Sun, 03 Feb 2019
WEST Berkshire Council has refused a request to publish all of its email exchanges with developer St Modwen relating to the unlawful contract signed between the two parties in 2015.
The council spent £109,000 of taxpayers’ money on selecting St Modwen as its preferred partner for the regeneration of the London Road Industrial Estate (LRIE) and entering into the development agreement in 2015.
However, last year the Court of Appeal ruled the deal as unlawful and declared it ineffective, meaning the council has to start all over again.
The Newbury Weekly News’ Freedom of Information request asked to see all the email exchanges specifically relating to that agreement.
However, the council turned down the request, describing it as “manifestly unreasonable” due to the amount of staff time it would take to complete.
It added that this “burden” outweighed the public interest and also claimed the request was worded to “try and catch information”.
The full email from the council read: “I have now scoped your request for all email exchanges between the council and St Modwen in relation to the London Road Industrial Estate regeneration (LRIE) and I can now confirm that the council is refusing your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 exception; ‘manifestly unreasonable’.
“The reasons for this are as follows;
“The LRIE regeneration project has been running since 2010 and has required the involvement of several council employees across various council services.
“I have been informed that the email correspondence that you have requested is held within the individual email inboxes of the council officers who have been involved in the project, some of which have now left the council’s employment.
“This email correspondence has not been saved in a central file, due to the input by different services.
“Therefore, in order to locate and retrieve this correspondence the council’s ICT department would need to carry out a search on the various officers’ email accounts, spanning nearly a decade, using keywords such as; ‘London Road Industrial Estate’ and ‘LRIE’.
“This search is likely to capture hundreds of email threads and their separate attached documents, some of which will not be relevant to this request.
“There is also a chance that this search will not detect certain emails that are relevant, if they do not contain the keywords used by ICT during their search.
“Therefore, we cannot guarantee that the search will be accurate.
“I believe that the work required to complete this search will exceed the appropriate limit and will place a disproportionate burden on the authority.
“I have also taken into account the public interest in the council dedicating the resources required to collate and respond to your request.
“In my opinion, as your request has been worded in a way to attempt to ‘catch’ information rather than requesting specific recorded information, I do not believe that the public interest outweighs the burden that would be placed on the authority by having to comply with the request, as it is worded.
“The council will shortly be publishing a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document on its website in relation to the LRIE, which includes information on the project and provides answers to certain questions that have been submitted to the council.
“Therefore, I am satisfied that public interest will be served by the council in its attempt to make information available and by publishing answers to specific questions that have been submitted by members of the public.”