‘negotiate’ away the future of Wye

As bodies financed by our money, Kent County Council, Ashford Borough Council and Imperial College fall within the cover of the Freedom of Information Act, which is just as well since, if they didn’t, we’d probably have surveyors measuring up the green fields around Withersdane at this very moment.

But don’t think for a second that these people have much respect for the responsibilities of disclosure the FoI places upon them. Time and time again they have wriggled out of their duties under the act, shifting documents to the offices of private consultants, for example, or, in the case of KCC, announcing key files were about to be released, then withdrawing them on the instructions of Imperial.

Imperial letter

If you want to understand the staggering contempt Professor Sir Richard Sykes, now awaiting ennoblement to the House of Lords, and his fellow pseudo-academic brigands have for the law of the land simply click on the image to the right and read it for yourself, in their own words. This astonishing missive, signed by Nigel Buck, now David Brooks Wilson’s replacement as the college’s estates director, was despatched to KCC on February 6 this year, at the time the council was realising it had to respond to a detailed FoI request from this very website, one that was about to reveal the first deception in many: the fact that there were actually two concordats, and one had been signed almost nine months before the people of Wye had been informed.

Did the revelation really matter, given that Imperial and its council cohorts were now charging ahead with their bid to turn Wye into a town? Very much so. Because the college knew that revelation would expose its lies out in the cold light of day. We missed the full implications of this at the time, for which I apologise. This web-site was still new, we were beginning to find our feet and also, to be honest, we had no idea of the depth of deceit and chicanery that was being used to fox the village into accepting its destruction.

Here is David Brooks Wilson in Imperial’s own official account of the January 9 public meeting at Withersdane…

He said that there were no extant plans and pointed out that had Imperial come to the Wye people months ago, it would have caused even more confusion. He assured the audience that the College came straight to them immediately after a main Board meeting at the College, and as soon as the (non-binding) concordat was signed.

No, after the second concordat was signed, and months and months of work had been put in at meetings where housing estimates of 700 acres, and the demand for £100 million for the coffers of Imperial, had frequently been discussed.

Paul Clokie played this game too. In March he had prepared a draft statement on Wye for a meeting at which he planned to answer a small number of questions from residents, provided they were submitted in advance. Naturally he shared this with KCC, getting praise from Pete Raine for a ‘good statement’. David Hill, Ashford’s chief executive, immediately sent it to Nigel Buck at the college with the admonition, ‘Nigel: Can I leave you to pass on to all those who need to know at Imperial? Thanks.’ Included in that missive to KCC and college were the names and questions of villagers, such as Alan Paterson, Garth McLeod and David de Saxe, for good measure. Clokie’s draft statement included the claim…

…the truth is that Imperial — at our suggestion — brought their thinking into the public domain at the earliest possible opportunity.

Thanks to the FoI we know how much faith to place in yet one more statement from the leader of Ashford Council.

So you can understand Imperial’s concerns to keep this awkward law under wraps. What did they do? They sent KCC, and we believe, in similar tone, to Ashford (not that we have our FoI request to them answered yet) a letter telling them to shut up. Not just shut up now, but forever. This extraordinary document is entitled, ‘Declaration of Intent concerning the Wye Park Project (“the Project”), above. In it, Nigel Buck states plainly that ‘during the current period of negotiations, all information provided by us to you concerning the Project (including any correspondence and discussions relating to the Project) is commercially sensitive in nature and that the commercial interests of Imperial College London would be prejudiced by the disclosure of such information following a request made to Kent County Council under the Freedom of Information Act. Given that such information is provided by us to you on the expectation that it will be kept confidential during the current period of negotiations, we would therefore expect you to withhold such information in the event that you receive a request under the Freedom of Information Act.’

So anything Imperial said to KCC was supposed to be prejudged as commercially sensitive, whatever its content. Not that this was enough for Buck either. Not only did he want to ensure not an iota of information was released to the public under British law, but he was adamant he wanted to know the identities of those asking for — and being denied — it. The letter adds, ‘In the event that Kent County Council receives such a Freedom of Information request during the current period of negotiations, we would expect you to notify us promptly of such request and consult with us to obtain our views regarding disclosure of the requested information.’

But that is not the most extraordinary part of this abrasive document. Note the use of the phrase ‘current period of negotiations’, not once but three times. KCC and ABC were the planning authorities with a public duty to control development in Wye, one which would have made them the first arbiter of anything Imperial wished to build. Their primary duty was to us, not an avaricious London college, and part of that duty was to be impartial. Here you see exactly in the eyes of Imperial, what that legal duty was worth. Far from discussing with a future judge of its plans, the college was actually ‘negotiating’ what it might build, a phrase that is meaningless unless Imperial understood implicitly that, once it reached the right formula, permission would be forthcoming from the councils whatever public protest took place. This secret behaviour makes a mockery of the pathetic consultation that occurred between the college and local residents. It is undoubtedly immoral, unquestionably unethical and very possibly illegal for any public body in the UK to undertake to deal with a developer in such a fashion.

How did KCC reply? Lawyers’ letter did fly around after Buck’s missive landed. But the ‘negotiations’ continued, in private group meetings and by e-mail shared around among the members. We simply don’t know the details because those legal discussions have been barred from view, among eighteen documents KCC refuse to release on technical grounds, even though the project to which they relate is dead in the water and will never be resurrected.

Look at the list below (click on it for a bigger view) and see what we are missing. A 32-page document from Ernst & Young from November 2005, a 14-page slide presentation from June of that year, a memo from Mr Perfidy Pete Raine to Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, a 33-page ‘outline development brief’, two A4 maps ‘with areas outlined’, Program for Planning (draft), Program for Build (draft), two A4 maps entitled ‘Sites and Areas Assessed and Constraints’.

The FoI process is swamped with appeals nationwide. Our own dating from March this year seems lost in space. We know there is no point in trying to take this further. These key documents will stay secret, as the pirates of KCC, ABC and Imperial wish, supposedly because they would ‘inhibit the free provision of advice’ (on what and to whom?) or breach the confidence of the college that has effectively stifled all FoI requests made to it direct.

Do you think there might be another reason? That these documents might prove once and for all that we live in a county governed by liars? Don’t they know we’ve woken up to that one already?

90518 Wye Lists Nov Schedule Iii

Documents

KCC comments on Clokie’s coming statement on Wye

The Clokie draft statement itself

Your questions and names, passed on to KCC and Imperial to keep them in the loop

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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2 Responses to The deal to ‘negotiate’ away the future of Wye

  1. Paul Burnham says:

    Thanks to FOI we now know a fair amount about the history of Imperial’s Plan A. Can FOI be used to find out about Plan B, which must already be ‘in gestation’?

  2. David Hewson says:

    Anyone can put in an FoI request. To be honest we feel we’re at an end to anything we can get out of KCC, and we are still waiting to hear from ABC. But that doesn’t stop any member of the public putting in an FoI request individually. Please do so – and if you wish use this site to publicise what, if anything, you hear.

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