Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data

The request was refused by Tower Hamlets Borough Council.

Dear Tower Hamlets Borough Council,

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, could you please provide me with a complete and up-to-date list of all business (non-residential) property rates data for your local authority, and including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Code
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupied / Vacant
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds)

While such data series are often published by local authorities, I have undertaken a thorough search of your website and have not found these. If they are available, as requested, then please - in terms of Section 21 of the act - could you provide a link to the page where the data are published, as well as guidance on the update frequency.

I appreciate that properties owned / rented by individuals are personal information and such personal data (i.e. the Firm's Trading Name) would be excluded from my request in terms of Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In such cases, please provide the remaining information with the Firm's Trading Name either blank or listed as 'individual'.

Please provide this as machine-readable as either a CSV or Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the Open Government Licence.

I am compiling a comprehensive time-series database of business activity across the UK and will require the dataset updated on a quarterly basis. Some 20% of local authorities already provide this dataset (and a total of 30% of local authorities provide a subset of these data) on a monthly to quarterly basis on a dedicated page on their websites or on an open data service. I would appreciate it if you could do the same.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

Freedom of Information, Tower Hamlets Borough Council

 

Dear Mr Chait

This request is being handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 
 
Under section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), we are not
required to provide information in response to a request if it is already
reasonably accessible to you.
 
This response therefore acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the
FoIA.

The information you requested is publically available and can be located
below.

[1]http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/coun...

If you do not have access to the internet at home, you may be able to use
facilities at your local library.

Regards

Jane Jones
Complaints & Information  Administrative Officer
Mulberry Place | 6th Floor | 5 Clove Crescent | London E14 2BG
( Direct Phone : 020 7364 4736

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3. mailto:[Tower Hamlets Borough Council request email]

Dear Freedom of Information,

Thank you for the link to your non-domestic rates data, however, these data do not include a field to indicate the occupation status of each property. Are you able to provide this?

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

Freedom of Information, Tower Hamlets Borough Council

Mr Chait

I have asked the business rates team to look at your request and I will be
in touch shortly.

Thank you

Jane Jones
Complaints & Information  Administrative Officer
▪ Tower Hamlets Town Hall ▪ 6th Floor ▪ Mulberry Place ▪ 5 Clove Crescent
▪ London ▪ E14 2BG ▪
▪ Tel: 020 7364 4736Email: [email address] ▪
P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail

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Jane L Jones, Tower Hamlets Borough Council

Mr Chait

We do not place details of any empty properties into the public domain as
we are concerned that providing such a list may encourage crime and
disorder.  As such the information is exempt under Section 31(1)(a) of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000.  The application of such an exemption is
subject to a public interest test and it is our determination that the
public interest is best served by the Council not encouraging criminal
behaviour in this manner.

Further to your recent request for addresses and rateable values of
empty commercial properties in our Borough we regret to advise that we
will not place such details into the public domain. To this end,
this email constitutes a Public Interest Refusal Notice under the Freedom
of Information Act 2000.

We are concerned with potential criminal activity that could occur at
unoccupied properties and the disruption to the lives of council residents
as well as the financial cost that such activity incurs.

Therefore whilst holding a list of unoccupied properties for the purposes
of attempting to bring them back into use, we are not prepared to place
this list in the public domain.

We regard the information as exempt under Section 31(1)a of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 which regards information as exempt where it would be
likely to prejudice the prevention of crime. This is a qualified exemption
subject to a public interest test, however we feel it is not in the public
interest to disclose a list which could cause disruption to neighbours or
the Council’s statutory duty to find accommodation for those in housing
need.

Similarly we regard the information as exempt under Section 38 (1)b of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 which regards information as exempt where
its disclosure would prejudice the safety of an individual. Criminal
activity in unoccupied properties prevents a safety issue to those
engaging in the activity as well as neighbours. An example would be the
stripping of an individual flat or commercial premises of sanitary ware
which may result in flooding of a neighbouring property. Again this is a
qualified exemption subject to a public interest test, however we feel it
is not in the public interest to put into the public domain a list of
properties where safety concerns could result as a result of criminal
activity.

Yours faithfully

Jane Jones

Information Governance Administrative Officer

Legal Services

6th Floor

Mulberry Place

London E14 2BG

0207 364 4736

[1][email address]

You have the right to complain to the Council about this decision.  If you
wish to do this please write to:

Corporate Complaints Unit

Tower Hamlets Town Hall

Mulberry Place

5 Clove Crescent

London E14 2BG

If you are subsequently not satisfied with the Council’s response to your
complaint you have a right of appeal to the independent Information
Commissioner at:

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire SK9 5AF

Telephone: 01625 545 700

[2]www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

Further information about the operation of the Act is available from the
Council’s website [3]www.towerhamlets.gov.uk and the information leaflet
in public reception areas in Council buildings.

show quoted sections

Please consider your environmental responsibility: Before printing this
e-mail or any other document , ask yourself whether you need a hard copy.

*********************************************************************************
Working Together for a Better Tower Hamlets
Web site : http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

London Borough of Tower Hamlets E-Mail Disclaimer.

This communication and any attachments are intended for the addressee only
and may be confidential. It may contain privileged and confidential
information and if you are not the intended recipient, you must not copy,
distribute or take any action in reliance on it. If you have received this
E-Mail in error please notify us as soon as possible and delete this
E-Mail and any attachments. This message has been checked for viruses,
however we cannot guarantee that this message or any attachment is virus
free or has not been intercepted or amended. The information contained in
this E-Mail may be subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. Unless the information is legally exempt from
disclosure, the Confidentiality of this E-Mail and your reply cannot be
guaranteed.

If your request relates to a Freedom of Information enquiry, please resend
this to [Tower Hamlets Borough Council request email]
************************************************************************************

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References

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4. http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/
5. mailto:[Tower Hamlets Borough Council request email]

Dear Tower Hamlets Borough Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Tower Hamlets Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data'.

On 14 March 2016, I sent an FOI request for a complete and up-to-date list of all business (non-residential) property rates data, and including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Code
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupied / Vacant
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds)

My request has been refused in terms of Section 31(1)(a). According to the Information Commissioners Office, "Section 31 is a prejudice based exemption and is subject to the public interest test. This means that not only does the information have to prejudice one of the purposes listed, but, before the information can be withheld, the public interest in preventing that prejudice must outweigh the public interest in disclosure."

Section 31(1)(a) deals specifically with "the prevention or detection of crime".

A property being empty may lead to suffering potential criminal activity, but it does not automatically follow that publishing a list of empty properties in any way changes that potential.

Empty premises will be known to residents of the community in which they are based, or they are advertised as part of a lettings offer. In other words, these are properties of which many people will be clearly aware are empty whether the local authority data are publicly available or not.

In addition, I have run - in parallel with this request - a series of FOI requests to a sample of local authorities and to all police services across England and Wales requesting total number of incidents of criminal activity in empty commercial properties. Such data would permit easy comparison between areas that regularly disclose and those which choose not to in order to assess whether there is a greater risk as a result of disclosure. Of the 350 local authorities in England and Wales, more than 64% of these either already make empty property data available, or have done so in response to FOI requests from ourselves.

While most police services have been unable to provide such data, since it is not usually collated (including for the Metropolitan Police), Thames Valley Police have been able to do so. The Thames Valley response is here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...
Please verify for yourself.

The data are unequivocal. Incidents of crime in empty properties are exceedingly rare, and there is no variation in the incidence rate between local authorities who do publish, and those who do not publish data on empty properties.

For example, in 2015 Oxford had 4,038 commercial properties and suffered 2 cases of empty commercial property crime at a cost of £1,259. In comparison, they had 3,133 cases of crime committed in occupied business premises, at a cost of £507,956.

By comparison, Reading, with 5,659 commercial properties and suffered 2 empty commercial property crimes that caused no damage at all.

Oxford refuses to publish under Section 31 while Reading publishes regularly. In total, across the Thames Valley, for 74,027 properties - of which about 7,000 are empty - only 11 crimes related to empty properties were recorded. Compare that to occupied and actively-traded properties which experienced 29,946 reported crimes.

North Wales Police have provided data that is significantly more complex than that provided by Thames Valley. They have provided a complete list of every reported crime incident, along with the year and status of each, and the category of the crime. This is divided into either occupied or vacant commercial properties. You can see the full list here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

After assessing North Wales Police data, there are an average of 1,780 crimes a year in occupied properties, and 26 crimes a year in unoccupied properties that largely have to do with theft, vandalism or arson (note that squatting in commercial property is not a crime and so unrecorded).

There are about 45,000 commercial properties in North Wales and vacancies are amongst the worst in England and Wales (ranging from 15% to 25%). If there were a proportional ratio of crimes irrespective of occupation status, we’d expect to see roughly 15-25% of reported crimes in vacant properties (e.g. 260 to 450). We’re seeing significantly less than that.

In two distinct parts of the UK, with completely different approaches to recording crime, empty property crime is extremely rare, and publication of data listing empty properties does not have any impact on the number of incidents of crime.

It is very difficult to substantiate a Section 31 refusal if you have no data to validate your concern. There is no substantive basis for concern that publishing a list of empty properties will lead to prejudice under Section 31.

In terms of Public Interest, the purpose of our use of the data requested is in informing entrepreneurs and business seekers about opportunities in empty premises when they are advertised for new tenants. We combine local authority premises occupation data with other data (from the Valuations Office and ONS) to develop forward guidance on business potential in each empty business property. Further details on our activities are available at http://pikhaya.com, but our activity is supported by the Open Data Institute and we have received funding from the EU Open Data Incubator to develop this service.

Our combined data are made available via online commercial property leasing intermediaries as a free service to business seekers. These leasing intermediaries combine our data with properties being offered for rent.

We are mindful, though, that not all authorities wish to release direct information on empty premises. In that case, could we suggest that you provide only a list of occupied properties which we would then reconcile against the master list of properties from the Valuations Office Agency (VOA). VOA data are available via their website, and the complete database by subscription. Empty premises will be known to residents of the community in which they are based. That means that anyone not resident in your community and wanting to find the list of empty properties would have to undertake the costs and technicalities of a similar data reconciliation.

I would ask that you consider that the public interest in economic development and improving opportunities for independent businesses and entrepreneurs far outweighs any concern that the release of data which can identify empty business properties may cause crime.

Unemployment and economic deprivation are often key to reducing the potential for crime. Our intention is to support local economic development initiatives through the use of these data.

I ask that you reconsider your decision and make this data available to us under terms which permit our use thereof.

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,

Gavin Chait

Jane Jones, Tower Hamlets Borough Council

Information request
Our reference: 4451566

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

 
Dear Mr Cait
 
Thank you for your request for a review received on 25 April 2016. I am
sorry that you are dissatisfied with our attempts to handle your request
under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
 
I can confirm that we are considering your concerns and we will aim to
provide you with a response by 24 May 2016.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Jane Jones
Admin Officer
Legal Services
020 7364 4736
[email address]
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

Michael Tighe, Tower Hamlets Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Cait

 

Please find attached the response to your request for a FOI  review
(reference 4451566). Please accept my apologies for the delay.

 

Kind regards

 

 

Mike Tighe

Complaints and Information Officer

Directorate of Law, Probity and Governance

London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Town Hall

Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent

London, E14 2BG

 

Tel 020 7364 4354

 

 

 

show quoted sections

Please consider your environmental responsibility: Before printing this
e-mail or any other document , ask yourself whether you need a hard copy.

*********************************************************************************
Working Together for a Better Tower Hamlets
Web site : http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

London Borough of Tower Hamlets E-Mail Disclaimer.

This communication and any attachments are intended for the addressee only
and may be confidential. It may contain privileged and confidential
information and if you are not the intended recipient, you must not copy,
distribute or take any action in reliance on it. If you have received this
E-Mail in error please notify us as soon as possible and delete this
E-Mail and any attachments. This message has been checked for viruses,
however we cannot guarantee that this message or any attachment is virus
free or has not been intercepted or amended. The information contained in
this E-Mail may be subject to public disclosure under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. Unless the information is legally exempt from
disclosure, the Confidentiality of this E-Mail and your reply cannot be
guaranteed.

If your request relates to a Freedom of Information enquiry, please resend
this to [Tower Hamlets Borough Council request email]
************************************************************************************

Please consider your environmental responsibility: Before printing this
e-mail or any other document , ask yourself whether you need a hard copy.

References

Visible links
1. http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/
2. mailto:[Tower Hamlets Borough Council request email]

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