Thursday, 23 July 2015

Brent Council finds request for information on the Stonebridge Playground betrayal 'extremely burdensome'

As we have heard this week the Government wants to get rid of the Freedom of Information Act, although they haven't quite said it so bluntly.

As far as Brent Council is concerned is seems they have already adopted their own Obfuscation of Information Act.

Glynis Lee, puzzled over the sudden change of policy by Brent Council in Summer 2014 - at a first meeting Brent Council officers informed the Brent Play Association that the Stonebridge Adventure Playground was to be rebuilt, with a new building and perhaps slightly less land but then, at the next meeting, told them they would be closed.  An excited architect named Fred Eastman of South Stuio Architects had shown them his plans for the Playground at the first meeting.

At the same time Brent Council decided to end funding for the Playground.  Their own consultation report later admitted that 80% of consultation respondents wanted to keep the playground, but this was followed by Cllr Ruth Moher stating at a Cabinet meeting that 'you can get anyone to sign a petition'.

Wanting to unravel all this Glynis had put in a Freedom of Information request that the Council refused to answer. She then asked for a review and this was the response.

Note the promised reply by  12th May 2015.  In fact it did not come until July 8th and had been apparently arbitrarily changed from an FoI request to an Environmental Information Regulations request.

This is Fiona Alderman's reply:

--> Dear Ms. Lee

Thank you for your request for a review received on 13 April 2015.

Your information request
Environmental Information Regulations 2004

I refer to your request received on 13 April 2015 for a review of the
council’s decision to refuse your request for information relating, in
broad terms, to the Stonebridge Park redevelopment from 16 September 2013
to date. Please accept my apologises for the delay in conducting the

As part of my review I have considered your original request for
information received on 9 March 2015 which was in the following terms:

“All correspondence, reports, minutes, letters and proposals which relate
to the redevelopment of Stonebridge, the expansion of Stonebridge primary
school, the removal of the Welsh School and the closure of Stonebridge
Adventure Playground. This information would be with specific reference to
all of the above between the Brent’s Asset management department, Children
and Young people department, and department of Regeneration and growth.
Information including reports and plans from South Studio Architects to
also be included, and all communication between council officers, and
councillors which pertains to any or all of the above”.

I have also considered the council’s response to your request dated 8
April 2015.

The response stated that your request is being handled under the Freedom
of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information
Regulations 2004 (EIR) and that with one exception your request was
refused because it exceeded the statutory cost limit of £450 (or 18 hours)
as set out in section 12 of FOIA.

The response referred to the diffuse nature of your request, its breadth,
the shear volume of the potential information that might be in scope, the
hundreds of officers across the council and other individuals who may hold
the information you have requested, the difficulties in determining with a
reasonable degree of certainty the information the council actually holds
and the council officers and other individuals who actually hold it (i.e.
the difficulty in locating the information) and the inordinate amount of
time and the excessive and wholly disproportionate amount of resource and
money complying with your request (including retrieving and extracting the
relevant information) would demand.

I also note that you were invited to narrow or refine the scope of your

A link, however, was included in the response for ease of accessing the
report to Cabinet on the council’s re-development proposals for
Stonebridge Park which is a public document and was already published on
the council’s website.

Against that background, I now set out the outcome of my review.

As your request was for information relating to redevelopment proposals,
it constituted ‘environmental information’ for the purposes of EIR.
According to EIR, environmental information includes any information on,
amongst other things, the state of land and plans and activities affecting
or likely to affect the state of land. Your request therefore should have
been considered under EIR and not FOIA and, as a consequence, the refusal
of your request did not comply with the requirements of EIR.

Under EIR, the council can refuse to disclose environmental information if
an exception applies and, in all the circumstances of the case, the public
interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in
disclosing the information. There is, however, a presumption in favour of
disclosure. Although, unlike FOIA, EIR do not contain an express
cost-limit, the council can refuse to disclose information to the extent
that the request is “manifestly unreasonable”. Further, according to FOI
case law, the costs of compliance can be taken into account under both

In all the circumstances, I am satisfied that it is necessary to refuse
your request to protect the resources of the council from being squandered
on disproportionate use of EIR. I am also satisfied that there is no
adequate or proper justification for your request and that it is not aimed
at the disclosure of important information which ought to be made publicly

In this regard, I note in particular that key decisions about the
Stonebridge Park redevelopment proposals have been made by councillors in
open and public meetings and that important information, such as Cabinet
reports and associated documents, are already freely available. Also of
particular note is the extensive and widely advertised consultation that
was undertaken to seek the views of residents and other local stakeholders
about the redevelopment proposals which included creating a website
setting out consultation information with an on-line response portal and
face to face consultation events. The consultation also received
considerable local press coverage.

Finally, as the redevelopment proposals have education, planning and
procurement implications, the attendant statutory controls bearing upon
the council ensure that its decision making is open and transparent and
that there are opportunities for public participation and for the council
to be held to account.

As the availability of the manifestly unreasonable exception is subject to
the public interest test, I have also considered the benefits of
disclosure. The disclosure of yet further information would be in the
interests of openness and transparency. Providing access to information
can assist in holding public authorities to account and encourage greater
public participation in the exercise by public authorities of their public

On the facts of this case, however, I have no doubt that for the reasons
given in the previous refusal of your request and the reasons I have
given, the public interest in disclosing the information you have
requested is outweighed by the public interest in withholding the
In deciding how much value there would be in attempting to
comply with your request I have also had regard to the fact that at least
some (if not most) of the information is likely to fall within available
exceptions under EIR which the council could and would rely upon to
justify a refusal of your request.

Thus, for all the reasons I have summarised in this decision notice, as
your request is extremely burdensome and costly, would require an
unreasonable diversion of finite resources from the provision of valuable
services and is of no public value, it is in my opinion manifestly

Hence, although your request should have been dealt with under EIR, and
not FOIA, to all intents and purposes, very similar considerations apply
and the outcome is the same.

In conclusion, therefore, I have upheld your complaint in part because it
was dealt with under FOIA, and refused under section 14 of that Act, and
not under EIR. Ultimately, however, I have upheld the decision to refuse
your request because it is manifestly unreasonable and the public interest
favours withholding the disclosure of the information.

If you are not content with the outcome of my review, you have the right
to complain directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information
Commissioner can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,

Glynis would appreciate a translation of the above into English so that she can inform the children of Stonebridge, badly missing their playground as the summer holidays begin, of the Council's position. Can anyone help?

Incidentally the School expansion document going before the Cabinet on Monday notes (regarding the Stonebridge Day Centre currently hosuing Stonebridge Primary classes) and the Preston Library site:
It should be noted that of the above sites, the former Preston Road Library and the former Stonebridge Day Centre are both included in the Capital Disposals Programme for 2016/17 with forecast receipts of £700k and £1.5m respectively estimated for Quarter 4.



Anonymous said...

No wonder the Labour leadership are crapping themselves over the leadership election. Putting 'electability' to one side for a moment, which of the 4 candidates do people think would be the LEAST likely to produce the kind of shoddy bullshit exhibited here by Ms Alderman?

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

Sheer gobbledegook. The Preston Library campaigners are fairly hacked off.

Nan. said...

Hardly shoddy BS, Mike: I am sure we all agree with Alderman's burning desire to "protect the resources of the council from being squandered" as she so properly puts it.

I expect we may be forgiven for being a bit perplexed at this evidence of thrift being notable by its absence during Cronygate...........

Now we wait for one of Cllr Filson's FOIs to be refused on the good, old-fashioned grounds of financial prudence!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Brent should be asked for a comprehensive list of their Freedom of Information Requests since the Cronies took over the leadership, including how many information requests were withheld and/or misleading information given by return. I feel sure if complaints were made to the Information Commissioner that there may be interesting findings with costs to Brent for non-compliance.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me started on 'prudence', Nan. People accuse Gordon Brown of flogging the word to death but I can remember the slimeball Norman Lamont wrapping his rubbery lips and his peculiar accent around it long before.

Jaine Lunn said...

I had a similiar reply when with the help of other parties put in a FOI regarding the change of Coplands Fields from Public Land to the then Coplands School now Ark Elvin. There was no public consultation, we have no idea how much the developer paid the council for the land, no details of when, how it happened, It has all conveniently disappeared from public records or scrutiny. They did however inform me that if I had £428+ they could somehow unearth these documents. So much for Freedom of Information - what a joke.

Anonymous said...

Translation required urgently!, What nonesensical BS, What does it mean?
They don't believe in FOI. They have forgotten they were elected to do our bidding.

Anonymous said...

When Muhammed Butt became Leader of Brent Council in May 2012, he told the "Brent & Kilburn Times" that under him the Council would be ‘more open and transparent’.

After just over three years of his Leadership, and numerous examples of failed FoI requests and Deputations not heard by the Council and committees because of misleading legal advice, we now have the remarkable excuse of:
'the public interest in disclosing the information you have requested is outweighed by the public interest in withholding the information.'

Far from being open and transparent, we have a Council which hides its "dirty laundry", and uses every trick in the book to try to keep it concealed from local residents who wish to expose what is going on 'in the public interest'.

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

But Philip and Jaine, surely you understand that withholding information from the public keeps them in ignorance and is clearly in the public interest because Ignorance is Strength. Butt and Alderman are therefore empowering the public by not letting them know things. They've clearly read their Orwell.
Unfortunately they don't seem to have understood it. But then, the bureaucratic mind is never usually really at home with irony. They'd probably read this comment as praise.

Mike Hine

Nan. said...

Perhaps after all, Cllr B may have meant - more open and transparent than a nailed-down coffin buried under 6 foot of clay soil...........

Maybe Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn could be persuaded to do a "Yes Councillor" series using Brent as their inspiration!

Alison Hopkins said...

Brent Council and Brent Labour find Brent residents extremely burdensome. Their arrogance is breathtaking, but not surprising.

Nan. said...

Is the rumour true that Gilbert and Cllr Butt have been in talks to twin Brent with Zurich........??
That would certainly solve the "burdensome residents" issue!!