Country Park Management Forum minutes concerning new byelaws

The request was partially successful.

Dear Hastings Borough Council,

I am trying to get copies of the minutes of the Country Park Management Forum(CPMF) to establish that the proposed byelaws that restrict access to the Country Park were discussed by the CPMF. I have looked for minutes on the HBC website but cannot find any.

Murray Davidson the responsible HBC officer was asked at full council on the 12/02/2020 whether the CPMF had discussed the byelaws - his response was “that he could not remember but imagined they must have been.”

Could you please provide me with:

1. Copies of all of the CPMF minutes for the years 2014 and 2015
2. Copies of any other CPMF minutes that discuss the proposed new byelaws
3. Copies of any supporting documents used by the CPMF when discussing the proposed byelaws

Yours faithfully,

Chris Hurrell

Information Officer, Hastings Borough Council

1 Attachment

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request.
 
We aim to respond to requests for information within 20 working days, in
accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. 
 
If your request is for personal information (Subject Access request) your
request will be dealt with according to the requirements of the General
Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the timescale for response may be
extended to 40 days.
 
You can find out more information about [1]Freedom of Information as well
as all of the services the council provides on [2]our website.
 
Information Officer
Hastings Borough Council
01424 451066
[3]www.hastings.gov.uk
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Information Officer, Hastings Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Hurrell
 
I refer to your recent Freedom of Information request ref: FOIR-177526876,
please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.
 
Please find attached our response.
 
Yours sincerely
 
Lisa Greathead
Information Officer
Hastings Borough Council
Muriel Matters House
Breeds Place
Hastings 
TN34 3UY
 
 

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Dear Hastings Borough Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Hastings Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Country Park Management Forum minutes concerning new byelaws'.

It is confirmed that minutes from 2014/15 concerning the byelaws exist but they are being refused under Regulation 12(4)(e) - Internal Communications. The stated Factors against disclosure are:

1. Consideration of discussions and the exchange of views within a ‘safe space’
2. This is an informal advisory group and is not required to meet in public
3. The notes taken are not in the public domain
4. In all circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

I request that this refusal is reconsidered at review and the minutes released on the following grounds:

12(4)(e) does not apply. The minutes of the Country Park Management Forum are not internal communications and the meetings are attended by other non-HBC parties .The minutes of the meeting are available to all who attend and minutes of other meetings of the forum are available on the HBC website.

The factors for disclosure are addressed below:

1. The “safe space” factor does not apply.

a. This factor only applies to “live” issues. The minutes are 5 years old. The minutes do not refer to a “live issue” – HBC has already made a decision and approved the new byelaws. ICO guidance states that:

“50. The need for a safe space will be strongest when the issue is still live. Once a public authority has made a decision, a safe space for deliberation will no longer be required and the argument will carry little weight. The timing of the request will therefore be an important factor. This was confirmed by the Information Tribunal in DBERR v Information Commissioner and Friends of the Earth (EA/2007/0072, 29 April 2008): “This public interest is strongest at the early stages of policy formulation and development. The weight of this interest will diminish over time as policy becomes more certain and a decision as to policy is made public. “

b. No explanation has been given for why the “safe space” factor still applies 5 years after the minutes were recorded. ICO guidance states that:

” 51. Public authorities may also need a safe space for a short time after a decision is made in order to properly promote, explain and defend its key points. Public authorities would need to explain exactly why this safe space is still required at the time of the request on the facts of each case. However, this sort of safe space will only last for a short time, and once an initial announcement has been made there is also likely to be increasing public interest in scrutinising and debating the details of the decision.

c. This factor usually only applies to internal discussions. The meetings of the Country Park Management Forum are not internal discussions. They involve the participation of external bodies such as the Friends of the Country Park. ICO guidance states that:

“58. Traditionally safe space arguments relate to internal discussions “but public authorities do sometimes invite external organisations/individuals to participate in their decision making process (eg consultants, advisors, lobbyists, interest groups etc)”
“Safe space arguments can still apply where external contributors have been involved, …. However this argument will generally carry less weight than if the process only involved internal contributors. “

d. “Safe space” arguments can apply when external contributions have been involved unless the issues under discussion have subsequently been opened up to general external comment. The byelaws (which are the subject of the minutes) were opened up for general external comment during consultation from December 2014 to February 2015 with the general public and statutory bodies such as DEFRA and Natural England. ICO guidance states that:

“Safe space arguments can still apply where external contributors have been involved, as long as those discussions have not been opened up for general external comment “

2. The Country Park Management Forum is not an informal advisory group. Previous minutes of the group have been released into the public domain and are available on the HBC website.

3. You state that the “notes are not in the public domain”. That is the reason I have made a formal EIR request – it is not a valid factor for non-disclosure.

4. The public interest test has not been considered in full. The only factors given in favour of release are “Transparency and accountability”. HBC have not considered other factors in favour of release which are relevant such as:
• to promote public understanding
• to safeguard democratic processes
• in good decision-making by public bodies
• in upholding standards of integrity
• in ensuring justice and fair treatment for all
• in securing the best use of public and environmental resources.
Therefore I ask you to think again as to whether the public interest test goes the other way.

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,

Chris Hurrell

Information Officer, Hastings Borough Council

1 Attachment

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request.
 
We aim to respond to requests for information within 20 working days, in
accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. 
 
COVID-19 and Freedom of Information requests.
In light of the unprecedented challenge the Council is facing during the
coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic there may be delays in responding to your
Freedom of Information Request. Please bear with us as we focus on meeting
this challenge, and serving the needs of our community.
 
If your request is for personal information (Subject Access request) your
request will be dealt with according to the requirements of the General
Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the timescale for response may be
extended to 40 days.
 
You can find out more information about [1]Freedom of Information as well
as all of the services the council provides on [2]our website.
 
Information Officer
Hastings Borough Council
01424 451066
[3]www.hastings.gov.uk
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Information Officer, Hastings Borough Council

5 Attachments

Dear Mr Hurrell
 
I refer to your email dated 31 March 2020 requesting an Internal Review
following our response to a recent Freedom of Information request ref:
FOIR-177526876 Subject: Country Park Management Forum minutes concerning
new byelaws.
 
I have been asked, as a senior officer of the council who has not been
involved in your case to look into how we handled your request.  Please
accept my apologies for the delay in responding.
 
Hastings Borough Council received the following request on 23 February
2020
 
I am trying to get copies of the minutes of the Country Park Management
Forum(CPMF)    to establish that the proposed byelaws that restrict 
access  to the Country Park were discussed by the CPMF. I have looked for
minutes on the HBC website but cannot find any.
 
Murray Davidson the responsible HBC officer was asked at full council on
the 12/02/2020 whether the CPMF had discussed the byelaws - his response
was “that he could not remember but imagined they must have been.”
 
Could you please provide me with:
 
1. Copies of all of the CPMF minutes for the years 2014 and 2015
 
2. Copies of any other CPMF minutes that discuss the proposed new byelaws
 
3. Copies of any supporting documents used by the CPMF when discussing the
proposed byelaws
 
Hastings Borough Council responded on the 30 March 2020
 
NOTICE OF REFUSAL
 
The information requested to receive copies of the Country Park Management
Forum(CPMF) is being refused under Regulation 12(4)(e) - Internal
Communications.
A public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that
the request involves the disclosure of internal communications.
 
Section 12(4)(e) is subject to a public interest test. This means that a
public authority can refuse to disclose information under these exceptions
if in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining
the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
 
Factors for disclosure:
 
Transparency and accountability
 
Factors against disclosure:
 
Consideration of discussions and the exchange of views within a ‘safe
space’
This is an informal advisory group and is not required to meet in public
The notes taken are not in the public domain
In all circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the
exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
 
Q2 & 3 - Information not held
 
You requested an internal review on the 31 March 2020
 
 
I am writing to request an internal review of Hastings Borough Council's
handling of my FOI request 'Country Park Management Forum minutes
concerning new byelaws'.
 
It is confirmed that minutes from 2014/15 concerning the byelaws exist but
they are being refused under Regulation 12(4)(e) - Internal
Communications. The stated Factors against disclosure are:
 
1.      Consideration of discussions and the exchange of views within a
‘safe space’
2.      This is an informal advisory group and is not required to meet in
public
3.      The notes taken are not in the public domain
4.      In all circumstances of the case the public interest in
maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
 
I request that this refusal is reconsidered at review and the minutes
released on the following grounds:
 
12(4)(e) does not apply. The minutes of the Country Park Management Forum
are not internal communications and the meetings are attended by other
non-HBC parties .The minutes of the meeting are available to all who
attend and minutes of other meetings of the forum are available on the HBC
website.  
 
The factors for disclosure are addressed below:
 
1.      The “safe space” factor does not apply.
 
a.      This factor only applies to “live” issues.  The minutes are 5
years old. The minutes do not refer to a “live issue” – HBC has already
made a decision and approved the new byelaws. ICO guidance states that:
 
“50. The need for a safe space will be strongest when the issue is still
live. Once a public authority has made a decision, a safe space for
deliberation will no longer be required and the argument will carry little
weight. The timing of the request will therefore be an important factor.
This was confirmed by the Information Tribunal in DBERR v Information
Commissioner and Friends of the Earth (EA/2007/0072, 29 April 2008): “This
public interest is strongest at the early stages of policy formulation and
development. The weight of this interest will diminish over time as policy
becomes more certain and a decision as to policy is made public. “
 
b.      No explanation has been given for why the “safe space” factor
still applies 5 years after the minutes were recorded.  ICO guidance
states that:
 
” 51.  Public authorities may also need a safe space for a short time
after a decision is made in order to properly promote, explain and defend
its key points. Public authorities would need to explain exactly why this
safe space is still required at the time of the request on the facts of
each case. However, this sort of safe space will only last for a short
time, and once an initial announcement has been made there is also likely
to be increasing public interest in scrutinising and debating the details
of the decision.

 
c.      This factor usually only applies to internal discussions. The
meetings of the Country Park Management Forum are not internal
discussions. They involve the participation of external bodies such as the
Friends of the Country Park.  ICO guidance states that:
 
“58. Traditionally safe space arguments relate to internal discussions
“but public authorities do sometimes invite external
organisations/individuals to participate in their decision making process
(eg consultants, advisors, lobbyists, interest groups etc)”
“Safe space arguments can still apply where external contributors have
been involved, ….  However this argument will generally carry less weight
than if the process only involved internal contributors. “
 
d.       “Safe  space” arguments can apply when external contributions
have been involved unless the issues under discussion have subsequently
been opened up to general external comment. The byelaws (which are the
subject of the minutes) were opened up for general external comment during
consultation from December 2014 to February 2015 with the general public
and statutory bodies such as DEFRA and Natural England. ICO guidance
states that:
 
“Safe space arguments can still apply where external contributors have
been involved, as long as those discussions have not been opened up for
general external comment “
 
2.      The Country Park Management Forum is not an informal advisory
group.  Previous minutes of the group have been released into the public
domain and are available on the HBC website.
 
3.      You state that the “notes are not in the public domain”.  That is
the reason I have made a formal EIR request – it is not a valid factor for
non-disclosure.
 
4.      The public interest test has not been considered in full.  The
only factors given in favour of release are “Transparency and
accountability”.  HBC have not considered other factors in favour of
release which are relevant such as:
•       to promote public understanding
•       to safeguard democratic processes
•       in good decision-making by public bodies
•       in upholding standards of integrity
•       in ensuring justice and fair treatment for all
•       in securing the best use of public and environmental resources.
Therefore I ask you to think again as to whether the public interest test
goes the other way.
 
A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on
the Internet at this address:
[1]https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...
 
Review
 
I have investigated this review and can advise as follows:
I can confirm that according to Part 3 of the constitution, the Hastings
Country Park Management Forum is:
3. The Forum is a cross party group of Elected Members.  The Forum is an
informal advisory group and is not required to meet in public.
Due to the minutes of the forum dated 2016 being published on our website,
it has been agreed to release the information originally requested on 23
February 2020.
Please note that all personal information has been redacted.
 
     
If you remain dissatisfied then you may complain to the Information
Commissioners Office (ICO) who will decide whether the Council has handled
your request correctly.
 
Information Commissioners Office
Wycliffe House
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
 
Tel: 08456 30 60 60
[2]www.ico.gov.uk
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Mark Horan
Continuous Improvement and Democratic Services Manager
 
 
 
 

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