LETTER TO PARISHIONERS

A Commonsense Neighbourhood Development Plan for Burghill Parish

Note: this is NOT the 'official' Burghill Parish Council website.

FAILURE OF BURGHILL PARISH COUNCIL TO RESPOND PROPERLY

TO REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION

 

***INFORMATION COMMISSIONER INSTRUCTS BURGHILL PARISH COUNCIL TO REVIEW ITS HANDLING OF ITS FAILURE TO PROVIDE INFORMATION***

In the article below we reported on Burghill Parish Council's failure to respond properly to what were quite reasonable Freedom of Information and EIR requests by a parishioner for information related to the Burghill Neigbourhood Development Plan.

The Information Commissioner's Office has now responded (on 28 September 2017), and we felt that it was only right and proper to inform other concerned parishioners of the outcome. Here are some excerpts from his response:

"Thank you for your correspondence of 17/08/17 in which you make a complaint about Burghill Parish Councilís response to your multiple information requests.

Although there is no statutory time set out in the FOIA within which public authorities must complete a review, the Commissioner has issued guidance on this matter. The Commissioner considers that a reasonable time for completing an internal review is 20 working days from the date of the request for review, and in no case should the total time taken exceed 40 working days.

Accordingly, I have written to Burghill Parish Council requiring that it now conducts an internal review of their handling of this request and to inform you of the review outcome as soon as possible, and in any case within 20 working days of todayís date.

The EIR is more prescriptive however, and the decision with regard to the written representations you have made should be provided as soon as possible but no later than 40 working days from the date of receipt of your representations."

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We now await Burghill Parish Council's internal review and the provision of the information which the parishioner requested (see below). It is required to be provided, by law.

A Neighbourhood Plan changes the landscape of an area forever, and it is important that the community is fully informed. We hope that there will not be further procrastination. If there is, then the Information Commissioner will look into the matter further, and now doubt apply whatever sanctions he sees fit.

 

On 10 July 2017 a concerned parishioner, a member of the group behind this Commonsense website, made 10 Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) requests and 2 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Parish Clerk of Burghill Parish Council. These were perfectly reasonable requests which a member of the public is entitled to make. It is particularly important in the context of Neighbourhood Planning which so irreparably changes the landscape, that there should be complete transparency and openness.

Burghill Parish Council is the legally responsible Qualifying Body for the Neighbourhood Plan. The Steering Group is a sub-committee of Burghill Parish Council. The Parish Clerk is the Data Controller under the Data Protection Act.

[Explanatory Note: information requests which relate to planning matters must be made under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004]

The responses given on 3 August 2017 by the Parish Clerk are in quotation marks, in italics for each question. Clearly, these responses are totally inadequate. The requirement to comply with such requests was re-emphasised in an email to the Parish Clerk on 8 August. The Clerk's response, also on 8 August, was: "I have nothing further to add to my emails of 3rd August 2017."

Clearly, in the light of such responses there is now no alternative but to complain formally to the Information Commissioner's Office.

 

Environmental Information Requests made on 10 July 2017:

1. All correspondence between the Burghill NDP Steering Group and Kirkwells Planning Consultants in relation to the Burghill NDP since 2012

"I do not hold any of this information".

2. All correspondence between the Burghill Parish Council and Kirkwells Planning Consultants in relation to the Burghill NDP since 2013

"I have not inherited the email files of the previous Clerk, but have attached the correspondence I still have."

There were only 3 attachments provided and they are known about already.

3. All correspondence between the Burghill Parish Council and the Burghill NDP Steering Group since 2012

"I have not inherited the email files of the previous Clerk, but have attached the correspondence I still have. All reports from the Steering Group are in the Parish Council minutes which are available on the website."

There was a single email attached. The Parish Council minutes do not answer the question.

4. All correspondence circulated between the Burghill NDP Steering Group members (including members that have resigned) in relation to the Burghill NDP since 2012

"Unfortunately, I do not have this information".

5. All correspondence between the Burghill NDP Steering Group and Herefordshire Council in relation to the Burghill NDP since 2012

"This information can be obtained from Herefordshire Council, please see all I have."

There were just 2 email exchanges attached. The question was to BPC, not HC.

6. All correspondence between the Burghill Parish Council and Herefordshire Council in relation to the Burghill NDP since 2012

"This information can be obtained from Herefordshire Council, please see all I have."

There were just 2 email exchanges attached. They are known. The question was to BPC, not HC.

7. All declarations of interest made by both Burghill Parish Council members and the Bughill NDP Steering Group members which relate to sites submitted to the Burghill NDP.

"This information is contained in the Parish Council minutes, which can be found on the Parish Council's website. The Steering Group was a working group so there are no declarations of interests."

The SG was a sub-committee of the PC and its Terms of Reference make its members subject to the BPC Code of Conduct. Therefore SG members are supposed to both Register Interests and make Declarations of Interest if appropriate.

8. The responses of the National Grid (Gas & elec) and Western Power (elec) in regard to the Burghill NDP and confirmation of how they were consulted.

"I do not have these responses, they can be obtained from National Grid (Gas & elec) and Western Power (elec)."

The question was to BPC, surely BPC must have this information if the utility providers were actually consulted with?

9. Will the BPC kindly provide the audited log which records the numbers of representations received from (i) site owners or their agents and (ii) members of the public:

(a) for representations received at the Regulation 14 stage?

(b) for representations received on the Updated Sites Assessment Report? and will it please also provide the audited log which records the sites submitted to the NDP at the time of the Questionnaires returns in 2014? and will the BPC please confirm that all site submission questionnaires or representations at each of those stages were handled and recorded firstly by the Parish Clerk as the interface between the public and the PC?

"I do not hold the audited logs they are now held by Kirkwells and shown in the NDP. I am unable to confirm that all site submission questionnaires or representations at each of those stages were handled and recorded firstly by the Parish Clerk as the interface between the public and the PC as I was not the Clerk at the time."

If there are audited logs, they are not in the NDP.

10. All comments/objections received to the Kirkwells' Updated Site Assessment Report.

"These will be in the final report from Kirkwells. Please note I am unable to give out correspondence I recently received from members of the pubic to other members of the public. These were sent to me in confidence with the understanding they would be sent to Kirkwells, and as stated will be in the report from Kirkwells."

In fact the "Recent News" in the Parish Magazine in May & June just said to send written comments to the Clerk. They mentioned nothing about confidentiality, nor did they say that they would be sent to Kirkwells.

 

Freedom of Information Requests made on 10 July 2017:

1. All Notices of Registrable Interests for the Burghill NDP Steering Group.

"I do not have these."

These were handed by SG members to the Chairman of the Burghill NDP Steering Group. So where are they?

2. The Notices of Registrable Interests for [Parish Councillor name removed] and [Parish Councillor name removed] are totally blank apart from their names; and the one for [Parish Councillor name removed] only declares land at [location removed]. Does this mean that they live outside the Parish?

"Notices of Registrable Interests are the responsibility of the individual Councillor and these can be viewed on the Herefordshire Councils website."

This response does not answer what is a reasonable question by a parishioner. The Notices of Registrable Interests referred to were from the HC website.

10th August 2017