Clarification of the public consultation that took place about The Knowle relocation project

Waiting for an internal review by East Devon District Council of their handling of this request.

Dear East Devon District Council,

I make this enquiry under the Freedom of information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations.

At the First Tier Tribunal hearing at Exeter, (Information Commissioner v EDDC) on 28th August 2014, Richard Cohen of EDDC gave evidence about the manner in which the council had discharged its duty to consult in the matter of the relocation of the Knowle offices. He spoke in general terms of stakeholder meetings press releases, FAQs on East Devon's website and other events. He gave no precise detail of the consultations nor the degree of approval or otherwise by the public, and many were left confused by his evidence.

The reaction of the public present at the hearing to Mr Cohen's answers suggested that they did not agree that there had been adequate consultation with the public. Unfortunately, EDDC's past reputation for thorough and reliable public consultation exercises, as may be judged from local press, is less than might be hoped for. (The Exmouth Masterplan consultation, for example, was subsequently shown to be a completely unreliable and unsound exercise conducted through self-selecting respondents).

For the public to have trust in East Devon District Council, we feel that it is essential that they, EDDC, demonstrate fully how they have discharged their duty to consult. We hope the following questions will welcomed as an opportunity to clarify the existing doubt and confusion in regard to the project.

The following questions are intended to clarify the nature, degree and thoroughness of the consultations and to distinguish between where EDDC has consulted, in the accepted sense of the word, and where it has simply made announcements of decisions.

Please note that the questions refer to the Knowle relocation and not to the separate issue of the required planning consent consultation in relation to outline planning consent re the Knowle - which Mr Cohen appeared to be including in his evidence to the hearing.

Question 1.
FAQs. On the council's website at http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/movingandimp... there is a link a FAQ page. It is not clear how did these questions arose? Were they only from the Stakeholder meeting Event of 26th July 2013 as suggested by that heading on the page concerned? Are they all verbatim questions from the public or paraphrased or otherwise generated by EDDC? Details please.

Question 2.
If the FAQs come from one meeting, how have you treated other questions and comments from interested parties, can they be found online or elsewhere?

Question 3.
Is there anywhere on an EDDC website where the public can make comments or ask questions, and expect replies from EDDC about the Knowle project, as with the EDDC Exmouth Vision website? If so where. If not why no provision for two-way exchanges?

Question 4.
We were given to understand that two Stakeholder Meetings were held. Where were these held, who was invited, how were invitees selected, were they open to all? (The EDDC photo * for the 26 July 2013 event appears to show only EDDC staff and councillors rather than stakeholders in the wider sense of members of public.)
(*http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/knowle-reloc... page 5 )

Question 5.
It is reported that there were events in Sidmouth. Please provide fuller detail of these and indicate, how they were promoted, the form they took, how many attended, how EDDC recorded and used the information that flowed from the interaction with the public at these events.

Question 6.
Some of the relocation material correctly makes the point that the relocation issue is not just a matter for Sidmouth but the whole of the East Devon District. Will you please give explicit details of how EDDC involved residents and businesses in all other parts of the district. Were, for example, there any events in Exmouth, Seaton or Axminster etc? Please provide detail of any such events and outcomes.

Question 7.
Mr Cohen spoke of there being a number of press releases, around forty as we recall. Where may these be seen in their entirety? Would you accept that such releases are information provision rather formal consultation, or were they part of a two way exercise where you also collated responses to the releases? If so, where may any such responses be found?

Question 8.
The term 'consultation' exercise as used by EDDC implies a democratic interaction with others, the consideration of alternative views and incorporating them, where valid, into existing plans. The term appears frequently used when it would be more appropriate to speak of 'notification' or 'explanation' exercises which are one-way. What evidence is there from EDDC's consultations over the Knowle, that demonstrates that the exercise was more than EDDC simply informing members of the public of some of what they were doing on the matter, that it was also a listen and consider exercise? Please give examples of feedback from the public that has resulted in significant change, thus demonstrating that the consultation was effective.

Question 9.
EDDC has made references to the numbers of persons providing feedback, but at the Exeter hearing there was no distinction between supporters and objectors. A complaint arising from the Exmouth Masterplan consultation was to the effect that EDDC used feedback numbers in ambiguous terms that may have been interpreted as meaning that support was greater than objection. In regard to the Knowle consultations, if any such data as to support or objection was collected, then please provide a breakdown showing the levels of each from each consultation exercise.

Question 10.
Para 1.8 of the report from Davis Langdon** that was submitted to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 26th July 2012, states;-
‘Communications from Members and Members of the Public have continued to be received during the period. A protocol has now been agreed on how responses will be managed and properly coordinated. It is intended that individual replies will be avoided where possible, as the responses will be uploaded on the FAQs section of the Council’s Website for general public consumption’.
Please provide a copy of the protocol referred to. Are the FAQs that appear to relate to 26th July 2013 Stakeholder event one and the same? If so why the delay in publishing the FAQs?
**http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/os_agenda_26...

Question 11.
Is there a single coordinated record of comments, observations and objections from the public? If so where may it be seen?

Question 12.
Will you please provide a timeline, rather fuller than that appearing in your recent publication "East Devon Extra" starting with the decision to re-locate from the Knowle, and showing key decisions and all consultation events and elements. This should serve to clearly demonstrate which events and opportunities for debate, discussion and submissions preceded various important decisions, and which followed important decisions. Such a timeline should deal with any doubts as to whether consultations served to inform decision making or were made to keep the public advised as to progress. Would you include projected project costs at key points. These seem to have risen and it would be helpful to see when and perhaps why.

Please feel free to break our request down into smaller groups of questions for the purposes of providing responses that are as prompt as possible. Whilst we hope that the preface to individual questions will sufficient to put the question in full context, please feel free to seek any clarification that might be helpful.

Thank you

Tim Todd
Research Assistant
on behalf of East Devon Alliance .

Kate Symington, East Devon District Council

1 Attachment

Mr Todd

 

Thank you for your request for information. Please find answers to your
questions below.

 

1. FAQs. On the council's website at
http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/movingandimp... there is a link a FAQ
page. It is not clear how did these questions arose? Were they only from
the Stakeholder meeting Event of 26th July 2013 as suggested by that
heading on the page concerned? Are they all verbatim questions from the
public or paraphrased or otherwise generated by EDDC?  Details please..

Some of the questions arose from the stakeholder events, some were
questions asked separately.

 

2. If the FAQs come from one meeting, how have you treated other questions
and comments from interested parties, can they be found online or
elsewhere?

Where questions are asked which may be of interest to other people or
stakeholders, we have published these along with the answer(s) provided.

 

3. Is there anywhere on an EDDC website where the public can make comments
or ask questions, and expect replies from EDDC about the Knowle project,
as with the  EDDC Exmouth Vision website? If so where. If not why no
provision for two-way exchanges? 

There is no two way exchange facility.  There are plenty of other
mechanisms for people to put forward questions or make comments either at
public meetings or through FOI requests or directly with Members and
officers.

 

4. We were given to understand that two Stakeholder Meetings were held.
Where were these held, who was invited, how were invitees selected, were
they open to all? (The EDDC photo * for the 26 July 2013 event appears to
show only EDDC staff and councillors  rather than stakeholders in the
wider sense of members of public.)
(*http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/knowle-reloc...
page 5 )

One stakeholder event was held at Exeter Airport and another at the East
Devon Business Centre in Honiton. Stakeholders were invited from the
following groups and organisations:

All town and parish councils in East Devon

Devon County Council

Exeter City Council

Teignbridge District Council

Growth point partners

East Devon Chambers of Commerce

Blackdown Hills Business Association

Exmouth Chamber of Trade and Commerce

Honiton Chamber of Commerce

Ottery St Mary Chamber of Commerce

Seaton and District Chamber of Commerce

Budleigh Salterton Chamber of Commerce

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce

Vision Group for Sidmouth

East Devon Business Centre

East Devon Citizens Advice Bureau

Community Council of Devon

EDVSA

St Martins School Cranbrook

Federation of small businesses

Save Our Sidmouth

East Devon Alliance

Seaton Town Development Team

Leisure East Devon

 

5. It is reported that there were events in Sidmouth. Please provide
fuller detail of these and indicate, how they were promoted, the form they
took, how many attended, how EDDC recorded and used the information that
flowed from the interaction with the public at these events.

Please see attached.

 

6.  Some of the relocation material correctly makes the point that the
relocation issue is not just a matter for Sidmouth but the whole of the
East Devon District. Will you please give explicit details of how EDDC
involved residents and businesses in all other parts of the district.
Were, for example,  there any events in Exmouth, Seaton or Axminster etc?
Please provide detail of any such events and outcomes

See above (5)

However,  the matter is not concluded and when matters progress there will
be further consultation.

 

7. Mr Cohen spoke of there being a number of press releases, around forty
as we recall. Where may these be seen in their entirety? Would you accept
that such releases are information provision rather formal consultation,
or were they part of a two way exercise where you also collated responses
to the releases? If so, where may any such responses be found?

All press releases are available to view on our website
[1]www.eastdevon.gov.uk

 

8. The term 'consultation' exercise as used by EDDC  implies a democratic
interaction with others, the consideration of alternative views and
incorporating them, where valid, into existing plans. The term appears
frequently  used when it would be more appropriate to speak of
'notification' or  'explanation' exercises which are  one-way. What
evidence is there from EDDC's consultations over the Knowle, that
demonstrates that the exercise was more than EDDC simply informing members
of the public of some of what they were doing on the matter, that it was
also a listen and consider exercise? Please give examples of feedback from
the public that has resulted in significant change, thus demonstrating
that the consultation was effective.

It is important to note that this process was not a referendum. The
Council has made its reasons for re-location very clear and sought to keep
the public and all interested parties informed at all stages of the
process hence our stakeholder events, press releases and roadshows. At
some of these events we did invite the public to provide us with their
views but this was not a simple exercise in asking people to tell us
whether or not they were in favour of our proposals.

 

9. EDDC has made references to the numbers of persons providing feedback,
but at the Exeter hearing there was no distinction between supporters and
objectors. A complaint arising from the Exmouth Masterplan consultation
was  to the effect that EDDC used feedback numbers in ambiguous terms that
may have been interpreted as meaning  that support was greater than
objection. In regard to the Knowle consultations, if  any such data as to 
support or objection  was collected, then please provide a breakdown
showing the levels of each from each consultation exercise.

Comments received in terms of the Outline Planning application for the
Knowle are held online and are publicly accessible and were referred to in
relevant committee reports.

 

10. Para 1.8 of the report from Davis Langdon**  that was submitted to the
Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 26th July 2012, states;-
‘Communications from Members and Members of the Public have continued to
be received during the period. A protocol has now been agreed on how
responses will be managed and properly coordinated. It is intended that
individual replies will be avoided where possible, as the responses will
be uploaded on the FAQs section of the Council’s Website for general
public consumption’.

Please provide a copy of the protocol referred to. Are the FAQs that
appear to relate to 26th July 2013 Stakeholder event one and the same? If
so why the delay in publishing the FAQs?

**http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/os_agenda_26...

The protocol referred to was a verbal agreement between key officers and
services of the council to ensure a joined up and efficient approach and
to avoid unnecessary duplication of work.

 

11. Is there a single coordinated record of comments, observations and
objections from the public? If so where may it be seen?

There is no single record held.

 

12. Will you please provide a timeline, rather fuller than that appearing
in your recent publication "East Devon Extra" starting with the decision
to re-locate from the Knowle, and  showing key decisions and  all
consultation events and elements. This should  serve to clearly
demonstrate which events and opportunities for debate, discussion and 
submissions preceded  various important decisions, and which followed
important  decisions. Such a timeline should deal with any doubts as to
whether consultations served to inform decision making or were made  to
keep the public  advised as to progress. Would you include  projected
project costs at key points. These seem to have risen and it would be
helpful to see when and perhaps why.

The timeline as published in the East Devon Extra publication has already
been publicly provided. This was created for illustrative purposes.

 

I hope this is helpful.

 

If you feel dissatisfied with the way we have responded to your request,
please contact our Interim Monitoring Officer, Ian Clarke at
[2][email address]   

 

You may also approach the Information Commissioner at [3]www.ico.org.uk

 

 

If you are not satisfied with the way we have responded to your request,
please fill in our online complaint form at
www.eastdevon.gov.uk/making_a_complaint or write to the Monitoring
Officer, EDDC, Knowle, Sidmouth, EX10 8HL.

 

Kate Symington

Information and Complaints Officer

East Devon District Council

 

01395 517417

[4]www.eastdevon.gov.uk

 

 

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P Freeman left an annotation ()

The FoI Act requires EDDC to:

1. State whether they hold the information requested or not;

2. If they hold it, to provide it.

The FoI Act does NOT allow EDDC to restrict the information to that already published if there is more information available (provided of course that the additional information is not confidential).

So, for example, I cannot believe that the "illustrative" timeline already published constitutes the whole information held by EDDC on the timescales for the Knowle move, and to withhold the additional information (or indeed to withhold details of whether additional information is actually held) is contrary to the FoI Act.

The overall implication in the answer provided by EDDC here is that they consider all information that is not already public to be confidential - whereas the law requires them to treat each piece of information individually and to justify why each piece is being deemed confidential.

This is IMO prima facie evidence of secrecy and should be used as evidence to the First Tier Tribunal.

Dear East Devon District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of East Devon District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Clarification of the public consultation that took place about The Knowle relocation project'.

Q2.This question has not been answered. It is quite clear that many questions were asked and comments made at the Sidmouth events (see your 20 page attachment (Results MIP July12.doc) re Q5) but have, on the face of it, been ignored. Can you demonstrate how you took them into account?
Q4. There is no answer to the question "Were they open to all?" Please clarify which of those invited to attend did so.
Q5. The attachment does not answer the questions "how were they promoted" and, significantly given the overwhelming majority of negative comments (only 2 supportive out of around 264), "how EDDC used the information that flowed from the interaction". On the face of it every unsupportive comment was ignored. Please answer the question fully.
Q.6 "Please see attached" and what was attached, does not answer the question about involving other parts of East Devon and whether there were events elswhere in the district.
Q 7.I regard the reply as obstructive. Where on your website? Please be specific. Numerous searches fail to produce a readily identifiable location for the full compliment press releases referred to by Mr Chohen.
Q8. The question was "Please give examples of feedback from
the public that has resulted in significant change, thus demonstrating
that the 'consultation' was effective." You have provided none. If any such feedback exists please provide examples. Alternatively, confirm that the whole process was, (as CllR Moulding recently said of NHS bed closures) “The consultation seemed to be a reporting mechanism for decisions already made – in other words a done deal.”
Q9. The question has not been answered,please do so. (Note a rough scan of the 'Results MIP July12' document suggests that only 2 out of 264 comments were supportive)
Q.10. Thank you for confirming that there is a protocol. Now, please arrange for it written down and supplied so that your duties under transparency and FOI are met.
Q 12. Please answer the question put.(It made it clear that the data in the East Devon Extra is inadequate)

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

Yours faithfully,

Tim Todd
Research Assistant
on behalf of East Devon Alliance

J Woodward left an annotation ()

Tim,

The full list of questions and responses to the District Council's 'communication events' on their proposal to move from Knowle back in July 2014 is here:

https://www.visionforsidmouth.org/future...

Plus an overview of 'consultation':

http://futuresforumvgs.blogspot.co.uk/20...

Thanks.

Jeremy

Dear East Devon District Council,

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

I am still waiting for an answer to my request for an internal review of East Devon District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Clarification of the public consultation that took place about The Knowle relocation project'.

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

The helpful information from Mr J Woodward does not absolve you of your responsibilities to conduct a review.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Todd

P Freeman left an annotation ()

3 years down the line and still not undertaken an Internal Review as required by law.

Will East Devon District Council EVER learn to abide by the law and do what is required even if it is potentially disadvantageous to them?

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