“Pre-Application Openness And Transparency”

A useful guide from the South Hams Society on what developers and officers can co-operate on before a planning application goes in and what rights residents have to know what they are doung.

” …You are entitled to ask the district council:

If you suspect that discussion is being held on a proposal for development that hasn’t yet been published as a planning application, you are perfectly entitled to ask the district council, as the planning authority, what it knows about it.

The Environmental Information Regulations of 2004 require public bodies, if asked, to release to the requester, within 20 working days, any information they have on proposals for the land.

There are certain defined circumstances in which they can withhold it but they wouldn’t often apply in the cases in which the ordinary resident would be interested.

The rules cover pre-application discussions and any other less formal enquiries. Your request needn’t be in writing, it can be oral, for instance, by asking a councillor, in or out of a meeting, and the rules would equally apply to a town or parish council as well as to a district council.

Any blanket response such as ‘Pre-Application discussions are confidential’ is misconceived and should be challenged.

Your enquiry can be submitted online through the council’s Freedom of Information portal, citing the Environmental Information Regulations.

Requests are perhaps best framed in relation to an area or place and a time period, without any reference to the parties you think might be involved. For instance “Could I please be informed of any proposal of which the council has become aware in the last year, in the form of a pre-application request or otherwise, for development in the field of which the centre is at SX66805021? Please include the record of any advice the council may have given.”

Make sure your request is acknowledged, and follow it up if you haven’t had a reply within 20 working days.

[A model letter example from South Hams can be found here]:

Click to access fer0829003.pdf

Teignbridge Council CEO given £264,000 to push off – now working for West Sussex on £138,000 plus perks

“A council chief executive was given a golden handshake of more than £250,000 in a deal that bosses tried to keep secret to avoid causing her “unnecessary or unjustified distress”.

Nicola Bulbeck, 60, left Teignbridge district council in Devon last summer after 11 years’ service. The council had repeatedly refused to reveal how much she received but its draft annual accounts disclosed yesterday that the former barrister left with a £264,000 “exit package”.

It was also revealed that she was allowed to stay on until the day after the general election last year so that she could earn a further £30,000 for being the returning officer.

After leaving the local authority she was appointed an executive director at West Sussex county council last January on an annual salary of £138,000.
There has been concern about a “revolving door” of senior local authority staff receiving significant payoffs before moving to similar jobs.
Several Teignbridge district councillors have alleged that Ms Bulbeck kept her company car as part of the leaving package. The council has declined to comment on the claim.

Phil Shears, who replaced Ms Bulbeck, had defended the decision not to release details of her payout when she departed. He claimed that the disclosure would “cause unnecessary or unjustified distress or damage” to his predecessor. Mr Shears was appointed the council’s managing director on a salary of £94,656, considerably less than Ms Bulbeck earned. Ms Bulbeck had been criticised for accepting a 12 per cent pay rise that took her annual pay packet from £126,000 to almost £142,000.

The district council and the Information Commissioner’s Office rejected several attempts by the Mid-Devon Advertiser to unearth Ms Bulbeck’s settlement. The accounts show that she received £173,091 “compensation for loss of employment” as part of her exit package”.

Jeremy Christophers, the council’s Conservative leader, said: “We have followed strict council policy and abided by the legal advice given.”

Gordon Hook, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said: “The leaving packages for some senior officers at local authorities are nothing short of obscene in the eyes of many. My view is that the general public have every right to know how their council tax is spent.”

Ms Bulbeck was not available for comment yesterday.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

“As Knowle Appeal Inquiry begins, FOI asks “what cost relocation?”

From Save Our Sidmouth website today:

“The cost of EDDC’s relocation project, originally stated to be “cost neutral” has been spiralling for years (see link below*).

The following Freedom Of Information (FOI) Request was lodged on 26th November 2017, and awaits a response:

Dear East Devon District Council,

I would like to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am also making this Request under the Environmental Impact Regulations 2004 which require disclosure on the part of Local Authorities.

Please let me have the costs to date of the Knowle relocation project, to include all preliminary pre “moving decision” costs, and subsequent costs of all work associated with the intended reallocation, including those at The Knowle, Manstone, the intended Honiton site and Exmouth Town Hall.

I should also like to know the current and projected costs of the Exmouth Town Hall move, (including all associated costs such as moving, staff compensation and travel costs and fitting out costs), and for Honiton and costs associated with the “mothballing” of various parts of the Knowle contingent upon the intended relocation of 90 staff to Exmouth.
Yours faithfully,
R Thurlow

You can monitor developments at this link:

Costs of Knowle relocation – a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council – WhatDoTheyKnow

As Knowle Appeal Inquiry begins, FOI asks “what cost relocation?”

Planning decisions must take air quality into account – so a council falsified the data

NOT the developer, the COUNCIL. Do we need any better evidence that it appears some councils no longer work for us but DO appear to work for (andcan be corrupted by) developers?

Cheshire East is the council that has suspended its CEO, its Financial Officer and Chief Legal Officer for unknown reasons. The CEO formerly worked at Torbay.


Though, of course, suspension is a neutral act and doesnot imply guilt.


On that air pollution scandal:

“A local authority has admitted its air pollution data was deliberately manipulated for three years to make it look cleaner.

Cheshire East council apologised after serious errors were made in air quality readings from 2012 to 2014.

It is reviewing planning applications amid fears falsified data may have affected decisions in at least five towns. It said it would reveal the full list of sites affected this week.

When considering planning applications councillors have to look at several factors, including whether a development will introduce new sources of air pollution or release large amounts of dust during construction.

Government’s air quality plan branded inadequate by city leaders
“It is clear that these errors are the result of deliberate and systematic manipulation of data from a number of diffusion tubes,” a statement on the council website said.

Sean Hannaby, the director of planning and sustainable development, said: “On behalf of the council I would like to sincerely apologise in respect of these findings, we would like to assure everyone that we have done everything we can to rectify these failings.”

He added: “There are no immediate health protection measures needed as a result of these errors.”

Cheshire East council, like all other authorities, monitors nitrogen dioxide levels on sites throughout the borough as part of work to improve air quality. The information is then submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Oliver Hayes, a Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, said the fact that the data was falsified was outrageous. He said: “Residents will rightly be wondering what this means for their and their families’ health. The council needs to be fully transparent about how far the numbers were manipulated and what impact this has had on the local area.”

He added: “If this is happening in Cheshire East, where else across the country are pollution figures being lied about? … National and local government need to get serious about dealing with this invisible killer, not just cooking the books and hoping the issue will go away.”

An internal review by council auditors last year found the air quality data submitted was different to the original data from the council’s monitoring equipment. It prompted an external investigation, the results of which were released last week.

The falsified data was from testing stations spread over a wide geographical area, according to the report. It noted: “The air quality team have reviewed their internal processes and procedures to ensure that the risk of data adjustment is minimised. There are now a number of quality control measures in place.”

Cheshire police said officers would review the case to establish if any criminal offences occurred.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of this issue and understand the local authority is now considering its response to the investigation.”


EDDC Cabinet meeting highlights

Wednesday, 14 June 2017; 5.30pm

page 26:

EDDC has underspent its Disabled Facility Grants by £336,000 as “Demand not as high as budget/grant allocation from Devon County Council”.

page 42:
Freedom of Information

658 requests have been dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act (Environmental Information Regulations) during the year 2016/17.

This figure has risen from 588 in 2015/16.

There continues to be a trend for requests originating from commercial organisations asking questions relating to council contracts; information pertaining to businesses and their payment of business rates; and topics of general news interest like the impact of changing legislation.

The council’s major projects, such as the office re-location and the regeneration of Exmouth seafront are also continuing to generate interest amongst local residents, and campaign groups, although these requests form a relatively small proportion of the overall number received.

The service areas receiving the highest number of requests are Council Tax, Environmental Health and Planning. …”

Click to access 140617combined-cabinet-agendapublicversion.pdf

Knowle relocation: EDDC defies Information Commissioner AGAIN and heads for court AGAIN


East Devon District Council have formally announced that they will only be complying with one of three Decision Notices issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office on 25th October.

They have formally released the already widely-known information that the price for the Knowle site to developers PegasusLife is £7.5 million – on condition that they receive planning permission. (Decision Notice on Case: FER0608237).

However, the Council do not wish to divulge the “minutes of meetings and correspondence on the subject the decision to award the contract to PegasusLife” (Decision Notice on Case: FER0623403) or give “a copy of an agreement between East Devon District Council and a developer, Pegasus Life, in relation to a site at Knowle” (Decision Notice on Case: FER0626901)


It is clear that the Council do not want any information to be revealed about the contractual arrangements it has with the developer. And in particular, they do not want this to happen before a crucial vote by their planning committee on 6th December – when the Development Management Committee will consider the controversial planning application 16/0872/MFUL from PegasusLife.


This timing seriously puts into question the extent to which the DMC’s decision-making is thereby being compromised, in that 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.

It is now obvious, therefore, that the Council would rather incur further embarrassment and potential damage to their reputation by appearing at the Information Tribunal – as this is the second time it will be appealing against the Information Commissioner.


The obvious question which has to be asked is: What are they so desperate to hide?

Moreover, the Council is clearly prepared to spend yet further on defending itself, no doubt with the use of expensive legal representation – and yet it complains regularly about the expense of having to deal with FOI requests.
Why, then, is the Council so determined to avoid being held properly accountable, let alone transparent to its rate-paying electorate?


It will be interesting to see how the Council deals with the legal process which will now ensue. Will it drag matters out as it did two years ago, during the first time it appeared at the Tribunal?


And how will the Council’s representatives conduct themselves on this occasion?



“Secret government papers show taxpayers will pick up costs of Hinkley nuclear waste storage”

“Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year.

The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – in its previous incarnation as the Department for Energy and Climate Change – resisted repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the documents which were submitted to the European commission.

“The government has attempted to keep the costs to the taxpayer of Hinkley under wraps from the start,” said Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist. “It’s hardly surprising as it doesn’t look good for the government’s claim that they are trying to keep costs down for hardworking families.”

But, earlier this month, on the very last day before government officials had to submit their defence against an appeal for disclosure of the information, the department released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”

Separate documents confirm that the cap also applies should the cost of decommissioning the reactor at the end of its life balloon. …”


Freedom of Information and transparency

“The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, is to raise with ministers the transparency issues created by private companies providing an increasing proportion of public services.

Denham, who was previously information commissioner for British Columbia in Canada, replaced Christopher Graham at the Information Commissioner’s Office in July.

In an interview with Martin Rosenbaum of the BBC she said: “Private contractors above a certain threshold for a contract or doing some specific types of work could be included under the FOI Act. The government could do more to include private bodies that are basically doing work on behalf of the public.”

Denham also said she intended to review how the ICO tackles public authorities with a poor track record of handling FOI requests. This will include examining the threshold at which authorities that fail to meet deadlines for meeting requests become subject to special monitoring.
The Information commissioner said: “Looking at this from the outside, most of the public would have the view that more than one in 10 not getting a timely response to a request is not a sign of success.”

Denham also warned that the Government’s proposed introduction of fees for those who want to appeal against ICO decisions to the Information Rights Tribunal could lead to “a chill” in requesters using the appeal process.”


Exmouth seafront tenders – time for review?

In response to a Freedom of Information request (below) on 15 February 2016, EDDC refused to divulge any information about the Moirai tender bid for Exmouth seafront.

Owl thinks that now this process has been abandoned, EDDC must divulge this information and that other bidders have no right to keep their bids secret.

Anyone fancy another request?

“Q 1. What information do you hold about any/all organisation that made enquiries in response to JLL’s marketing exercise in respect of the proposals ?
I refer you back to our previous response dated 16th February and quote from this below:

You also asked for the names of the organisations who submitted a bid for this work having been provided already with the number of organisations involved. In considering your request we have contacted the other organisations who submitted a bid and they have confirmed our view that this detail, at this point in time, is commercially confidential to them. We are therefore withholding this detail under Regulation 12(5)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

I confirm that this response still stands and is directly relevant to this question and questions 2, 3, and 4 below.

Q 2. Who were the two applicants who were not chosen at the final interview ?
See above

Q 3.Did any of the two unsuccessful developers include ‘residential’ elements in their proposals? If so details please/
See above

Q 4. Please supply fullest details of the proposals that the two unsuccessful applicants offered.
See above

Q 5. Please provide details of all persons who comprised the selection panel that chose Moirai.
The selection panel was made up of Cllr John Humphreys, Cllr Tim Wood, Cllr Andrew Moulding, Richard Cohen and Alison Hayward

Q.6. Can you kindly confirm that the number of organisations, out of the 4,000 plus that were contacted by JLL, who chose to submit themselves to the final selection process was only three?

4 were initially interviewed and then, in March 2015, we considered 3.

Q 7. Taking into account EDDC’s promise to the public on the non-inclusion of ‘residential’ on the Queen’s Drive site, did any member, officer or advisor ever consider that EDDC’s ‘offer’ to developers had failed to attract a suitable candidate for preferred developer? If so full details please.
No information held”

Freedom of Information: another reason for IDS resignation – and implications for Knowle?

Very reminiscent of the Knowle fiasco. Is it time for an FoI on financial aspects of the move that have hitherto bern kept secret?

“Iain Duncan Smith has surprised political pundits and colleagues by unexpectedly announcing his resignation last night as Minister for Work and Pensions. He had been the focus of much anger against austerity measures during his time in office as he oversaw a number of severe cuts to benefits. According to Mr Duncan Smith, his resignation is in response to this week’s Budget as he said the government’s cuts to disability benefits were “not defensible” at the same time as tax-cuts for high earners.

However, a legal decision this week has come to light which may also have had some bearing on the Minister’s decision. The DWP has been ordered to release potentially damaging documents after a four year long legal battle to suppress them.

In 2012, Freedom of Information requests were submitted to the Department for a number of reports relating to the early stages of Universal Credit. The reports contain details of problems and concerns which DWP staff raised about the programme and the outcome of a high-level review of the scheme. The DWP refused to reveal the information.

Appeals were submitted to the Information Commission who decided that all but one of the requested reports should be published. The DWP contested this again and a lengthy legal battle ensued. This week, once more, another judge ruled that they must publish the information.

The DWP has said it is suppressing the reports because they were compiled on the assumption that the information would remain internally and that if they were to become public knowledge, it would have the “chilling effect” of staff no longer briefing the Department completely honestly as they would always be wary that the information would get out.

However, critics have argued that the Department is more likely to be concerned that information in the reports is damning or embarrassing for the DWP and by extension its Minister, Mr Duncan Smith.

In particular, the DWP has projected that the Universal Credit scheme would be extended to 12 million claimants by 2017. However, figures suggest that a mere 200,000 have joined the scheme, which would represent a gross failure to meet the target.

The Independent has contacted The Department for Work and Pensions for comment.”