Ian Cooling and Imperial College: some facts

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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’.

Carterrag

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).

Carter letter

Cooling E-Mails

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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.
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9 Responses to Ian Cooling and Imperial College: some facts

  1. Richard Honey says:

    I am commenting for the first time on the save-wye.org website as I think that this article is unfair to Ian Cooling. I was the lawyer advising the Wye Future Group on planning law issues, and was involved in the discussions with Ashford Borough Council on the inclusion of the policy on Wye in the Ashford Local Development Framework Core Strategy, to which Ian refers in his election literature. I must also declare an interest as I am standing for the Conservatives in the Borough Council elections. My reason for commenting is not to defend Ian as such, but to ensure that a fuller picture is before the electors of Wye now that this article has been posted on save-wye.org.

    I know that Ian did lobby the leader of ABC and its senior officers in the late summer of 2006 for the proposed policy on Wye to be removed from the LDF Core Strategy. This lobbying was successful in that the policy was removed from the draft before publication. Ian’s efforts were an important part of what contributed to this change, along with much work by the WFG and Wye Parish Council, the release by save-wye.org of details of Imperial’s proposals, and the letters written by concerned residents to Richard Alderton, ABC’s head of planning.

    I personally wrote a detailed briefing note for Ian on why the inclusion of the Wye policy in the LDF Core Strategy was wrong in planning terms in August 2006 – at Ian’s request. I also spent a couple of hours with Ian on 3 August 2006, briefing him on the relevant points. Ian attended two meetings with Richard Alderton and representatives of the WFG and Wye Parish Council on 4 August and 4 September 2006 to discuss the inclusion of the Wye policy in the Core Strategy. I know that he had other meetings with both the elected leader of the Borough Council and senior officers in relation to the matter. Ian’s access to those at the top of ABC meant that the joint message from WFG and Wye Parish Council – and Ian himself – got through clearly to those who were taking the decisions.

    In short, what Ian says in his election literature is right. As I said in my Kent on Sunday article on 24 September 2006, it was the omission of the Wye policy from the LDF Core Strategy, and the statement by the leader of ABC that he was increasingly anxious about the Wye Park Project, that were the final nails in the coffin of the project. Ian Cooling played an important part in bringing about those two critical steps.

  2. David Hewson says:

    I don’t question that Ian Cooling came round to the defence of Wye in the end. But why did it take until August, when it was clear to everyone that the plan was floundering? Why, more importantly, was he so instrumental and zealous in getting this flightless bird off the ground in the first place? The evidence is there – in Paul Carter’s letter, in his own fulsome emails to Imperial, and, without doubt, in the stacks of documents, reports and meeting accounts which are still being withheld from public view.

    Unfortunately Councillor Cooling seems to feel it’s none of his constituents’ business if he takes hospitality and engages in secret meetings to offer advice to a property developer wanting to change Wye forever. This is, I think, plain in the note he writes to the council monitoring officer when a constituent had the impertinence to ask for details of his lunches with Imperial. He wrote, ‘I’m as certain as I can be that it is a fishing expedition to establish how often I have met with Imperial, KCC et al.’ Don’t we have the right to know? Or is this so-called openness only to be trotted out once every four years for elections?

    PS. I can’t help but notice that, in the middle of July, when the battle for Wye was approaching its peak, someone called Ian Cooling found time to write a glowing review of a meal taken at a very fancy restaurant in the city of London, Les Trois Garcons, patronised by Madonna and Donatella Versace among others. You can read the review here. Is this one more example of Wye being ‘at the top table’ I wonder?

  3. Justin Williams says:

    Richard,

    Much as I admire the esprit de corps within the Ashford Conservative Association that has led you to come out in defence of your fellow candidate, I’m afraid that you are as wrong about Ian Cooling as you were about what brought Imperial’s project down.

    1) Ian Cooling has admitted on save-wye, in public, that Imperial’s officers had good cause to believe that he was on the college’s side, not the side of the people of Wye who were overwhelmingly opposed to their ‘vision’.

    2) Until August, when this website published the full horror that Imperial intended to visit upon Wye, Ian Cooling was silent in public but very busy in private – busy briefing Imperial on the opposition to its plan, busy providing succour to the likes of Borys and Brooks Wilson, busy lunching at eye-waterlingly expensive restaurants and then writing reviews of them (http://www.london-eating.co.uk/199-2.htm).

    3) In June at a lunch held by Paul Carter at County Hall Ian Cooling told the attendees – including Sir Richard Sykes, Borys and Brooks Wilson – that the vast majority of people in Wye were in favour of development, that the parish council was ‘floundering’ and that this website was riddled with inaccuracies. He then refused to discuss the lunch – at which he attempted to negotiate away the future of the village – with the people who elected him.

    4) Ian only switched to the side of the white when the plans were published by this website and a letter writing campaign began to get the plans kicked out of the LDF. Richard Alderton, Ashford’s head of planning, has said on the record that the publication of the plans and the enormous number of letters written by Ian’s electorate – hundreds of people enraged by Ian’s appalling behaviour – were the reasons that the plan was dropped from the LDF.

    I respect you, Richard. Heck, I might even vote for you because I think you might do something to clean up the sleaze that the Ashford Conservative group has sunk into, but you are very wrong about Ian Cooling. If the village had behaved as he did, Brooks Wilson’s bulldozers would be cutting the turf around Withersdane right now.

  4. Cliff Whitbourn says:

    Richard,

    you seem to have fallen into the same trap as Mr. Green when it comes to beleiving our erstwhile Borough Councillor.

    As I wrote to our M.P. ‘for former diplomat read consumate dissembler of the truth’!

    I only hope that the traditional Conservative voters, such as myself, in the Wye Ward have the courage to say enough is enough on this occasion and send a message to our Borough Council, via the ballot box, that they cannot continue to treat us all as simpletons.

  5. Kerry Bethel says:

    Thank you, Richard Honey for confirming that Ian’s about face on Wye Park happened in late Summer 2006. This is already very well known and a matter of public record. Nothing new here then!

    It is what happened beforehand that has not been properly explained by Ian and his party ‘cohorts’ although save-wye has gone a long way to throw light on the matter for the benefit of the Wye Electorate.

  6. Justin Williams says:

    Richard,
    I understand that you are spending Tuesday evening in Hamstreet canvassing voters on behalf of the Conservative candidate there. The sitting candidate, Peter Davison, is an Independent and was Wye’s only friend on the borough council last year.
    He is a deeply principled and honest man – attributes your party conspicuously lacks locally. Like me, he is a Conservative at heart. Paul Clokie – your leader – loathes him and is concentrating more resources on Hamstreet than anywhere else.
    I am very dismayed that you have chosen to be a part of this. Why, for instance, are you not campaigning with your sleaze-ridden friend down the hill in Wye if you are so confident of victory in Saxon Shore that you can go and help out in other wards?
    Is it because getting rid of Peter Davison is a higher priority for your spiteful leader than saving the skin of Cooling in Wye?
    I thought you were worth more than that, Richard. I am deeply, deeply dismayed.

  7. sue powell says:

    Always back the winning side: first FOR Imperial, then (apparently) AGAINST. Thus a politician keeps afloat – but loses his integrity.

    Wye Park was not the only issue of 06; there was also the oil depot site, which finally came up for planning consent. 57 houses – the biggest development for Wye since Chequers Park. Not a vision, a reality. The Parish Council, Flood Group and Design Group had serious reservations, and raised them in the Council Chamber. Where was our Member? Not present. Where were his comments? None were submitted. “my views are represented in the totality’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean). ‘There has been no serious controversy over the site’ – tell that to the Flood Group (and the Marines!).

    After a hardwon deferral, our Member undertook to support the Conditions asked for by the village. At least he did – untill 4.30 on the day of the final Planning meeting. Once again, Wye explained the importance of the Conditions asked for. Our Member made a pretty (and largely irrelevant) speech, but at no point did he support what Wye asked for. Why not? Why, having given an undertaking, did he renege on it at 4.30 pm? And why did he subsequently ask for the Minutes to be altered to read that he has Objected to the Consent? Plenty of Wye residents were at the Ashford meeting, and know that he did no such thing.

    Have a look at what is going up on the Bramble Lane site, and see for yourself how well served we were by our ‘top table’ Member.

    sue powell

  8. Peter Davison says:

    I am disappointed that Richard Honey of the Conservatives came to Hamstreet to canvas against me. In Wye’s hour of need when faced with the Wye Park Concordat threat, I spent many hours helping the village resist the development. It was I and not your Ward Councillor who stopped measures favourable to Imperial College being foisted on the LDF, and the Minute Book and emails exist to prove this. The Wye Ward Member was not a member of the LDF Task Group but attended with Cllr Clokie when they were interested in getting an approval.

    I am sure that Richard will have been asked to canvas in Hamstreet and the decision comes down to the integrity of the people involved. I can see that he would not wish to risk being tainted by being associated with the contemptible campaign being waged by his colleague in Wye, but the soft option of attacking me seems somewhat cowardly.

  9. Thomas Keith Horner says:

    My wife and I have just learned, in Spain, of Jack Woodford´s success in the local elections. We wish him every success in his future efforts to represent Wye. Local issues should not be about politics and those elected should see themselves as representing the whole district, whatever the colour.
    It is probably incorrect to describe the elected members as politicians. They should be called elected representatives.
    Jack´s election should serve as a reminder to all members of ABC that they have a duty to be “independent” and not to let personal opinions, aims, ambitions and political attachements to interfere with their civic duty and responsibility. Help Jack to fulfill this role.
    Congratulations to those who have spoken openly and through the ballot box.

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