The lives and careers of some of those involved in the Wye Park saga have changed somewhat recently, in ways that happened too late to be included in the first edition of the book. Here is where things stand now with some of the key characters…
Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
The decorated scientist who took on the unfortunate and unlikely role of being cheerleader for the redevelopment of Wye remains in his job as deputy rector of Imperial College. He had been widely expected to succeed Professor Sir Richard Sykes (see below) in the top job. Few inside Imperial believe this will now happen, and most feel that the Wye disaster has cost him the rectorship.
David Brooks Wilson
The former estates director of Imperial became a familiar figure in the village as Imperial fought to get its development plan off the ground. He left the college not long after the collapse of Wye Park. After seeking other jobs in the UK with little success he is now preparing to start a new business in the Far East, where his dormant company Noble Wilson was reputed to be working when he first joined the college.
After expressions of regret about the collapse of Wye Park, Carter, a property developer by profession, has remained at the helm of KCC, though during difficult times. His authority has become embroiled in a number of controversies, including one over the revelation that it was employing the highest-paid council chief in the country, and the failure of a second expensive effort to bankroll an airline venture that, in this case, blew away nearly £300,000 before being abandoned without a single flight ever leaving the ground.
The leader of Ashford Borough Council complained loudly to all who could hear after Wye Park failed, declaring that he had no idea it was ever going to be anything of great scale, a claim many still find puzzling given how closely involved he was in the project. But Wye Park is a dim and distant nightmare for Clokie, who is now in the thick of one of the most sordid council scandals in Kent. This concerns the cover-up of the discovery of porn and other sexual material on the computer of a senior council executive who was allowed to survive in his job until the story began to become public. The prospect of a formal complaint to the Local Government Standards Board remains a strong possibility in this still-running saga.
Wye’s own borough councillor has been declaring for months that he wishes to put Wye Park, and the questions it posed about his activities, well behind him, and now rarely so much as mentions the near-destruction of the village in public. He stood again in the local government elections on May 3rd, against an Independent candidate, Jack Woodford, who was a vocal and very visible opponent of the scheme. The uncertain future facing Paul Clokie over the porn cover-up scandal meant that many believed Ian Cooling would make a play for the leadership in the borough if Clokie’s position becomes untenable. However, in an election that nationwide proved encouraging for the Conservatives, Ian Cooling was an exception. Jack Woodford won in a rout that saw the Tory majority destroyed, with Wye Park being one of the principal campaign issues on the doorstep.
The Conservative member of Kent County Council for Wye, and a resident in the village, has maintained much the same stance in the wake of Wye Park as he did during the tumultuous nine months of the campaign. He has said very little at all. The county councillor’s last direct words in public about the subject appear to have been issued at the Wye Farmers’ Market the morning after the project’s collapse, when he told members of the Future Group, still a little shell-shocked and with funds in the bank, ‘You’ll have to give the money back now.’ He is safe in his seat until the 2009 elections.
The chief executive of Ashford Borough Council has been careful to keep his head down about Wye Park, a project in which he was as much involved as his own leader. Like Paul Clokie too, he is likely to regard it as a distant nightmare at the moment. Hill is deeply embroiled in the continuing scandal of the porn cover-up at Ashford and according to some reports was personally responsible for deciding that the senior individual involved should keep his job, against all standard practice.
The former environmentalist Pete Raine lost many friends during the Wye Park campaign when, as managing director of Kent County Council’s regeneration arm, he became one of its most vocal supporters. On television and in print, Raine could be counted upon to back up the idea that Wye be redeveloped as a small town. Though a council officer, and a senior member of an authority which would one day sit in judgement on Imperial’s plans, Raine was never afraid to come forward and tell all and sundry what a fantastic idea the college’s concrete dreams would turn out to be.
This has not furthered his career, however. In February he announced he was leaving KCC, with no job to go to. This abrupt departure has never been explained. Some within the council believe it was to do with conflicts with the leader, Paul Carter, over some of KCC’s more outré anti-environmental escapades. Others think it was fallout from the latest failed Manston airline venture, in which Raine was deeply involved. Few have much of an idea where Pete Raine will fetch up next, but his chances of going back into the environmental movement in Kent, from whence he sprang, seem at an end, not that it could possibly match the high six-figure salary — and one assumes pay-off — he received from the council.
Professor Sir Richard Sykes
Sykes, an avaricious businessman posing as an academic, sparked the entire Wye saga by overturning the detailed plan put in place by his predecessor for the merging of Wye into Imperial and its development as a beacon of 21st century agricultural science. As a result his own college has lost substantial sums of money, Wye College has disappeared, Imperial’s tiny academic presence in the village is about to go entirely, and the future of both the college buildings and the farmland of the estate remain in doubt.
Richard Sykes is due to retire later this year. Imperial insiders say he lost interest in the Wye project long before it collapsed, after realising that BP would never countenance coming to the village. He regards the collapse of the plan as nothing to do with him, and feels it should cast no shadow upon his time at the helm of a great London university. Retired rectors of Imperial normally find their way into the House of Lords. It remains to be seen whether the ermine will really come his way.