Ian Cooling’s claim in his election leaflet
We hadn’t planned to run anything about the Wye election here. This website has never set out to tell anyone how to think let alone vote. All we have tried to do is bring you some truths, often ones which those who supported Imperial College in its effort to destroy the community of Wye last year have fought hard to keep hidden.
However, the statements made by the sitting Wye borough councillor Ian Cooling in his efforts to get re-elected are at such variance with what we believe to be the reality of events it would be remiss of us not to remind you of a few salient and proven facts. Not our facts, but those of the losing parties in last year’s campaign, in their own words.
Councillor Cooling says, in his election literature, that he fought against Wye Park and in the end, ‘My lobbying was successful and the plan was dropped.’ This is news indeed to those of us on the front line last year. Here, from official reports and documents, some gained through lengthy Freedom of Information procedures, others leaked from inside Wye Park, are some things you may wish to raise with Ian Cooling should he turn up on your doorstep.
Last February, at a meeting of the parish council, Councillor Cooling described, in public for the first time, his reaction on being told news of the Imperial plan and its support by both Kent County Council and his own authority, Ashford. ‘I went ballistic. I said (to David Hill, Ashford’s chief executive) “This is in my patch, I should have known about it”. What is the point of me being a member of the cabinet [at Ashford council] and a member of the executive if they won’t talk to me about things of this scale on my patch?’
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act we now know this is not at all how Ian Cooling appeared to Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council, as these secret events unfolded. In a letter to Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial, on November 23, two weeks before the public of Wye had any inkling their community was up for grabs, Carter reported to Sykes that both Councillor Cooling and his county colleague Charles Findlay were ‘on board’ with the project, so much so that Carter was ‘delighted by their enthusiasm’.
This, remember, was at a time when all three parties to the secret Wye plan assumed permission was a given — Ashford and KCC had, after all, already secretly signed away their support — and that they would have architects, if not bulldozers, on the green fields below the Crown by now. Carter’s letter is in full at the foot of this article.
At this same parish council meeting Ian Cooling told the public that the infamous Withersdane meeting at which the village was told vague details of the plan ‘in terms you might understand’ had been a ‘patronising disgrace’. Did he say this to Imperial this too? Not at all. Again, thanks to an FoI request we now know exactly what Councillor Cooling wrote in a detailed email to the PR man brought in by the college to win over Wye. In a fawning message in which he apologised profusely for not having written earlier, Ian Cooling outlined a hit list of eleven points the college ought to follow in order to gain success. These included a newsletter and a new, separate web-site, which did later happen. The exhibition room Imperial created and a ‘liaison group’ — surely what became the consultation panel — were suggested here too.
He also wanted media analysis and articles in Ashford’s Voice, the ‘newspaper’ paid for out of your council tax, and published by an authority that, ostensibly, was still an independent arbiter of Imperial’s plans. There should also be a communication plan and even a letter-writing campaign to drum up support.
When Wye Park collapsed, save-wye suggested Ian Cooling release all his correspondence and diary dates with Imperial to settle any suspicions about where his loyalty lay in the battle for Wye. He refused to do so and referred people instead to Imperial. You can read below the messages from Wye’s councillor they subsequently released, emails that display the close and cosy relationship Ian Cooling had with the college which had not long before employed him. It was a relationship in which he routinely informed them and their council supporters of information he felt useful to their case. But it is a partial record — an unknown number of messages between him and the college have simply been shredded by Imperial and, if he has copies of them, they clearly will never be made public. Many other key documents remain secret too, even though Wye Park is supposedly dead. Why, do you think?
It is also exceedingly odd for Ian Cooling now to claim credit for killing Wye Park given that when the village got to hear of the plans, he was claiming credit for helping ‘shape’ the project in the first place. In the early hours of December 8th 2005 he emailed parish councillors to boast that, ‘…I have seen my prime role in shaping the vision for this project, as being to make sure that the need to take account of local interests has been flagged up and heeded…..The mentions of the local community in the press release, are a direct result of my intervention…’
Strange indeed given that a few weeks later, when the widespread mistrust of Wye Park was becoming obvious, he was to tell the village that he only found out about the plan on November 18th and was ‘very angry’. How much ‘shaping’ could he have achieved between that time and the announcement in early December? How much contact did he have with Imperial? Again, we don’t know because the details are being kept secret. Other FoI inquiries disclose that he lunched with David Brooks Wilson, the man employed to deliver Wye Park, on at least two occasions, though he reported to the ABC standards monitoring officer last January ‘Looking ahead BW (David Brooks Wilson) and I agreed a monthly meeting would be sufficient but with some leeway for others as required. It is likely that the pattern will be that we shall each pay alternately.’
Last July, again in response to an FoI request, he also belatedly reported a lunch he had previously forgotten to reveal to the standards monitor: one given by Ernst & Young on December 13th 2005, for him and David Hill, the Ashford chief executive. Ernst & Young are the giant international consultancy which was brought in by Imperial College to create the original blueprint for Wye Park when it was known as Project Alchemy. How much did they spend entertaining your borough councillor? Again, we don’t know. In his late revelation of this meeting Ian Cooling tells the council standards monitor, ‘They (Ernst & Young) made all the arrangements so I do not know costs etc however in the interests of completeness I hereby declare that hospitality received.’ Perhaps these are what he refers to when he says that a vote for him is a vote for putting Wye ‘at the top table’.
If you have the time you can find any number of contradictions in Ian Cooling’s public statements and private actions over this crucial issue throughout the pages of save-wye during the last year, including his own astonishing admission that he believed Imperial ‘probably’ believed he was on their side not yours (you will need to scroll down through the comments to find this extraordinary boast). What you make of all this evidence is up you. We simply believe, as we did with Wye Park, that you should make your decision based on the full facts, not the abbreviated claim in Ian Cooling’s own literature that, ‘My lobbying was successful and the plan was dropped.’ He is correct, though, to say that the ‘ambiguities’ in Imperial’s plan were causing concern in Wye. But they weren’t — and aren’t — the only ambiguities to do so.
And remember: the documents you read here are not our invention. They are the reports and correspondence of the men who wanted to redevelop Wye, put down in private in the mistaken belief they would never see the light of day.
Carter letter and Ian Cooling’s emails (a partial release only).