In June 2016, the Harrogate Informer submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to Harrogate Borough Council, requesting the total build price for the new office build on Knapping Mount in Harrogate.
The FOI was initially refused on the grounds of being commercially sensitive.
Although there were some costs in the public domain, these were the top-up costs of how much the council would need to find after the sale of Crescent Gardens – this figure was quoted as £8.72 million.
A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council said:
Unfortunately at the present time we cannot disclose the contract price to you as to do so, in addition with the net cost which is in the public domain, would mean that we are indicating our business case value of disposals of current HBC buildings. As those buildings have not yet been disposed of the disclosure of such information into the public domain would prejudice the Council’s commercial interests. We therefore consider the information you request to be exempt from disclosure under s43(2) of the FOI Act.
We appealed the decision to Harrogate Borough Council. Under the FOI appeals process, an appeal is initially placed against the organisation and then can heard by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The plans to build were approved by the Council on the 15 July 2015, this committed a £8.72 million in addition to the income generated from the sale of Crescent Gardens and other property that would no longer be required by the council.
The build has always been shrouded in a great level of worrying secrecy, with the card “Commercially Sensitive” being played to limit information, not just to the general public, but to many Councillors.
At the Overview and Scrutiny on 7 July 2015 we had plans to video record from the main chamber, something that never occurred given the technical complexities of the meetings. This caused a great deal of panic amongst council officers after they believed we may have recorded a private meeting of the council inadvertently. Morally and legally this was not something we would have done, but the reaction from the council when they believed we may have eavesdropped was very worrying. It reinforced how closet the discussions were.
On the 5 August 2016, a further response was made from the Harrogate Borough Council internal legal adviser.
Harrogate Borough Council said:
I have looked at your request and the response given by the council so far . Whilst I understand the reasoning behind the refusal to disclose the total build costs to you I do not think that the reasoning is such that the total build costs should be withheld and so advise that the contract price for the new build is £13,152,079
This is the physical build costs, there will of course be other costs, such as IT and general fitting out costs.
On the 6 November 2015 the sale fell through Crescent Gardens and the Knapping Mount build is well underway.
The Borough Council continue to maintain that there is long term financial gain for this project with year-on-year overhead savings.