The Sustainability Appraisal (SA) should be the foundations of a good local plan. The SA even states:-
The Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Plan and accompanying SA represent an important opportunity
to drive forward the sustainability agenda and assist with urban and rural renaissance across the
Borough. SA is a powerful tool that can not only evaluate the sustainability of the Borough Plan but
also help promote patterns of development and ensure that sustainability considerations are reflected
in the evolution of the plan and policy preparation. An independent Sustainability Assessment has
been undertaken at each stage in the preparation of the Borough Plan.
The current proposed Borough Plan is not sustainable. In fact it is hard to produce a worst plan. That is why I want to know if the SA was independent report to shape the plan or significantly changed under the instruction of the council to make the plan seem to pass the assessment. It is clear that the SA was produced at the end of the process.
When you look at the final scoring in the SA you can see why I suspect it is not as independent and objective as it should be. Out of 147 scores only 3 come out negative.
As a councillor I asked to see the original version of the report, that was refused and I was told to make a request under the Freedom of information act/ environmental information regulations (EIR). This was turned down at noon on last day consultation. I also had already put in a request for all correspondence with consultants. This shows up a frantic period of editing in the middle of January.
|Subject:||Request to see drafts of the Sustainability Appraisal and Viability Report|
|Date:||Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:33:26 +0000|
Dear Cllr Kondakor,
Thank you for your request for information about FOI Planning Policy.
Your request for information has been considered and I hope the following will answer your query:
I refer to your request dated 16th February 2017 for draft versions of the Sustainability Appraisal and Viability Report.
You have also stated that ‘The (sic) Sustainability Appraisal and Viability Assessment potentially may have been seriously modified since their authors submitted the original versions to the Council. Given what is going on with the doctoring of the report on air quality issues, it is not unreasonable to request that they are immediately released.’
Following careful consideration, the information requested is being withheld as it is considered that the exemption at regulation 12 (4) (d) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 is engaged in that your request involves material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data.
The Information Tribunal has confirmed in the following cases that a draft document is considered an incomplete document even after the final version has been completed:
Secretary of State for Transport v Information Commissioner [EA/2008/0052]
Mersey Tunnel Users Association (MTUA) v Information Commissioner and Halton Borough Council [EA/2009/0001]
In applying this exception, there is a need to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure. The factors considered in deciding where the public interest lie are:
There is strong public interest in the Council being open and transparent in its activities, particularly those that have an impact on the environment in order to allow for effective public participation in decision making. The Borough Plan is a matter of significant public interest and it is important that the public are provided with all relevant information to enable them to engage with the ongoing consultation process.
To place old or superseded information into the public domain which is inaccurate can lead to confusion, mislead the reader and lead to misinformed debate. The significance and effect of the recommendations of the finalised and complete reports that have been published and are currently out to consultation should be the focus of any public debate. Disclosure of draft versions would have the effect of distracting from the important consultation exercise and is likely to deflect the discussion away from the Borough Plan itself, to focusing on changes made between versions of the documents. This could be quite damaging in terms of the delay in delivering the plan both to the Council and the public, particularly with the threat of government intervention. It may harm the Council’s interests insofar as it may delay or adversely affect the plan-making process and would be misleading and potentially deprive the public of the opportunity to respond to the actual proposals.
There has already been a certain amount of diversion and distraction in respect of draft versions of documents provided by the Council. In the spirit of openness, the Council released draft documents in respect of air quality. Attempts have been made to exploit differences in versions of this document by the release of a misleading press release where it has been alleged that Council officers have manipulated reports, and at a recent public meeting comparison between the draft and final documents was highlighted with a view to derailing the debate, causing distraction and generally undermining the process. In providing the draft documents on air quality, the Council made it very clear that the differences in documents were necessary, explicable and reasonable as they correct a number of errors and false statements within the draft documents and that, in the light of this, the draft versions should not be taken out of context. Despite this, the draft documents have been misused as evidence of alleged wrongdoing and an internal investigation is ongoing to determine the veracity of such allegations. The creation of misperceptions by certain parties with a different agenda is both divisive and extremely unhelpful at a time when the Council is actively seeking public engagement with the consultation process. It has led to some media speculation and may ultimately undermine public confidence in the Borough Plan, even though, as yet, there is no basis for any such conclusions to be drawn.
It is therefore considered that the public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in providing disclosure at this moment in time, however it is recognised that the balance of public interest can shift with the passage of time and hence the matter will be kept under review. The outcome of the internal investigation may well be a relevant consideration and this will therefore also be kept in mind.
If you are unhappy with the way the authority has handled your request, you may ask for an internal review. Under regulation 11(2), you must contact us for a review no later than 40 working days after the date of this letter.
Sent: 16 January 2017 09:38
To: Ian Powell; PEPPITT Dale <email@example.com>; FORD Kelly <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: RE: Final SA
Thank you for your emails and associated final comments on the SA report and matrices.
I trust the above update/clarification is useful and thank you again for your observations and thoughts xxxx.
Sent: 16 January 2017 09:05
To: FORD Kelly <email@example.com>
Cc: PEPPITT Dale <firstname.lastname@example.org>; POWELL Ian <email@example.com>
Subject: NBBC – SA
Should you have any queries please contact me.
Sent: 14 January 2017 08:43
To: FORD Kelly <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ian Powell; PEPPITT Dale <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Final SA
Yes – i will get a final version ready for 9am – Monday.
From: FORD Kelly [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 6:44 PM
To: Ian Powell xxxx; PEPPITT Dale
Subject: RE: Final SA
Are you able to address these points before 9am on Monday which is the deadline for print?
From: IAN POWELL
Sent: 13 January 2017 17:23
Subject: Final SA
I just speed-read the final SA (track changes version), with the following comments:
I will speed read read the appendices tomorrow and contact you with any further observations.