Documentation on request to call in West Berkshire planning application 16/03061/OUTMAJ -Land to the South of Priory Road, Hungerford.

J A Giggins made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

This request has been closed to new correspondence. Contact us if you think it should be reopened.

Roedd y cais yn rhannol lwyddiannus.

Dear Department for Communities and Local Government,

Please can you supply under FOI/EIR all documentation relating to the refused call-in request of application no 16/03061/OUTMAJ - Land to the South of Priory Road, Hungerford.

I appreciate that some documents are already in the public domain on the West Berkshire web site:

http://planning.westberks.gov.uk/rpp/ind...

including a call in request from the North Wessex Downs AONB outlining the basis for their request being that approval of the application

'would raise issues of national importance regarding the application of planning policy, unambiguously set out in the NPPF, that extends the highest level of protection to nationally protected landscapes'

http://planning.westberks.gov.uk/rpp/sho...

The decision not to call in the application has also been published:

http://planning.westberks.gov.uk/rpp/sho...

Unfortunately it does not give reasoning as to why the Secretary of State disagreed with the NWDAONB.

I am looking for any representations made to the Minister(s) {consideration of the matter crossing two Administrations due to the General Election} or to the DCLG/ NPCU by members of the Public, other Organisations, West Berkshire Council Officers & possibly Councillors, the Developers and possibly our MP Richard Benyon who I copied in to my own call-in request, plus any internal notes/evaluations etc made by DCLG staff before advising the Minister not to call-in the application. If the evaluation is carried out electronically on a case work system then please provide print-outs.

Should you require clarification/refinement of my request please do not hesitate to contact me via WhatDoTheyKnow.com, especially if it is likely to exceed the time/cost limits of the Act.

Many thanks

Yours faithfully,

J A Giggins

Despatch Box,

                            
Our reference: 3543987             Information request

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Dear Mr Giggins
 
Environmental Information Regulations 2004
 
Thank you for contacting us on 7 November 2017 requesting information
about the refused call-in request of application no 16/03061/OUTMAJ - Land
to the South of Priory Road, Hungerford. 
 
I am dealing with your request under the Environmental Information
Regulations 2004 and aim to send you a response by 5 December 2017.
 
If you have any questions, please ask by return email. Please leave the
subject line unchanged when replying, to make sure your email gets
straight to me.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
John Pierce
 
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Despatch Box,

5 Atodiad

                            
Our reference: 3543987             Information request

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Dear Ms Giggins
 
Thank you for your request for information relating to the refused call-in
request of application no 16/03061/OUTMAJ - Land to the South of Priory
Road, Hungerford. 
 
I have attached my formal response.
 

Knowledge and Information Access Team
Department for Communities and Local Government

 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Dear Department for Communities and Local Government,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Communities and Local Government's handling of my FOI request 'Documentation on request to call in West Berkshire planning application 16/03061/OUTMAJ -Land to the South of Priory Road, Hungerford.'.

I would be grateful if you could take the following into account in your review:

Have all the relevant documents been supplied? There are no representations from the Local Authority and the body of the CPRE letter seems to have been cut and pasted from my own letter. Was there a covering email? Also my own correspondence has not been supplied and nor have the communications sent out to the call-in requestors subsequent to the decision and/or any follow up correspondence.

Are the redactions of call-in requestors names necessary? All of the representations other than my own were made from representatives of organisations and it is unlikely that they would have had any expectation of privacy, nor does it appear that they have been asked if they have any objection.

With regard to the redaction of the 'junior' employee's name on the RTI assessment form, could you
perhaps supply the level/position of the employee within the npcu. Furthermore it appears from the redacted copy that the evaluation was not reviewed or authorised by a senior employee. Is this correct?

Please also reconsider the further redactions within the RTI. The response states:

"The Department is also withholding some information in the consideration template. While the factual elements of the consideration have been provided, aspects relating to the consideration and recommendations have been redacted under the exception at regulation 12(4)(e) of the EIR which applies to the disclosure of internal communications. This exception encompasses information in whatever form it may take and includes advice and communications within central government between officials as well as advice to Ministers."

However the 'factual elements of the consideration' in themselves are a highly selective , inaccurate & misleading summary of the matters under consideration which might well have led to incorrect advice and recommendation/decision.

If you uphold these redactions under Reg12(4)(e) I would be grateful if you could then reconsider the public interest test. You state:

"The Department is committed to openness, transparency and accountability and recognises the principle embodied by the EIR that the public interest is served, in general, by information held by public authorities being made publicly available. The Department also recognises that there is presumption in the EIR that information should be released wherever possible. There is a public interest in the release of information where this leads to a better understanding of how Government makes decisions. This allows for the public to be more informed and better able to engage in the implementation of policies, delivery of services or decisions that affect them. In turn this serves to increase public trust and confidence in government."

but go on to contradict this statement by the argument that

"as each case is considered on its own facts, the Department must also consider that there is a very strong public interest in ensuring that on sensitive planning matters, officials are able to give considerations to matters within an appropriate degree of private thinking space. The specific concern in this case is that a disclosure of the information would affect the frankness with which officials can provide advice to Ministers. The argument is that disclosure would inhibit discussions and deliberation and consequently undermine and degrade the decision making process"

This seems to be a rehash of why you have applied Reg 12(4)(e) and does not take into account the presumption in favour of disclosure in the EIRs. Moreover ICO guidance Para's 42 & 43 of this linked document emphasise the importance of 'presenting the full picture' https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisatio...

"there is a public interest in fully understanding the reasons for public authorities’ decisions, to remove any suspicion of manipulating the facts. For example, there may be a public interest argument for disclosing advice given to decision-makers. The fact that the advice and the reasons for the decision may be complex does not lessen the public interest in disclosing it, and may strengthen it. Similarly, the information does not have to give a consistent or coherent picture for disclosure to help public understanding; there is always an argument for presenting the full picture and allowing people to reach their own view"

The example given is a Tribunal decision against DCLG and the facts seem similar to my own request except that the reasons for the non call in are not in the public domain, as the refusal letter avoided the issue by relying on a statement made by a previous Minister in 2012 that the Coalition Government of the time would use its call-in powers selectively.

Excerpt from ICO guidance:

"Example

The case of Lord Baker v the Information Commissioner and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) (EA/2006/0043, 1 June 2007) concerned a request for the advice given to the Deputy Prime Minister in a decision on whether to grant planning permission for a large building in London. The information was withheld under regulation 12(4)(e) as it involved the disclosure of internal communications. The DCLG argued that the public interest in disclosing the advice was reduced because the decision letter, which was in the public domain, fully reflected the issues considered. The Information Tribunal disagreed, and asserted the importance of releasing information to provide a full picture:

“It seems to us, however, that one reason for having a freedom of information regime is to protect Ministers and their advisers from suspicion or innuendo to the effect that the public is not given a complete and accurate explanation of decisions; that the outcome is in some way “spun” (to adopt the term whose very invention illustrates this tendency towards cynicism and mistrust). Disclosure of internal communications is not therefore predicated by a need to bring to light any wrongdoing of this kind. Rather, by making the whole picture available, it should enable the public to satisfy itself that it need have no concerns on the point.”

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/d...

Yours faithfully,

J A Giggins

Despatch Box,

                            
Our reference: 3543987             Information request

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Dear Ms Giggins
 
Internal review under the 
Environmental Information Regulations 2004
 
Thank you for your request for a review received on 11 December 2017. I am
sorry that you are dissatisfied with our attempts to handle your request
under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004
 
I am considering your concerns and will aim to provide you with a response
by 11 January 2018.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Tim Hayward
 
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Gadawodd J A Giggins anodiad ()

I reported this request for Administrator attention because the banner was saying that the response was overdue whereas in fact it is still within the recommended time limits for internal review and I have had a recent response from DCLG saying that this is taking place. There has been no suggestion that the request is vexatious!

Despatch Box,

1 Atodiad

                            
Our reference: 3543987             Information request

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Dear Ms Giggins
 
Thank you for your request for an internal review. Please find my response
attached.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Tim Hayward
 
 
[1][email address]
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

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