EDDC lack of transparency challenged – again

“EDDC’s transparency challenged over relocation from Sidmouth

06:30 05 December 2016 Stephen Sumner
Jeremy Woodward (front right) with campaigners from Save Our Sidmouth at Knowle in 2014
Jeremy Woodward (front right) with campaigners from Save Our Sidmouth at Knowle in 2014
A transparency campaigner is questioning what district chiefs are ‘so desperate to hide’ after they refused to release correspondence on how a developer for Knowle was selected.

Jeremy Woodward’s Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to East Devon District Council (EDDC) about the decision to sell the site of its headquarters to PegasusLife, and the deal between them, were denied.

He appealed to the Information Commissioner to force the disclosure of two key documents – but the authority again refused as it argues the papers are commercially sensitive. The matter will now go to a tribunal.

Mr Woodward said: “What are they so desperate to hide? Why is the council so determined to avoid being held properly accountable, let alone transparent to its rate-paying electorate?”

The tribunal will not be resolved before PegasusLife’s planning application for a 113-apartment retirement community comes before EDDC’s development management committee (DMC) on Tuesday (December 6).

Mr Woodward added: “This timing seriously puts into question the extent to which the DMC’s decision-making is being compromised. Any information touching on the planning application should be made available to DMC members – and the developer’s contract clearly refers to the planning application.”

He said EDDC would rather incur ‘further embarrassment and potential damage’ to its reputation, as this is the second time it has appealed against a ruling from the Information Commissioner.

Last year, the authority refused to release progress reports Mr Woodward submitted FoI requests for on its relocation project. The eight-month legal battle saw EDDC blasted as ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ and cost taxpayers £11,000 in lawyers’ fees.

After Mr Woodward’s latest challenge, EDDC complied with one of three rulings from the Information Commissioner and revealed that PegasusLife will pay £7,505,000 for the site, subject to planning permission.

A spokesman said EDDC is challenging the ruling on the other two documents on legal and procedural grounds as it believes the Information Commissioner has not applied her own guidance consistently or correctly. It argues that the documents are commercially sensitive – but the spokesman said it has always promised to publish them when this is no longer the case.

The spokesman noted the concerns about the DMC meeting but said contractual terms agreed between two parties is ‘legally an immaterial consideration’ to any planning decision.”


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