The battle for Wye represented a famous victory in the war for a proper, functioning democracy in our county. But although that battle was won, the wider war against the corruption of our democractic rights is being lost on virtually every front thanks to the corrosive influence of a quasi-official network of unelected people who are seeking to influence the planning process in Kent before those who pay for it – us, the huddled masses – have an inkling of what is going on. Imperial’s Project Alchemy is the perfect example of this — a monstrous scheme, worked up for 18 months in conditions of total secrecy with the active connivance of public officials and elected councillors.
Imperial got away with it for so long because of the connections that existed between one man – the ubiquitous David Brooks Wilson – and the people who run our county. They are connections that run deep and raise serious questions about who controls Kent, whose interests are being served by those we pay to provide the services on which the county depends and what can be done to restore the democratic checks and balances that are vital to prevent a total takeover by the corpocracy.
Cast your mind back to the public meeting of January 9 at Withersdane if the memory of that event is not too painful. Who was on the platform, who spoke in favour of Imperial’s vision apart from Borysiewicz and Brooks Wilson? Pete Raine, the managing director of KCC’s bloated environment and regeneration department, and David Hill, chief executive of Ashford Borough Council. Hill was nervous and clearly uncomfortable but Raine, self-confident as ever, was on top form. He spoke enthusiastically about Imperial’s vision, always careful to stress that the planning process had not been compromised. He talked about how a new road from junction 10a of the M20 would have to be built. He lectured the community on the importance of engaging with Imperial to shape its plans. And then, clearly carried away with the moment, he strayed off topic and quoted from the infamous Ernst & Young ‘lie-sheet’, the Project Alchemy Key Messages that we revealed here back in the summer. According to the college’s notes of that meeting this is what he said:
Mr Raine pointed out that the lack of plans at this stage is a well-known planning Catch 22, and commented that he doesn’t see a way round it. He gave his undertaking that such plans do not yet exist, pointing out that, whilst critics object to the current lack of plans, the invitation that has been extended is to discuss a concept. He suggested that if the community could engage in the consultation process, there is a chance of keeping Wye as world class institution, thereby minimising inevitable changes.
We now know this to be slippery, at best, or nonsense, at worst. Plans existed and Mr Raine, even if he had not had direct sight of them, knew that they did. They had been drawn up in 2004 by Ernst & Young. They included at least two maps showing where the college planned to put 400 acres of housing. KCC continues to sit on these documents and refuses to release them under the Freedom of Information Act, citing the exemption that relates to the free and fair exchange of views despite Wye Park being dead and buried with no chance of resurrection. Even if no map existed, Mr Raine was well aware, as we have demonstrated over the last few days, that there were plans for vast numbers of houses – a ‘sustainable community of 400 acres’ as he put in one of his handwritten notes from 2004. Yet he chose not to mention this at the meeting.
The day after January 9 with the village reeling from the presentation and without a clear idea of how to stop Imperial and KCC’s bulldozers, the ebullient Brooks Wilson sent Raine and Hill a congratulatory email which you can read here. In it, he said:
‘Dear Pete and David
A brief note to thank you, somewhat belatedly, for your splendid efforts last night on our behalf. I think given what we had anticipated, the meeting was a lot smoother than it could have been and I’m sure that this was due in no small part to your own eloquent interventions during the course of the night.
Many thanks for coming to support us. Borys and I have discussed how we could improve things in future and I know that Pete and Borys have also been in touch. We will follow up and improve on the next occasion.’
In the months since that evening at Withersdane, both Raine and Hill have protested that, at no stage was the planning process compromised by their authorities’ signing of the concordats. But Brooks Wilson clearly thought otherwise. Why else would he describe their efforts on ‘our behalf’ as ‘splendid’? Why else did he think that the meeting would have been considerably more uncomfortable for Imperial had not been for Raine and Hill’s ‘eloquent interventions’? Both men were wheeled out by Imperial that night because Brooks Wilson knew that he could rely on them. He knew this because the history of their relationships stretched way beyond the first tentative negotiations over Wye Park during 2004.
Most people at Withersdane that night would never have heard of David Charles Brooks Wilson and those that did would probably have remembered him as plain old David Wilson, former managing director of Eurotunnel Developments. He had changed his name to something he considered more suitable for a member of Glyndebourne and the MCC when he joined Imperial in 2002. How he came to become one of the top three at one of Britain’s most powerful educational institutions is another story but, for now, suffice to say that he was sought out by the rector Sir Richard Sykes who had an idea that somebody with the right connections would be needed to solve a problem in Kent.
Raine knew Brooks Wilson very well indeed. The one-time naturalist and director of the Kent Wildife Trust would have first come across the well-lunched director of estates during the latter’s time at Eurotunnel when the environmental mitigation for the biggest construction project of the 20th century was being discussed. When he joined KCC in 1998, he would have encountered Brooks Wilson again, this time because DCBW, as he styles himself, was an established member of the Kent power network, a nebulous group that was to solidify into an organization called the Kent Ambassadors, a group that has nothing whatsoever to do with the ordinary folk of Kent but is, nevertheless, funded to the tune of £16,000 a year out of your council taxes.
The Kent Ambassadors was set up, according to the PR guff from KCC, for its members to promote Kent as they tour the country and the world. That may well be the case for most of them, but the group was clearly used by Imperial to work up its plans for Wye. It counts Lord Bruce-Lockhart, former KCC leader and signatory to the first concordat, among its members. In July this year, after save-wye.org had first revealed that Wye Park was on its knees, Brooks Wilson emailed Sir Richard Sykes to inform him that he had met ‘Sandy’ at the most recent meeting of the ambassadors where save-wye’s story had been discussed. ‘We need to reassure them,’ said Brooks Wilson, ‘they’re getting anxious.’
And whose department controls KCC’s financing and secretarial support for the the Kent Ambassadors? Why, step forward Mr Charles Peter Everton Raine, aka ‘Pete’.
It doesn’t end there, not by a long shot. Mr Brooks Wilson is also a board member of Locate in Kent — the inward investment quango set up and funded at huge cost to you by KCC. Attending its meetings at West Malling, DCBW is always assured of at least one friendly face — sitting across the table from him is fellow board member, Pete Raine.
Does Mr Brooks Wilson have any investment in Kent? Certainly not in property – he has homes in Bow, East London, and near Milton Keynes and nothing here as far as we can tell. But over the years this busy man, who considers himself to be a property developer, has sat on a number of boards of Kent companies and quangoes. Take the Ashford (now Kent Invicta) Chamber of Commerce. He resigned that a couple of years ago, but not before getting to know fellow board member David Hill, the chief executive of Ashford Borough Council — the man who went on to become one of Wye Park’s leading cheerleaders and ‘spoke so eloquently’ in support of Imperial at the January 9 public meeting.
Mr Brooks Wilson was, until the Wye Park plans started to form, the vice chairman of the South East of England Regional Assembly’s (SEERA) planning committee. He sat on SEERA with Ashford council leader Paul Clokie, naturally. SEERA incorporated Wye Park into the draft regional plan thanks to intense lobbying by … er … Pete Raine’s department at KCC.
DCBW sat on the board of Folkestone Racecourse at Westenhanger (an area which seems likely to be the next battle ground for the Kent Power Network, but more on that later in this article). He ran Orbital Park Developments, the Eurotunnel company which flogged off the land around Singleton for development — a position which would have cemented his relationship with both Mr Hill – formerly of the Northern Ireland Office — and Paul Clokie. Recently, Mr Brooks Wilson joined the board of trustees of the Brogdale Horticultural Trust, the struggling agricultural charity near Faversham, which enjoys a close relationship with Lady Sondes — the American aristo who owns thousands of acres nearby and is behind the stalled plans for a Global Non-Food Crops Centre to be sited at Imperial’s crumbling campus at Wye.
He was known well by Paul Carter, KCC’s leader and another property developer. In November 2005, as the plans were taking shape. Carter had lunch with Sykes and Brooks Wilson at Imperial. Afterwards, he wrote his gushing letter saying that he ‘very much looked forward to working with David [Brooks Wilson] and John [McCready – see below] on the communications strategy’. Just 14 days later, he was at it again writing to Sykes thanking him for another lunch and making it clear that he was completely supportive of Imperial’s project. You can read the full letter here, but note the most revealing paragraph:
‘I am very excited about the prospects that the project offers from Imperial, Wye and Kent and am extremely supportive of the concept.’
Hardly the words of somebody prepared to be an independent arbiter of Imperial’s plans.
But it was Locate in Kent and the Kent Ambassadors where most of the action was when it came to Wye Park. It was here that crucial relationshjps were formed and the deal worked up. DCBW, known as a generous and convivial character, shared his position on these bodies with others who would feature strongly in the planned bulldozing of the Wye AONB:
John McCready: You’ve probably seen his name on many of the documents swirling around Wye Park. He’s big in Ernst & Young, engaged by Imperial as the original consulting contractor for Wye, drew up the original Project Alchemy plans and was instrumental in setting up the secret Quickplace website through which the likes of Raine, Hill and Brooks Wilson could communicate away from the prying eyes of the Freedom of Information Act. Mr McCready lives in Berkshire. He has, as far as we can tell, no personal investment in Kent. But what’s this? He, too, was a board member of Locate in Kent and is a close business contact of Mr Brooks Wilson. He also sits on the board of two groups – Crossways and Whitecliff Developments – which are Land Securities companies set-up to drive development of the area around the Ebbsfleet International Station which has now superseded Ashford as Eurostar’s Kent hub. Mr McCready also held a position on the board of North Kent Architecture Centre Ltd, a KCC and Medway Council-sponsored quango – alongside Cllr Alex King, former deputy leader of KCC, cheerleader for Imperial College and ever-grinning presence at the signing of the concordats.
Hugo Peel: Hands up who remembers him in his bow tie at the launch of Wye Park back on December 9 last year? Ostensibly, he was engaged by Ernst & Young to handle the PR for the launch. But Mr Peel is also a very interesting member of the Kent Power Network. Like McCready and Brooks Wilson, he has no personal investment in Kent. But that hasn’t stopped him becoming a Kent Ambassador and taking a close interest in the regeneration of the area around Ebbsfleet with his interests in Whitecliff, Land Securities and Blue Circle.
Paul Hudson: The one-time executive director for development and infrastructure at the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) sees himself as an ‘enabler’, sweeping away all those pesky rules which make the planning system such a nightmare for developers. During his time at SEEDA, the quango set up the Ashford Delivery Board, chaired by one Cllr Paul Clokie. Mr Hudson was also chief executive of Locate in Kent where he knew Raine and Brooks Wilson. In March, this man was appointed as John Prescott’s head of planning in the South East, vowing to put the ‘customer’ first. He was quoted in the Kentish Express describing his role: ‘Part of my role will be to champion the cause of the planners and the planning process.’ He said he wanted planners to be seen as promoters, not regulators, of development. A useful man to know if, like Mr Brooks Wilson, you planned to stick a vast housing estate and science park in a nationally-protected area, a scheme which would have undoubtedly been called in by Mr Hudson’s department had it gone that far.
Douglas Horner: A member of SEERA, Mr Horner, like a certain cuckoo closer to home, likes to operate behind the scenes. A friend of Brooks Wilson, Horner sits on SEERA’s regional housing board, its executive and planning committees, an organisation called Business South East and the south east council of the CBI. He was the first chariman of the Kent Economic Forum — the predecessor to the KMEB, a member of the Kent Rural Task Force (with Sarah Ward — see below) a Kent Ambassador and a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent. He is a solicitor for Brachers in Sevenoaks and a director of Trenport Invesments, a company which boasts the owners of the Telegraph Media Group among its board members. During Brooks Wilson’s time on SEERA, Horner and he frequently substituted for each other during committee votes.
The battle for Wye was won but it was a damned close thing. Without a few lucky breaks, the masterplan would not have been revealed before it was too late and Project Alchemy would have been cemented into national, regional and local planning guidance. But the wider war against the people supposedly put in place to protect our precious landscapes and direct regeneration projects to the areas that actually need regenerating rages on. Look at the battle for Lydd or the skirmishes around Ebbsfleet.
The next big fight in this war is likely to flare up in and around Lyminge and Westenhanger just outside Hythe and, you’ve guessed it, there’s a member of the Kent Ambassadors right at the heart of it.
Bill Dax, a close associate of Brooks Wilson, used to run the Shuttle services at Eurotunnel. He chaired another quango called the Kent Tourism Board and still sits on the Kent and Medway Economic Board.
Dax retired from Eurotunnel in May 2004 and changed his name from Bill Dix. He took over a pub in Dorney, Surrey, with his wife and has earned the reputation of running an excellent eatery. He has little to do with Kent other than continuing to sit on the KMEB and attending Kent Ambassador jollies. In August, Dax went to see his friend Brooks Wilson. He had a plan, he said. It was a plan that would benefit a number of people but, he wrote in an email, before the meeting ‘most of all, me’. Brooks Wilson agreed to help Dax explore his plan – a scheme to develop a new truckstop around Junction 11 of the M20, supported by hundreds of houses to be built in and around Westenhanger.
The land around Junction 11 is, in the words of a KCC report, ‘particularly sensitive’, and development would be ‘strongly resisted by environmental bodies. The area at M20 Junction 11 is designated Special Landscape Area and contains Ancient Woodland and is close to the AONB. This proposal would be contentious.’
Expect a concordat sometime soon.
You can see the full list of Kent Ambassadors here