When he and his officers suddenly did their incredible volte face in September and announced that Wye Park would not be included in the Local Development Framework, Ashford council leader Paul Clokie issued a statement saying that in signing the concordats, it had never been his intention to ‘work up’ proposals of such a scale. But KCC’s release of documents dating back to 2004 raises serious questions about what Cllr Clokie knew and when and we are forced to ask, again, ‘how on earth could he not know what was going on?’
First there is the original smoking gun — document number 65 in KCC’s list — a handwritten note by Mr Perfidy Pete Raine laying out what Imperial was demanding. At the top he clearly refers to Imperial’s desire to build in the AONB and to raise a £100 million endowment. At the bottom of the note — which is undated but is clearly from 2004 (you can read why here) — are the people that Raine wants to draw into his ‘small team’ to work up Imperial’s plan. They are two underlings from his own department and David Hill, chief executive at Ashford, and Paul Clokie.
Of course it’s just about conceivable that Raine did not set up his ‘small team’ and that Cllr Clokie was not, at that point, told that Imperial wanted to build on up to 700 acres of protected AONB land. Conceivable, but unlikely. Even if this did not happen, by early in the following year, KCC had officially drawn Ashford into the process and Clokie was preparing to put his signature to the first concordat.
Now fast forward to January of this year. The meeting of the 9th had just taken place and the members of Project Alchemy were feeling as bullish as they would at any time during the life of Wye Park. It was the high water mark. The village was angry but in disarray. Imperial was busy taking on big name contractors and its lackeys in local government were scurrying about trying to do as much of the legwork for the college as possible. Item 36 in KCC’s list is a long memo from Leigh Herington, one of Raine’s employees, to Paul Clokie. It is written to Cllr Clokie in his capacity as a member of the planning committee of the unelected quango, the South East of England Regional Assembly (SEERA). You can read the full document here.
In it, Mr Herington advises Cllr Clokie on how to get what he refers to throughout as ‘the Wye development’ into the sub regional strategies of the RSS (the regional plan). He recognises that the plan has been virtually completed and discussed in committee but suggests a few additions to the wording which would make the plan more sympathetic in tone to what Imperial was planning to do to Wye. At the bottom of the final page is this:
At this stage in the Plan process, I think it would be going too far make reference to ‘enabling development’
The next document which raises questions about Cllr Clokie’s protest is item 27 on KCC’s list, a handwritten agenda of the Wye Joint Officers Group — which consisted of Mr Raine, Mr Herington and Ashford council planning chief Richard Alderton — dated March 27 this year. The group had been set up by Mr Raine and its express purpose was to aid Ashford in the enormous task of drawing all the strands of planning policy together for the benefit of Imperial. You can read the full document here.
On the second page is this:
‘RA’ is Mr Alderton. The contents of his presentation to the group include the 20 acres of college, 20 acres of research park and a ‘sustainable community’ of between 100 and 400 acres. There is also clear reference to Imperial’s smash and grab ‘endowment’ Is it conceivable that Mr Alderton completely failed to mention to Cllr Clokie the latest on Wye Park on March 27 when his leader had just made a statement to Ashford council on his role in the drawing up of Project Alchemy just four days earlier, a statement which was cleared in advance with Mr Raine (you can read Mr Raine’s praise for Cllr Clokie here).
Did Cllr Clokie know exactly what was going on or was he, as he insisted in September, not aware of the sheer scale of Imperial’s vision. We don’t know. The only way to get to the bottom of this — and so much else related to Wye Park — would for there to be an independent inquiry into his conduct and that of all those local government officials and councillors involved in this saga. Such an inquiry would have to be set up by either Ashford or Kent County Council. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.