Save Our Sidmouth

Councillors still waiting for release of Knowle relocation papers

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A question at this week’s Full Council (16/12/2015) revealed that some Knowle sale documents have still not been made available to Councillors,despite the Tribunal ruling earlier this year.

Here is the question put to EDDC Leader, Paul Diviani, by Councillor Marianne Rixson (East Devon Alliance Independent, Sidmouth-Sidford Ward), with the answer received.

“Since 26th May 2015, more than 35 emails have been exchanged regarding release of all documents relating to the sale of the Knowle.
The last release of documents on the Members’ secure site was up to and including July 2015. An undertaking was made on 27th November to release documents to the end of October. We are still waiting. When will all documents finally be made available to all Members?”

“The Council has committed to the public availability of documents wherever possible and that includes relocation papers. We receive many requests externally and from councillors for information and make best use of officer time to manage those requests.
In the case of relocation papers these have collectively and individually required detailed scrutiny by a number of officers to check confidentiality and completeness.
We have published many documents relating to our relocation plans going back as far as 2008. The first set of documents was published in early September 2015 and the remainder bringing us up to date will be published before Christmas. In other words, in the space of only 4 months officers have been able to collate, review and publish nearly eight years worth of documents on top of their other responsibilities.”

Cllr Rixson’s supplementary question to the Leader
“Your response that the Council receives ‘many requests externally and from councillors for information’ is disingenuous. Members are entitled to see these documents and, if they were routinely uploaded after each meeting, they would be immediately available. This should take no time at all as redaction is not necessary for Members. Your claims that these documents have ‘collectively and individually required detailed scrutiny by a number of officers to check confidentiality and completeness’ before publication are spurious.
Mr Cohen’s response dated 8th September to me stated, ‘Following the creation of this record of past documents, I am looking to publish key relocation documents on a more ‘real time’ basis .’ Why, despite this promise, is this still not happening? Will you fulfil this undertaking in future?
Finally, what does the Council Leader think that these continued long delays in releasing information that should be in the public domain do for his claims to be ‘open and transparent’?”

The gist of the Leader’s reply to the supplementary question, was that Cllr Rixson was criticising officers. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Some background, from EDDC website:

Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal

6 May 2015

Council prepares to release documents that sparked tribunal

‘Lessons will be learned from conduct of appeal after chairman’s criticism

East Devon District Council has started making preparations to release documents containing background information about the proposed move of the council’s offices away from Knowle.

This follows a ruling by an appeal tribunal, calling on the council to divulge the information, but recognising the council’s case that some sensitive words or passages should be blocked out – or ‘redacted’.

Whilst welcoming the tribunal’s recognition that there was some justification for withholding certain types of information, the council will, as instructed, now move to make public all six documents – with those redactions.

A council spokesman said:

> We respect the tribunal’s decision and will of course abide by their verdict. We are sorry that the tribunal chairman found our conduct of the appeal to be unhelpful.

> It’s quite clear that lessons need to be taken away from this experience. These lessons can and will be learned and steps will be taken at the very earliest opportunity to look at the conduct of our appeal.

> In any form of partnership working, each partner has to respect the commercial sensitivity of certain information. This can be a difficult balancing act and we have to reflect on the fact that in this case we may not have got that balance right. We will therefore be reviewing our approach to protecting confidential information and we will be introducing new steps to improve transparency.

EDDC is currently reviewing all relevant documents with a view to publishing those that the tribunal has called for, plus any others that are no longer commercially sensitive.’

Finally, a further reminder of the Tribunal findings here:

One thought on “Councillors still waiting for release of Knowle relocation papers

  1. And let us not forget:

    a. the Freedom of Information request that I made which asked for a definitive list of Knowle documents that turned out to be massively incomplete;

    b. the set of Knowle documents supplied (under protest and well outside the legal time-scales) to some councillors that turned out to be massively incomplete;

    c. my own FoI complaint which was upheld with a paragraph at the end of the decision notice saying pretty much the same things that the Tribunal said at the end of its judgement;

    d. that EDDC responded to both the Tribunal and my ICO Decision Notice by asking the monitoring officer to review these, knowing that he was the head of the legal department that persistently provided the Tribunal with unreadable documents (prompting their comment about obstructiveness) and the same monitoring officer who was criticised in my ICO Decision Notice. Unsurprisingly, his report was NOT critical of himself.

    The bottom line is that EDDC cannot be trusted.

    They cannot be trusted to answer FoI requests truthfully.
    They cannot be trusted to consult with the public properly.
    They cannot be trusted to be fair to the owners of seaside businesses in Exmouth.
    They cannot be trusted to conserve the beauty of East Devon countryside (and AONBs) for future generations but instead want to cover acres and acres of countryside with housing growth of c. 30% (18,000 or more homes against an existing base of 61,000).
    They cannot be trusted to managed the Sidmouth beaches in a competent manner to prevent massive erosion (or indeed even to measure the size of erosion).
    They cannot be trusted not to raise car parking prices by 300% in order to demonstrate that the car park is no longer needed and that it should be built upon.

    And these are only the ones that immediately come to my mind. I am sure that others can list lots more examples.

    The bottom line (literally) is – EDDC CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

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