• East Devon District Council on trial by Information Commissioner for withholding information

    25th August 2014 | News | Claire
  • EAST Devon District Council will have to justify its refusal to disclose details about its proposed relocation from Sidmouth at a tribunal hearing at Exeter Magistrates Court.

    At the hearing, on Thursday, August 28, the council will appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should have disclosed certain information as a result of a Freedom of Information request made by Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward.

    Mr Woodward asked to see the full minutes of various relocation working party meetings and the reports made by the relocation project manager.

    After receiving the council’s response to withhold elements of his request, Mr Woodward referred the matter to the Information Commissioner.

    The Information Commissioner accepted that the council’s decision to withhold the minutes was reasonable, but did not agree that the project manager’s reports were covered by the same exception under the Environmental Information Regulations.

    The council was therefore required to publish the reports and is appealing against this decision.

    The matter has been referred for an oral hearing by the First Tier Tribunal at Exeter Magistrates Court.

    In March, district cabinet members approved the recommendation for the move to a site at SkyPark, excluding a building, that would cost the council £986,000, to be covered by the sale of assets including its current offices at Knowle, Sidmouth.

    Critics of the relocation proposals have long called for the modernisation of the existing modern buildings at Knowle instead and have questioned the viability of locating the headquarters on the fringe of the district.

    The tribunal is the first of its kind for the council.

    Mr Woodward, said: “The council has acted as both executive and policeman, making key decisions in private and then determining which information it deems fit to be made public.

    “The fact that the council has appealed against the Information Commissioner’s decision shows how determined it is to keep these key reports on relocation from the public gaze – one wonders, therefore, what is hidden within.”

    Mr Woodward said that the case is “fundamentally about transparency of process” and he expressed concerns that the council’s leadership has been making decisions about its relocation project “in private, without adequately informing members”.

    “This has had the effect of preventing any proper debate of the issues,” he continued.

    “There has been virtually no open discussion, hampered by the political leadership controlling the flow of information.

    “I have argued that key documents which have guided decision-making on relocation should be published in full (apart from any company or private names, of course) to enable an informed debate to take place.

    “The fact that the reports were produced by external consultants Davis Langdon, who employs the author of the reports Steve Pratten, simply consolidates the argument that these documents should be published.”

    For more information on transport and parking see the East Devon Alliance website here – http://eastdevonalliance.org/