From today’s Sidmouth Herald:
‘A transparency regulator has given district chiefs one month to reveal details they have tried to keep private on their move away from Sidmouth.
Campaigner Jeremy Woodward submitted Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to East Devon District Council (EDDC) about the decision to sell the site of its Knowle HQ to PegasusLife. When the authority refused to release some documents, he appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The ICO has now ruled that the authority should release ‘full, unredacted’ details of the agreement it entered into with the developer, the price it is prepared to pay,as well as minutes of meetings and correspondence on the decision to award the contract.
Back in 2014, EDDC was ordered to reveal the details of documents it preferred to keep secret – but instead chose to contest the ICO ruling. It lost at a tribunal and was ordered to release a tranche of key documents on its relocation project.
Mr Woodward, whose FoI request led to the 2014 battle, said: “The question now is whether the council will again contest the ICO’s ruling.
“This goes to the heart of how the council operates.
“As the ICO says in its ruling, this is very much an issue of transparency.” The ICO ruled that EDDC should release the conditional price PegasusLife is prepared to pay for Knowle, but not details of the build cost for the authority’s new HQ at Honiton, as this could affect its ability to negotiate with contractors.
It said the case is about the council‘spending public money on its own facilities, for its own purposes’.
The ICO said: “[EDDC] has argued that it needs to change offices as, overall, doing so would save the public money compared to staying in its current offices.
“The public, however, cannot know whether this is true without further information being open for them to scrutinise.”
PegasusLife hopes to build a retirement community of 115 homes at Knowle, with some facilities open to the public. The site is allocated for 50 homes in EDDC’s Local Plan.
The planning application is set to go to its development management committee next month.
An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council has received the decision from the ICO and is considering the content.” ‘