Specific date/inspection information relating to Council-maintained car park (MK41 0PW)

Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Bedford Borough Council should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

Dear Ann (Bullock),

This question is related to my ongoing request, “Liability for hazardous cavity left by uprooted tree in the middle of a Council-maintained car park (MK41 0PW)” submitted on 19 December 2018.

As you suggested, I am making an additional request asking for more specific supporting information before resuming my quest for a clear response to my original question.

Please can you let me know:

a) The date that inspection records recorded that the tree in the Goldington Square car park had been badly damaged by a vehicle.

b) The date that the damaged tree was removed.

c) The date that the Council noticed that a portion of the soil had been removed, leaving a discernible dip.

d) The reason why the Council believes that a third party removed the soil, rather than this being a natural, eventual result of the tree removal.

e) The date that the damaged car park feature was classed as a hazard to pedestrians.

f) The date that this was recorded on the fortnightly inspection report.

g) The nature of the perceived risk to pedestrians.

h) Was the risk to pedestrians caused by the dip in the soil or something else (if so, what)?

i) The reason why it was not considered a hazard to motorists.

j) Which points (if any) included in the inspection reports relate to checking whether there are any hidden hazards to motorists?

k) The date that the first warning cone was placed.

l) How many times the cones were replaced before it was decided to stop replacing them.

m) The date the decision was taken to discontinue replacing the hazard warning cones, because they were being removed by “persons unknown”.

n) Was the “Tree missing from the tree pit” reported on 29/6/17 or on 13/7/17 the same one that left the hidden cavity which caused my car to become trapped on 07/07/18 and another car to become trapped on 06/08/18?

o) If so, why was the hazard allowed to persist (unrecorded) for an entire year? If not, where is the report of the removal of the tree which led to the above two vehicle accidents?

Thank you for your help in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Peachey

Freedom of Information, Bedford Borough Council

Thank you for your e-mail requesting information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 / Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

 

We will proceed with the request which we received today. It is our
intention to have the information delivered to you as soon as possible
otherwise within the statutory 20 working days.

 

In consideration of the request, which may be subject to any exemptions/
exceptions the Council may rely on to refuse the request, some of which
are absolute and some of which only apply where the public interest in
maintaining the exemption/exception outweighs that in disclosing the
information.

 

 

Please note that should you be requesting information under the
Environmental Information Regulations although we provide free access to a
wide range of information through our website, access to any public
registers which we hold and for inspecting information at our offices, we
are allowed to charge you a reasonable fee for providing certain
information.  If applicable, we will issue you with a fee notice.  This
will detail the tasks involved in responding to the request, and
associated costs.  Further information is available on the EIR page of
Bedford Borough Council’s website at the following link:

 

[1]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...

  

 

Please note that once a response has been forwarded to you an anonymised
summary of all requests appear on the Bedford Borough website at the
following link:

[2]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...
Our current practise is that the information will be available to view on
the web for 2 years.

 

Any future correspondence you may have with the Council in relation to
this matter should be emailed to [3][Bedford Borough Council request email] .

 

Any emails containing personal or sensitive data will be sent as ‘secure
e-mails’.  In order for you to access a secure email you will be asked to
create an account and log into the Council’s secure e-mail reply service. 
If you do receive a secure email there will be instructions explaining how
to do this.

 

 

 

 

References

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2. http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...
3. mailto:[Bedford Borough Council request email]

Andrea Bechtle, Bedford Borough Council

1 Attachment

Bedford BC - OFFICIAL-Unsecure

 

Dear Greg Peachey,

 

 

Request pursuant to Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Request No. FOI
14017

 

I refer to your recent enquiry for information held by the Council. 

 

Under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the authority must
state whether or not the information exists and I confirm that we do hold
the information you requested.

 

Please find your request below and a response.

 

a) The date that inspection records recorded that the tree in the
Goldington Square car park had been badly damaged by a vehicle.

Exact date unknown – not recorded on inspection sheet

 

b)            The date that the damaged tree was removed.

Exact date unknown.

 

c)            The date that the Council noticed that a portion of the soil
had been removed, leaving a discernible dip.

This was not recorded on the inspection so we don’t have an exact date.
When the dip was noticed a cone was placed in the dip. Third parties kept
removing the cone so we kept replacing it.

 

d)            The reason why the Council believes that a third party
removed the soil, rather than this being a natural, eventual result of the
tree removal.

When the tree was damaged and removed there was no discernible dip. We did
not expect the soil to be removed by a third party or as a result of the
tree removal because the area is fully enclosed by kerbstones.

 

e)            The date that the damaged car park feature was classed as a
hazard to pedestrians.

The same day the cone was placed in the gap which was not recorded on the
inspection sheet and done during another site inspection.

 

f)             The date that this was recorded on the fortnightly
inspection report.

See answer to E.

 

g)            The nature of the perceived risk to pedestrians.

Even though the area is surrounded by a kerb, a dip or cavity, if a
pedestrian is not looking where they are going it could be a potential
hazard.

 

h)            Was the risk to pedestrians caused by the dip in the soil or
something else (if so, what)? 

As previously advised, when the tree was initially removed there was
sufficient soil.  Some of this soil was later removed by persons unknown
that was when a cone was placed to mitigate against a pedestrian tripping
before a new tree was planted.

 

i) The reason why it was not considered a hazard to motorists.

As per Zurich’s report the kerb is visible to motorist when pulling into
the parking spaces next to the tree.

 

j)             Which points (if any) included in the inspection reports
relate to checking whether there are any hidden hazards to motorists?

The inspection report is a general look at all aspects of the estate,
‘hidden hazards’ is not something specifically on the sheet however.

 

k)            The date that the first warning cone was placed.

Date unknown

 

l)             How many times the cones were replaced before it was
decided to stop replacing them.

This information was not recorded, the decision to stop replacing them was
after the incident with your car.

 

m)          The date the decision was taken to discontinue replacing the
hazard warning cones, because they were being removed by “persons
unknown”. 

Cones were to remain in place until the new tree was planted. When your
incident was reported to the Estates department a wooden pole was ordered
immediately to mitigate against any future incidence of a similar nature.

 

n)            Was the “Tree missing from the tree pit” reported on 29/6/17
or on 13/7/17 the same one that left the hidden cavity which caused my car
to become trapped on 07/07/18 and another car to become trapped on
06/08/18? 

The tree reported on the 29/6/17 and 13/7/17 is a different tree, this was
damaged and subsequently replaced. This particular tree was a young
specimen so could have easily been blown over by the wind and not struck
by a motorist.

 

o)            If so, why was the hazard allowed to persist (unrecorded)
for an entire year? If not, where is the report of the removal of the tree
which led to the above two vehicle accidents?

Your insurance claim was the first incident reported to us. We do not have
a report of removal of the tree, we do have invoice for replanting the
tree which can be supplied if requested.

 

The information supplied to you continues to be protected by the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. You are free to use it for your
own purposes, including any non-commercial research you are doing and for
the purposes of news reporting. Any other re-use, for example commercial
publication, would require the permission of the copyright holder.  For
further information regarding Re-use of Public Sector information please
see link below

 

If after viewing the information you are for whatever reason unhappy with
our response to your application you are entitled to pursue any
dissatisfaction through the Council's Internal Review Procedure.  Pursuant
to Section 17 (7) of the Act the procedure provided by the Council for
dealing with complaints about the determination of this request for
information is the Council’s FOI Complaints Procedure, a copy of which can
be obtained on request or is set out at: 
[1]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...

 

 

Yours sincerely

 

Liz Verby on behalf of

Andrea Bechtle

FOI & EIR Officer - Environment & Enabling Services

Bedford Borough Council

Room 336, Borough Hall, Cauldwell Street, Bedford, MK429AP

(01234) 718243 (ext 47243)
‘Bedford Borough Council - Working with our partners to make the borough a
better place to live, work and visit.’

 

 

show quoted sections

Dear Ms Bechtle,

Dear Bedford Borough Council,

Thank you for your response dated 21 May 2019.

I am a little puzzled. Your response initially states “I confirm that we do hold the information you requested” and then proceeds to give virtually no information. It strikes me as rather convenient and quite unsatisfactory for the inspection records cited by the Council in defence against its negligence relating to car park safety to contain no date information to establish the chronology of events relating to the case in question.

If this response were from a less renowned organisation, the word that might involuntarily come to a reader’s mind would be “slippery”. That is a word that one would not normally associate with or wish to associate with Councils.

In essence, stepping back and applying a little common sense to the matter will highlight that when the Council responsible for the maintenance of a public car park allows a cavity left by an uprooted tree to persist, leading to two identical accidents in successive months, it is surely untenable for that Council to maintain that it has discharged its responsibility towards community users of that car park. Furthermore, it is quite unacceptable for the Council to cite ineffective inspections (see below) in order to evade a legitimate claim for compensation – particularly when your own Chartered Surveyor has expressed a professional opinion (albeit an individual rather than a corporate one) that the tree feature should never have been there in the first place. Moreover, when the original tree was so badly damaged by a vehicle that it had to be removed, that surely should have alerted the Council to the fact that the residual damaged feature, now well-below windscreen level for visibility, would represent a hazard to motorists.

This prompts several related questions:

a) Does the Council have any record at all of the judgment that the damaged feature represented a hazard only to pedestrians, but not to motorists? If not, please state the job title or role of the staff member who made this judgement.

b) Given the fact that the tree was removed after a vehicle collision, leaving soil that was likely to subside, and the empty tree pit in fact caused two further identical accidents in quick succession, does the Council still maintain that the judgement of its tree & car park safety experts (that the damaged feature was not a hazard to motorists) was sound?

c) If the Council was being truthful about the damaged feature representing a trip hazard to pedestrians, then why, on both dates that missing trees were reported (29/06/2017 and 10/07/2017), was it logged that there were no trip hazards?

d) The inspection report specifically checks for and logs any trip hazards. Again, if the Council was being truthful about the collision-damaged feature representing a trip hazard to pedestrians, then where on the inspection sheets is there a record of the existence of a trip hazard?

e) When the Council decided to stop replacing the cones to mark the dip, then the unmarked dip (according to the Council’s stated judgement) was very definitely classed as a trip hazard. Again, where is the record of that residual trip hazard?

f) On 29/06/2017 there is a report of only one tree missing. A fortnight later, it was reported that two trees were missing. Was the second tree also blown down by the wind? (See your response to my point f)

The Council response suggests a lack of transparency, an unwillingness to co-operate and a high degree of economy with the truth. Having worked in the public sector, I am very aware of its copious paper trails and logged memos. However, six of my questions related to date information and in every case the Council was careful to respond “Exact date unknown.” Where a precise date is not available, a week number or even the month would enable the relevant chronology of events to be established. Where information is not actually recorded on the inspection sheet, the Council could have talked to the staff members involved. For example, on 30 November 2018 your insurer advised me that “The Council’s Arboricultural Officer has confirmed that the tree was removed as it was leaning badly following a collision with a vehicle.” Your response to my question about the date of the tree damage again was: “Exact date unknown – not recorded on inspection sheet.” Please could you ask your Arboricultural Officer for even approximate dates of the damage and subsequent removal?

My Question (d) enquired as to the reason why the Council believes that a third party removed the soil, rather than this being a natural, eventual result of the tree removal.” Your response indicating that the pit was surrounded by kerbstones has no bearing on the question. The fact that the Council has an Arboricultural Officer suggests that the organisation has some expertise relating to trees. Tree removal can lead naturally to a soil depression. This seems a much more likely explanation for the development of a dip in the soil. It seems a little far-fetched to suppose that “persons unknown” would have a motive or the motivation to remove soil from the pit and carry it away! Please could you explain why the Council takes the latter view?

Does the Council recognise, that even if there were no significant dip, the wheel of a car which accidently drove over the surrounding kerbstones (hidden well-below windscreen level) would sink because of the weight of the car on the soil (now containing either no roots or rotting roots) leaving the car suspended by its chassis on the kerbstones – as indeed happened twice?

My points e) and f) requested: “The date that the damaged car park feature was classed as a hazard to pedestrians.” You replied: “The same day the cone was placed in the gap which was not recorded on the inspection sheet and done during another site inspection.” Please provide details of and from this other site inspection?

Question j) asked: “Which points (if any) included in the inspection reports relate to checking whether there are any hidden hazards to motorists?” You responded: “The inspection report is a general look at all aspects of the estate, ‘hidden hazards’ is not something specifically on the sheet however.” I contend that an appropriate car park inspection process SHOULD be checking for hidden hazards to motorists! If it doesn’t, then how can it be cited as evidence that the Council was not negligent?

On 30 November 2018 your Insurer told me that: “The Council’s Arboricultural Officer has confirmed that the tree was removed as it was leaning badly following a collision with a vehicle.” However, your latest response seems to be inventing another tree in order to confuse the matter: “The tree reported on the 29/6/17 and 13/7/17 is a different tree, this was damaged and subsequently replaced. This particular tree was a young specimen so could have easily been blown over by the wind and not struck by a motorist.” This begs at least two questions:

a) Firstly, why would the Council plant a young tree, so fragile that, unsupported, it “could have easily been blown over by the wind?”

b) Secondly, why would the inspection procedure report the date of the absence of a very young sapling, but not report the removal of the more significant tree, which did suffer a vehicle collision?

Your response to my point o) was: “We do not have a report of removal of the tree, we do have invoice for replanting the tree which can be supplied if requested.” I’m sure that your Arboricultural Officer, who knew of the tree removal, would not have removed the tree himself/herself, but would either know approximately when it was removed, or who to ask when it was removed. Please could you ask the question?

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Peachey

Dear Bedford Borough Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Bedford Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Specific date/inspection information relating to Council-maintained car park (MK41 0PW)'.

I am dissatisfied with your response to my request:

I last wrote to you on 7 June 2019, and have waited over three months for a reply.

In fact, I have spent over a year now, trying to obtain from the Council an honest answer to a simple question.

In summary:

1. The Council allowed a cavity left by a tree uprooted out of a pit to persist unmarked, leading to two identical accidents in successive months, where cars of different owners were left suspended by their chassis over the resulting cavity.
2. When I applied for compensation for the damage to my car (resulting from the first accident) your insurance company sent me car park inspection reports leading up to and just beyond the accident showing that there were no related hazards in the car park.
3. They claimed that the Council had placed cones there at one stage because of “a discernible dip”, but only because it was considered to represent a trip hazard to pedestrians. (“We did actually place cones there but they kept on being taken by kids and thrown around the car park so stopped.”)
4. However, your answers to my FOI request show that, despite noting some missing trees, the cited inspection process spanning from 1 year before to ten days after my accident did NOT ONCE report the existence of any trip hazard.

IN SHORT: In order to evade honouring a just and moderate claim for compensation, the Council and its Insurer cited inspection reports which both failed to note the relevant missing tree and contradicted the excuse that the cavity posed a risk only to pedestrians.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at these addresses: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s... and
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Yours faithfully,

Greg Peachey

Freedom of Information, Bedford Borough Council

Thank you for your e-mail requesting information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 / Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

 

We will proceed with the request which we received today. It is our
intention to have the information delivered to you as soon as possible
otherwise within the statutory 20 working days.

 

In consideration of the request, which may be subject to any exemptions/
exceptions the Council may rely on to refuse the request, some of which
are absolute and some of which only apply where the public interest in
maintaining the exemption/exception outweighs that in disclosing the
information.

 

 

Please note that should you be requesting information under the
Environmental Information Regulations although we provide free access to a
wide range of information through our website, access to any public
registers which we hold and for inspecting information at our offices, we
are allowed to charge you a reasonable fee for providing certain
information.  If applicable, we will issue you with a fee notice.  This
will detail the tasks involved in responding to the request, and
associated costs.  Further information is available on the EIR page of
Bedford Borough Council’s website at the following link:

 

[1]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...

  

 

Please note that once a response has been forwarded to you an anonymised
summary of all requests appear on the Bedford Borough website at the
following link:

[2]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...
Our current practise is that the information will be available to view on
the web for 2 years.

 

Any future correspondence you may have with the Council in relation to
this matter should be emailed to [3][Bedford Borough Council request email] .

 

Any emails containing personal or sensitive data will be sent as ‘secure
e-mails’.  In order for you to access a secure email you will be asked to
create an account and log into the Council’s secure e-mail reply service. 
If you do receive a secure email there will be instructions explaining how
to do this.

 

 

 

 

References

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2. http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...
3. mailto:[Bedford Borough Council request email]

Andrea Bechtle, Bedford Borough Council

Bedford BC - OFFICIAL-Unsecure

 

Dear Greg Peachey

 

Internal Review Acknowledgment

 

Thank you for your email which we received on 10^th August. I am sorry to
hear that you are dissatisfied with the Council’s response to your
information request of 21^st April 2019 FOI 14017.

 

The matter has been passed to the relevant officer within the Council to
undertake an internal review. The internal review will:

 

·         provide a fair and thorough review of handling issues and of
decisions take pursuant to the Act

·         be impartial and undertaken by someone who was not involved in
the original decision making process

·         enable a fresh decision to be taken on a reconsideration of all
factors related to the issue

·         be as prompt, thorough, clear and simple as possible.

 

The internal review officer will consider the outcome of the internal
review and send you a response by 10^th September 2019.

 

More information about the Council’s Information handling processes can be
found at [1]www.bedford.gov.uk/foi

 

Kind regards

 

Andrea Bechtle

FOI & EIR Officer - Environment & Enabling Services
Archives Records

Bedford Borough Council

Borough Hall, Cauldwell Street

Bedford, MK42 9AP

 

 

 

 

show quoted sections

Dear Andrea Bechtle,

I requested an Internal Review on 10th August 2019.

On 12th August 2019 you wrote: "The internal review officer will consider the outcome of the internal
review and send you a response by 10th September 2019."

Today is 11th September 2019 and I have not received your response.

By law, under all circumstances, the Council should have responded by now.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Peachey

Business Management Support Officer - Law and Governance, Bedford Borough Council

1 Attachment

Bedford BC - OFFICIAL-Unsecure

 

Dear Mr Peachey

 

Request Pursuant to Freedom of Information Act 2000

 

Further to your email of 10 August 2019.  I apologise for the delay in
responding; however, I now have had the opportunity to consider the
Council’s internal review into the response you received to your
information request of 21 April 2019 (FOI reference 14017).

 

I have considered the Council’s Internal Review into your request and from
the evidence I have seen I believe the original response sent to you on 21
May was correct. However, in order to assist you I have attached the
inspections sheets related to your enquiry, which were provided to the
Council’s insurers.

 

The internal review process highlighted that you had not yet received a
response to your email of 7 June, which forms part of your ongoing
dialogue with the service. I requested that the Commercial Estates Team
respond to you as a priority, and I apologise to you on their behalf for
any delay.  

 

The information supplied to you continues to be protected by the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. You are free to use it for your
own purposes, including any non-commercial research you are doing and for
the purposes of news reporting. Any other re-use, for example commercial
publication, would require the permission of the copyright holder.  For
further information regarding Re-use of Public Sector information, please
see link below

 

[1]http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...

 

This review exhausts the Council’s internal process, however if you remain
dissatisfied with this response you should address your concerns to the
Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The contact details for the ICO
are as follows:

 

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

 

Tel: 0303 123 1113

Email: [2][email address]

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Sue Lyons, Chief Officer, Legal and Democratic Services

Bedford Borough Council

Borough Hall

Cauldwell Street

Bedford MK40 9AP

Tel: 01234 276929/01234 718241

Email: [3][email address]

 

 

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All email traffic may be subject to recording and/or monitoring in
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the property of Bedford Borough Council. Any opinions expressed in this
mail do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Bedford Borough Council.

Bedford Borough Council is continuously working towards the requirements
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Subjects may exercise their information rights by contacting
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References

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http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_de...
2. mailto:[email address]
3. mailto:[email address]

Dear Ms Lyons,

I have just read your response.

Three initial points before I deal with it:

a) Thank you for apologising for on behalf of the Commercial Estates Team for the delay in their response to my email of 7 June and requesting that they prioritise their reply. I look forward to hearing from them...

b) I clicked on the link you provided “regarding Re-use of Public Sector information” – The link is invalid and results in “Page not found.”

c) Thank you for attempting to provide me the ICO email address, which I gather has been automatically removed by the site. Please can you let me know how I can find the best ICO email address to which to forward my complaint?

Yours sincerely,

Greg (Peachey)

Dear Ms Lyons,

Thank you for your extremely brief response.

It appears that immediately upon receiving notification of the lateness of your response to my Internal Review Request, you have rushed out a response that simply rubber-stamps the initial unsatisfactory report. I see no evidence whatever of any “fair and thorough review” or of any “fresh decision” or any “reconsideration of all factors related to the issue”

I therefore remain totally dissatisfied with the Council’s handling of the entire matter and must refer my concerns to the ICO.

In summary, my concerns are:

1. As evidence to evade my claim for compensation for an accident involving a cavity resulting from an uprooted tree in a car park tree-pit, hidden below windscreen level and allowed to persist by the Council, the Council sent an Inspection Sheet that contained no checks relating to “hidden hazards to motorists”.

2. The Council claimed that the only reason they originally put cones around the cavernous pit, was because they did not consider it a hazard to motorists but only a trip hazard to pedestrians – However, all the inspection sheets covering the time leading up to and after the accident specifically confirm that there were no trip hazards in the car park.

3. Plain common sense clearly reveals that a cavity hidden by low kerbstones in the middle of a car park is a danger to motorists.

4. The Council’s judgement in relation to car safety is very clearly inept as the hazard actually caused a further identical accident, with another car left suspended by its chassis, within the space of a month.

It therefore appears that the Council’s processes, attitude & work ethic have resulted in an untruthful, incompetent, nonsensical response - which is why I requested he internal review.

I do understand that the Council must be experiencing financial pressures, steering it towards minimum outgoings and effort, but it still needs to treat community members fairly, do a thorough job and review processes when they appear inadequate.

As per my communication on 13 Feb 2019 on the related FoI Request “Liability for hazardous cavity left by uprooted tree in the middle of a Council-maintained car park (MK41 0PW)”:

“My question therefore remains… Which of the following is true?:

“a) The inspection reports are correct, and contrary to the email dated 09/11/2018 from Zurich Insurance, the Council did not really consider the defect as a hazard to pedestrians (rather than cars), OR…

“b) The inspection reports are incorrect and the inspection process cited as the Council’s defence is actually ineffective.”

Given the inconsistency between the Council communications, I will ask the ICO to uphold my request for a satisfactory response to that question.

Yours sincerely,

Greg (Peachey)