EDDC makes relocation and Knowle documents public

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

The ‘first phase’ of key historical background documents, relating to East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) controversial relcation project, have been published online today (Friday).

The ‘first phase’ of key historical background documents, relating to East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) controversial relocation project, have been published online today (Friday).

However, residents will have to wait to see reports that were the subject of a secrecy row and legal battle - which the authority subsequently lost.

A spokesperson for the council said today it is ‘holding true to its word’ and the information contained within the documents forms an historical record and audit trail, which covers the council’s formal decision to sell the Knowle site and relocate its offices to Honiton and Exmouth.

“It was always our intention to publish these documents as fully as possible, and we do so now because we are in a position to publicly deliver information, which had previously been considered confidential due to its sensitive content,” said the spokesperson.

“The fact that the published documents contain some redacted (blacked out) words reflects the need for a degree of continued privacy, particularly in relation to protecting the commercial confidence of third party interests - not the council itself.

“However, it should be noted that the council has for a while now been consistently reporting project progress and in public, as well as debating its decisions openly and will continue to do so.”

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On what the documents contain, the spokesperson said: “As might be expected from documents relating to such a complex topic, the papers cover a broad range of general subject matter including discussions that were held, as well as a number of different options that were considered but not pursued. Part of the content is analysis – most of which is now irrelevant and out of date, due to changing markets and economic conditions. So it is important that anyone reading the material bears in mind that the documents are a record of such things as operating costs, development costs and land values – now largely out of date - covering the first phase of the project from 2009-2013.”

On other documents to be published, the spokesperson added: “We are still awaiting the opportunity to publish specific reports from 2009-2013 that are subject to the timetable and final decision of the Information Tribunal. When that process has been concluded, we will add these reports to the others that have been published.

“The absence of these reports will be apparent when viewing the published documents, as they will be shown as a line and a title (without a hyperlink) in the attached chronology, which shows where a document will go when it is released.”

A judge last week dismissed an appeal by EDDC to keep seven documents confidential - and in doing so branded the council ‘discourteous and unhelpful’. The authority spent £11,000 of taxpayers’ cash on lawyers’ fees as part of the tribunal.

The eight-month legal battle began when a Sidmouth resident lodged a Freedom of Information (FoI) request and ended up in court.

Livonia Road resident Jeremy Woodward’s request was refused, with the authority arguing the documents were exempt from FoI rules.

However, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that seven reports should be released.

EDDC appealed the decision and a tribunal took place at Exeter Magistrates’ Court in August 2014.

In the verdict published last week, Judge Brian Kennedy QC said the appeal ‘could and should’ have been completed in August, had EDDC ‘discharged its responsibilities properly’.

The project reports in question are not among the documents released today - with ‘to be published in line with tribunal directions’ stated where information is not yet accessible.

The reports can be found online at: http://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-business/moving-and-improving/project-document-archive/.