My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

15,600 New Homes: Thanet UKIP Supress Report

True to it’s undemocratic and secretive nature  Thanet District Council is trying its best to supress  a report recommending  that house building targets for  the district are massively ramped up from 12,000  to 15, 600 – a staggering  30% increase! The report was discussed by councillors on the Local Plan Cross-Party Working Group  on 25 September and provoked a major outcry in the local press and on social media.People in Birchington, Westgate, and parts of Ramsgate were already seriously pissed off about the prospect of having 12,000 new homes built, mainly on  greenfield sites, in their locality and were beginning to campaign to prevent this happening. How are they going to feel when intolerable overdevelopment is made even worse by adding an extra 3,600 homes into the mix- furious would be an understatement I think!

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.
 
Dear Thanet Council
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
I wish to request an internal review of the decision not to allow me to have a copy of the draft Strategic Housing Market Assessment report.My reasons are that Section 22  of the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to this document. This is because the Council states that the  report is in draft format and is not  therefore in a position to  know precisely what information will published in future and what will not.

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

10 comments:

  1. Well done Ian who was the planning official?

    The first requirement of Foi is disclosure. Draft policies are simply released as drafts not witheld or censored.

    15,000 houses would be a second Ramsgate. Who supports that except a thousand clerks typing up any old rubbish to keep their salary.

    council tax strike?

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  2. Yes nobody thinks 15000 homes are needed. A council tax strike and exclusion of councillors from shops etc would remind them of the public approval.

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  3. Is there not a forecast for all the empty homes to be used first rather than the council pandering to the builders?

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  4. Whatever happened to the Parkway train station? It was a cargo depot for Manston airport?

    Redo it as part of a New Town? Lots of cement contracts!

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  5. Who is the senior officer? Which councillors were at the meeting?

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  6. What muddle. Gideon of Thanet standing for Scunthorpe and Mackinlay of Chatham standing for Thanet. No wonder the Mps don't do much for the local area....Add in nonlocal officials and the main impetus is making everywhere the same

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  7. 15000 houses would be larger than Ramsgate its over half of all existing 25k houses in Thanet and presumably an extra 30-50k people?

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  8. If you don't name the offivcal how can the public help you? You'd be as secretive...

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  9. Have no councilors raised this yet?

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  10. CPRE: 15k houses unrealistic - http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Campaign-Rural-England-brand-housing-targets/story-28178915-detail/story.html

    It seems a figure has been arrived at without anyone knowing how or why or approving it? Does TDC planning dept need a clearout?

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