It’s time to kick the corruption out of Kent

CorruptWith every turn of this astonishing tale, you wonder if it could all get any worse. As the latest round of secret documents to be released, very reluctantly, by our local authorities demonstrate, the story of the failed Wye Park scheme represents a shocking indictment of the state of local government in the county of Kent.

And what does your local newspaper, the Kentish Express, think of these extraordinary revelations? Don’t waste your money buying a copy because we can tell you. They don’t merit a single word.

Why? Because this is a story the power brokers of Kent want to bury for good, and the KE is one of the many jaded baubles they own. They know there is only one word that fits the tawdry tale that has emerged these past nine months as Imperial’s grandiose scheme to turn the village of Wye into a small town has steadily crumbled to dust: corruption. This insane adventure, intended simply to raise £100 million in cash for Imperial while it simultaneously disengaged itself from the now-ruined Wye College it swallowed only six years ago, is the true face of 21st century sleaze. And if you want to do something about it, you’re going to have to start writing a letter or two yourself, since your local papers have been very firmly gagged on the subject.

Are we talking furtive handouts among friends? Not that we know of, but make no mistake. No furtive bungs are needed for a political process and those inside it to be deemed corrupt. Simply, in the words of one dictionary, ‘The practice of unlawful or improper use of influence, power, and other means.’

Could anything be more improper than this? That councillors and fee-grabbing members of public quangos should sit down outside the normal democratic process and quietly negotiate away the future of an entire community, supposedly protected by some of the strongest environmental legislation in the land? That they should, throughout 2004 and 2005, in circumstances of the utmost secrecy, draw up a scheme that speaks of hundreds of acres of housing on Wye’s protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, alongside offices and a business park. Then, when in their own minds the decision simply required rubber-stamping, release it to the public with false claim that ‘it was only a vision not a plan’ and that the residents of Kent were told of the idea as soon as it was humanly possible.

The scale of the lies inflicted on the public of Kent by those behind Wye Park beggars belief. Read the actual council documents for yourself here, files that have had to be painfully dragged out of the authorities using the Freedom of Information Act. Many more are still being kept secret, even though Wye Park is now officially dead.

What we do know tells a truly shocking narrative. Of how, in spite of all their protestations to the contrary, our public representatives were deeply engaged in the attempt to turn Wye into a new town all along. Of networks of allies working in private to prosecute the scheme outside the proper elected circles of committees and council members. Of local councillors keenly backing the Imperial case in private while, in public, telling their constituents an entirely different story.

And of how Imperial College itself, demanding the utmost secrecy of its council ‘partners’, regarded the discussions it was having as ‘negotiations’ over the future of Wye, a revealing form of language which demonstrates very clearly that the public protestations of Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council — that they remained impartial arbiters of the coming planning application — were simply a ruse to fox the outside world.

In the end, the public weren’t fooled at all. Wye Park collapsed under the weight of its own deceit and the growing clamour of a public horrified both by its scale and the nakedly cynical and ruthless way it was being prosecuted.

But most of those who were engaged in this cycle of despicable behaviour remain in office, unrepentant, perhaps quietly negotiating one more development scheme for another part of our beleaguered county. They hope that Wye Park will simply fade into the memory, and that the residents who so nearly lost their village under a sea of concrete and years of development will be content to remain ‘magnanimous in victory’.

If you are feeling that way yourself may we respectfully ask you read for yourself the latest documents here that tell the shocking story of how Wye Park came about, and the terrible cost it would have inflicted on the village, with the quiet coercion of your public representatives.

A multitude of private connections link the people who tried to destroy Wye. Many belonged to little-known organisations such as the Kent Ambassadors, Locate in Kent and the quangos of SEERA and SEEDA. Most were part of the power network which felt it had the right to run Kent without reference to its residents until the important behind-the-scenes decisions had been made and all that was needed was a quick round of ‘consultation’.

But something else connected the public representatives too: every single one was in office as a representative of the Conservative Party, and as far as we can see intend to continue that way in spite of the revelations that have come to light in recent months.

We have no political allegiances and would have demanded a public inquiry into the Wye Park saga whatever the politics of those involved. The stench of corruption that Wye Park has left over Kent will not go away until the ghost of this appalling saga is exorcised by a full and independent investigation into how it came about. Even Ian Cooling, Wye’s borough councillor, backed a reference to the Local Government Ombudsman in September, not that he’s mentioned it since.

Yet the saga of Wye Park has severely damaged the democratic process in a hard-pressed county that sorely needs strong and impartial public representation. The principal council players, Paul Clokie, Paul Carter, Charles Findlay and Ian Cooling, are manifestly unfit for public office, given their clear connivance in Imperial’s plans when their duties demanded impartiality, scepticism and a care for the interests and concerns of their constituents. If they had any respect for the system they have so grossly abused their resignations and apologies would have been on the table months ago.

Please ask the Local Government Ombudsman to launch an investigation into the collaboration of KCC and ABC with Imperial College over Wye Park. You can find detailed instructions on how to go about this here. There is sufficient evidence of bias and covert, unacceptable practices by council representatives and officials on this web-site to merit such a probe, and Ian Cooling’s own statement as a local councillor that an investigation is warranted.

We’d also suggest you might want to consider writing and asking David Cameron whether this is the kind of conduct we should expect from his new Conservative Party. David Cameron hopes to portray himself as a new breed of 21st century Tory committed to open and fair government. If these are genuine ambitions, he cannot possibly condone the scurrilous behaviour of some of the leading members of his own party. He wishes to reassure the voters of a county which has overwhelmingly supported his party over the years, he surely realises he owes his electorate an inquiry into the conduct of his own party members here now.

The voters of Kent need to know what exactly they are buying into when the place their cross against the name of a Tory candidate. Openness, honesty and fair and decent representation? Or a ticket into the shadowy, secret circles of power where the plan to destroy Wye was hatched, nurtured and quietly prosecuted over a period of more than a year.

The men who brought us Wye Park hope to survive and scheme another day. For all our sakes, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

Advertisements

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.
This entry was posted in Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to It’s time to kick the corruption out of Kent

  1. Paula B says:

    Thank you David – now we know how we can do our bit to wipe some of the smiles off a few faces!

  2. John Rogers says:

    Dear David,
    Thanks for all the latest batch which does not help my blood pressure! I have looked up the Ombudsman website which exhorts us to complain first to the relevant council/s. I see little point in doing so. Is this really obligatory? In the meantime, I am drafting a complaint directly to the Ombudsman and wonder if you would have any objection to my sending copies of or extracts from your missives to him? Any advice on the approach to adopt would be very helpful.
    John

  3. David Hewson says:

    We’re as new to this as everyone John. The Freedom of Information Act, which the government is now intending to water down, also demands that you complain first to the councils and won’t let you go to appeal unless you have done so. I don’t know if this is simply advisory or obligatory with the Ombudsman — perhaps someone else can find out and tell us all here — I’m up to my eyes in the ‘earning money’ work at the moment. A quick search on Google though does show that one ground for complaint is ‘incorrect and/or misleading information and advice given by officials’. There’s plenty of room to manoeuvre there on these last few articles
    Here are some sites with advice on dealing with the LGO. ADRnow. Adviceguide. Centre for Corporate Responsibility. Your rights/Liberty. If people have questions I’d suggest they post them here and we all try to chip in with sensible answers.

    All of save-wye is available for anyone who wishes to make use of it. None of the material here is copyright; it can all be freely taken and used as you see fit. We encourage that though for the sake of record I’d suggest people say where the material came from. Supposedly these FoI releases will appear on the KCC web-site too one day — if you can find them.

    Personally I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t worth trying to get the Conservative Party nationally involved. The elected officials concerned are all Tory party members who were elected in part because of their political allegiances. I would have thought ‘New Conservatives’ wouldn’t want anything to do with this kind of behaviour. So perhaps a letter to David Cameron might work too.

    I think it is crystal clear that complaining to anyone in Kent is pretty much useless, except as part of some pre-ordained procedure. I would also suggest that a complaint to the Ombudsman might look very good if it came from Wye Future Group, which is probably a bit cheeky of me given I’m not a member…

  4. Emerson Oetzmann says:

    Don’t waste your time with the Ombudsman. He is a toothless bulldog with no powers of enforcement and no guts.

    He is simply there to soak up your energy and waste your time.

    He will not even name the offenders in his reports.

    Been there, done that, twice, regarding other matters in the AONB.

    The complaints were upheld and buried. It was a complete stitch up.

    Also, you do have to complain to the councils first. If they are “too busy” their internal investigation goes on and on. Then “unfortunately” the Ombudsman cannot start because he does not have the result of their investigation to report on!!

    I beleive one of the complaints above was one of the longest on record. Not that there was anything in the KE about it.

  5. Emerson Oetzmann says:

    If you think a member has broken their authority’s Code of Conduct, you can report them to The Standards Board for England. (See extract below)

    We can only consider complaints that fall within our powers as set out by Parliament. For us to consider your complaint, it has to be about an elected, co-opted or independent member of the authorities we cover, and it has to be about something covered by the Code of Conduct. These things are listed below.

    Your complaint must also:

    be about something that happened after the Code of Conduct came into effect (between 30 November 2001 and 5 May 2002, depending on the authority)
    be made in writing

    The authorities we cover

    We cover the following authorities in England:

    county councils
    district councils
    city councils
    borough councils
    metropolitan councils
    unitary councils
    parish and town councils
    national park authorities
    the Broads Authority
    fire authorities
    police authorities
    passenger transport authorities
    the Greater London Authority
    the Council of the Isles of Scilly
    the Common Council of the City of London

    Behaviour covered by the Code of Conduct
    unlawfully discriminating against someone
    failing to treat people with respect
    doing something to prevent those who work for the authority from being unbiased
    revealing information that was given to them in confidence, or stopping someone getting information they are entitled to by law
    damaging the reputation of their office or authority
    using their position improperly, to their own or someone else’s advantage or disadvantage
    misusing their authority’s resources
    allowing their authority’s resources to be misused for the activities of a registered political party
    failing to report another member’s misconduct to us
    failing to register financial or other interests
    failing to reveal a personal interest at a meeting;
    taking part in a meeting or making a decision where they have an interest that is so significant that it is likely to affect their judgement
    failing to register any gifts or hospitality that they have received in their role as a member worth over £25

    Game, set and match, I think

  6. John Rogers says:

    That’s all very well, Emerson, but if we don’t lodge formal complaints in the public arena the whole sorry story will fade away. The guilty people who have behaved so disgracefully will get away with it and will remain in post only to continue their behaviour in the context of the next huge scheme. I shall lodge my personal complaints to KCC and ABC prior to complaining to the Ombudsman. I hope WFG and other individuals will do the same. We need these people to be called to account publicly.

  7. Emerson Oetzmann says:

    To John Rogers,

    I was simply trying to pass on the benefit of our previous experience and to make a suggestion which I hoped was helpful.

    That suggestion is that, subject to Counsels advice, the Standards Board of England is probably a better route.

    The Ombudsman system is essentially a process of arbitration and it only works if both sides want it to. In this case I am sure that going to the Ombudsman will simply give comfort to the enemy and there are those who would like it to go that way for that very reason.

    Save-Wye have kicked the anthill wide open. It would be a pity not to finish the job properly.

    The present incumbents will only remain in office if they get enough votes. So we need to find alternative candidates. Preferably young ones, so that we do not have to keep poking them to see if they are still alive!

    Finally, Please remember better access always means more houses. It may be inconvenient, but the level crossing is part of your defences.

  8. Jack Woodford says:

    The comments of the above gentlemen, is excellent, but the ‘vested interests’ are probably not reading this site, the principal actor in this drama, personally said at a recent parish forum meeting that ‘he never reads save-wye….so your comments go unread! the only solution, not only for Wye but for every other resident of Ashford and surrounding district, is to think carefully when they go into the voting booth next May, as to who they are puting their cross against, when they vote…the alternates are there,…. not just the usual red, blue and yellow candidates !

Comments are closed.