Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: more background information: Thursday 28th August

There has been some media interest in the case going to the Information Tribunal tomorrow:
Date agreed for East Devon District Council HQ move tribunal | Exeter Express and Echo
Tribunal to rule on Devon council blocking move from Sidmouth | Western Morning News

See also:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: featuring on BBC Radio Devon: Thursday 28th August
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: Exeter Magistrates Court: Thursday 28th August... further reports
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: Exeter Magistrates Court: Thursday 28th August

A posting from the Save Our Sidmouth blog today provides a useful reminder:
Reminder: TRIBUNAL this THURSDAY 28 AUGUST, 10 a.m. EXETER MAGISTRATES’ COURT. EDDC vs Information Commissioner & J. Woodward | Save Our Sidmouth

The East Devon Alliance blog has done considerable research on the legal context and implications of this case:
What is a First Tier Tribunal? | East Devon Alliance
Knowle relocation: interesting case law on disclosure | East Devon Alliance
Information Tribunal rules on councils keeping employee grade criteria secret: they can’t | East Devon Alliance
Developers allowed by High Court to see secret contract documents | East Devon Alliance
An interesting First Tier Tribunal (Information) case with “public interest” requirements | East Devon Alliance

The EDA blog entry from earlier today highlights further points of interest:


August 27th 2014

Not quite the same as EDDC but with some interesting similarities:

When councils shroud their deals with private developers in secrecy, you get the feeling something's up - Comment - Voices - The Independent

and the decision:

Heygate FOI Appeal Decision - Tribunal Delivers Verdict - 35% Campaign

The full official decision notice is here:

and includes the following pertinent paragraphs:

“In relation to the disposal of the council’s land, land which would previously have been a public resource which provided council housing for significant numbers of residents, there is a public interest in knowing that the decision to sell this resource to a private company was based on a sound evaluation of relevant factors and represented good value and an effective use of a public resource. Disclosure of the requested information would provide the public with the same level of detail available to the council in its decision making which, in turn, would facilitate public engagement with the scheme and provide reassurance that the council gave due consideration to the relevant factors.

The Commissioner accepts that it is in the public interest for authorities to secure best value when disposing of assets and that, in the current economic climate, this presents particular difficulties. It is arguable, therefore, that the council should be allowed to progress the regeneration without this process being jeopardised. However, the Commissioner is also mindful that, given the fact that the asset in question is a public resource and that Lend Lease is a private company which stands to profit from the regeneration, there is a compelling, countervailing argument in favour of making this process as transparent as possible. Whilst it may be that the regeneration will free council resources which were previously tied up with maintaining the Heygate Estate, the Commissioner considers that size of the redevelopment and the number of residents affected should provide a trigger for transparency and engagement with council tax payers.

The Commissioner further considers that, as the planning authority responsible for adjudicating on Lend Lease’s planning application (which the viability assessment was created to accompany) and the authority responsible for the significant land disposal associated with the scheme, there is a further argument for a high level of scrutiny to be directed to the council’s actions. Whilst the Commissioner is not suggesting that there is a conflict of interests in play, the public perception that a public authority might be subject to such a conflict and the potential damage to an authority’s reputation which might ensue provides an argument in favour of transparency and disclosure. The Commissioner considers that disclosure in this case would address the general mismatch between the resources of the developer and those of residents directly affected by the scheme and council tax payers within the borough.

The Commissioner notes that an independent report published by Spinwatch alleges that the council’s consultation with the local community was deficient and raises concerns about the relationship between the council and Lend Lease26. Whilst the Commissioner does not endorse the veracity of these conclusions, he considers that the reputation of public institutions and their legitimacy and effectiveness in carrying out their role can be damaged by public perceptions. As it is not in the public interest for public authorities’ actions to be perceived or potentially constrained by such perceptions, disclosure would provide reassurance about the council’s conduct and would serve the interest in transparency and accountability.

The Commissioner considers that the significant expenditure of public funds, the need for public reassurance, confidence and engagement with the council’s decision making in relation to the scheme, the disquiet about the levels of affordable housing which will be delivered and concerns about the value for money provided by the disposal of public land combine to produce a heavy public interest weighting in favour of disclosing the information.

An interesting First Tier Tribunal (Information) case with “public interest” requirements | East Devon Alliance

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