5th May 2015
In 2013, Jeremy Woodward, (SOS, (Save Our Sidmouth)), asked East Devon District Council, (EDDC), to release reports prepared by their Project Manager relating to the Relocation of their Knowle Offices. The reports contained information about the costs, programme and background to EDDC’s “ambition” to relocate their offices.
EDDC refused our request, , saying that this information was confidential. We appealed to the Information Commissioner, who ruled in our favour, saying that as the reports were prepared by an external consultant they should be released.
EDDC appealed against this decision, and the case went to a legal Tribunal which heard oral evidence in August 2014. After much further correspondence from EDDC , the Judge leading the Tribunal, in a Decision letter dated 5th May has ruled in our favour, saying that the Information Commissioner was correct in his interpretation and that information must be released. He is still waiting though for further information from EDDC so that he may make a judgement on the full extent of the disclosures.
In his judgement the Judge, B Kennedy QC says, “This Tribunal takes the unusual and unfortunate step of commenting on the conduct of the appeal itself. We are unanimous in our view that this appeal has taken much longer than it should have done and the reason for this seems to be the failure on the part of the public authority, the appellant, to address itself with sufficient attention to the details of what information and documents it was supplying to the Commissioner and ultimately also to the Tribunal….Correspondence on behalf of the Council, rather than ensuring the Tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful…… We believe this appeal could and should have been dealt with completely at the hearing in August 2014 and the decision promulgated six months ago had the Council discharged its responsibilities properly.”
EDDC has spent over £11,000 of public money in fighting this case, money which could have been spent on much more worthwhile and productive activities.
Throughout our campaign against the relocation of the Knowle we have continually been battling against EDDC errors, deliberate obfuscations and a refusal to examine rational options. A decision to confirm the relocation was made by the Council in late March 2015, based on what we still believe are very doubtful foundations.
We fully endorse the Judge’s conclusions on EDDC’s behaviour not only related to this particular event. We believe that EDDC personnel involved should be considering their positions.
Richard Thurlow, Chair, Save our Sidmouth
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May 5, 2015 at 10:34 pm
It is clear to everyone, that the prevarication, submission of documents deliberately made unreadable and the lies associated with this (which if made under oath could well be perjury) were almost certainly designed to delay the judgement until after a decision on the relocation as taken – and this now also sheds more light on why there was such a rush in March to make a formal decision.
I am unclear whether this judgement opens the door to a judicial review.
What is clear is that this judgement has now brought EDDC into considerable disrepute, and the reputation of EDDC cannot only be cleaned up once all those responsible have gone.
In my opinion, Mark Williams, Richard Cohen and Henry Gordon Lennox should all be considering whether their positions are now at all tenable.
All Cabinet members and members of the Office Relocation working group should also be considering their positions and whether they should remove themselves from the election rather than face a barrage of questions and criticism from the press, the public and the new council.
It would seem that there is a significant Aim missing from the East Devon Alliance’s list of aims – to clean up EDDC politics.
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