Questions must be asked such as how was the 15,600 figure arrived at? Who is going to pay for the extra roads, schools, health centres and additional drainage and sewage systems needed to support this many houses? Where will the jobs come from to the support the new residents? What impact will all these new homes and the cars parked in the driveways have upon our environment? To try to answer these questions I used the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to request a copy of the report. I got an answer to my request today politely telling me to fuck off and mind my own business.
Now I’m somebody who has submitted a few FOI requests in my time, especially to Thanet Council who are so fucking secretive they won’t let you have the steam of their shit. But today’s response to my FOI was, in my opinion, one of the most appallingly ignorant, utterly incompetent and potentially untruthful replies I have ever received from this piss-poor excuse for a democratic organisation. Had this reply been from a work experience student I may have been less angry, but my arrogant three paragraph fob-off was written by a senior officer earning at least £50,000 a year who is paid to know what he is talking about. I can only assume from this totally unacceptable reply to my FOI that its Thanet Council policy to feed the public any old bollox they can think up, to stop the public getting hold of the secret housing report.
Well I have now appealed against the decision to withhold the report and keep it secret. Although its long and boring I have decided to publish my appeal in full so people can see for themselves what sort of incompetent crap is dished out to the public to prevent them from securing information they have a legal right to see. There is an overwhelming public interest for people to able to see a report which recommends increasing the already unacceptable figure of 12,000 new homes to a unsustainable and even more unacceptable 15,600 homes.I clearly recall during the May elections UKIP and Nigel Farage campaigning against the 12,000 new homes just as they did about saving Manston Airport. Despite losing councillors UKIP still run TDC so the question must be asked if they are genuinely opposed to massive overdevelopment in Thanet why didn’t they order this report to be published in September? Makes you wonder just how seriously the take their promises to voters.
Please provide me with a copy of the Draft Housing Needs report which was mentiones in the announcement on the Council's website entitled "Update on the Local Plan". The statement says that the draft report was discussed by the Local Plan cross-party working group last Friday (25 September). Projected housing need for Thanet is a subject of great public interest and speculation and it is therefore beholden upon the council to release the latest information on this matter, even though this information may be a draft report. Yours sincerely Ian Driver
Dear Mr Driver.Thank you for your communication received on 03/10/2015, where you requested information about the Strategic Housing Market Assessment report. I can confirm that Thanet District Council holds the information you are seeking. Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts this information. This is because the information is intended for publication at a future date. The Council recognises that publication of the report would aid wider public understanding of issues in the LP process, and is intending to publish the report in due course. However, the report is still in draft form and may be subject to amendment. Use of material within the report might therefore be misleading. Furthermore, Members have not yet considered the report. Having considered the public interest, the Council's decision is therefore to withhold the information at this time.
Dear Thanet Council
Paragraph 63 of Decision Notice FS50121803 https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2009/465528/FS_50121803.pdf says that "although at the time of the request it was clear that the Home Office intended to publish some but not all of the information within the scope of the request, it was unable to specify which information it wished to apply section 22 to and the Commissioner is not satisfied that the exemption is engaged".
Clearly my request is identical to the circumstances described in the decision notice. Thanet Council has expressed to me it’s clear intention to publish the report in the future, but because the report is in a draft form which your officer says "may be subject to amendment" the Council is unable to specify which information it wishes to apply the Section 22 exemption to. Your use of this exemption is therefore wrong. Furthermore your officer claims that because the report is in a draft format its release “might therefore be misleading”. He then appears to associate the release of misleading information as being harmful to the public interest and a reson not to let me have a copyu of the document. Can I refer to you to paras 43 of the ICO Guidance of the Public Interest Test
This paragraph states that - “It may be argued that the information would be misleading, perhaps because it consists of notes reflecting only part of a discussion or because it may be inaccurate or out of date. FOIA provides a right to information that public authorities hold; it does not require that information to be complete, accurate or up to date”. Clearly your officers’ reason for withholding the report on the basis that it is misleading is invalid.
Your officer then goes on to suggest that because councillors have not yet met to discuss the report it would not be in the public interest to release it. Your officer is wrong on 2 counts. Firstly councillors have met to discuss the report. A press release issued by the council sates that “the draft report was discussed by the Local Plan cross-party working group last Friday (25 September)”. Your officer is an extremely senior planning manager. It’s inconceivable that he was not aware of this meeting. Indeed, I heard that he was actually in attendance at that meeting. By claiming that councillors had not met your officer is therefore likely to have been untruthful to me. Perhaps you can arrange for this matter to be looked into. Secondly Freedom of Information rules do not exempt a document from being made public simply because councillors have not met to discuss it. Indeed all committee documents are legally required to be published before councillors meet to discuss them.
Finally your officer claims to have “considered the public interest” in arriving at his decision. Apart from me having demonstrated that all of the arguments he has used to justify public interest non-release are invalid and spurious, he has provided absolutely no evidence that he has carried out an objective balancing test of all the arguments for and against publication of the report as is required by the Information Commissioner. I suspect that your office never conducted this exercise, which if true is a serious issue. Perhaps you could look into this matter and let me know the outcome.
I must say that I am extremely disappointed about the way in which my FOI request has been handled. I would have expected a very senior officer such as this person to have an understanding of FOI regulations. I would also have expected someone to have double checked his response to make sure that it was in compliance with the rules and of an acceptable standard. I am also concerned about the possibility that your officer may have misled me about the meeting of the councillors and having conducted a full and proper public interest test. I will taking this issues forward as a fromal complaint.
Frankly, I believe that the because the subject of house building in Thanet is so controversial, there is a determination at the Council to avoid releasing the draft report and to keep it under wraps away from public scrutiny and debate. As the Council’s Monitoring Officer, and the person who deals with FOI reviews, I am sure that you would not countenance such undemocratic shenanigans and will deal with my review as quickly as possible. I look forward to hearing from you. Ian Driver