The Keep The Hammertons Green Action Group have hit back at Harrogate Borough Council for wanting to charge for copies of emails related to proposed new settlement of 3,000 houses.
The request was made under Freedom of Information legislation by the Action Group, which is campaigning to highlight the decision to create a new town near Green Hammerton, Kirk Hammerton and Cattal.
The group asked for a copy of all communications and documents in relation to the proposed new settlement, since 1 January 2016, passing between Leader of the Council, Councillor Richard Cooper, Cabinet Member for Planning Councillor Rebecca Reeve-Burnett, Harrogate Borough Council’s Head of Planning and Development, and any councillor or officer from North Yorkshire County Council, as well as development companies Commercial Estates Group and Oakgate Group and their professional advisers.
Harrogate Borough Council initially responded by saying this is an environmental information request, rather than a freedom of information request, and it would charge £650 to provide the information. This was calculated at £50 per hour for 13 hours work. The fee has since been reduced to £25 per hour or £325.
Chris Eaton, co-chair of the Keep The Hammertons Green Action Groups, said:
This can only be seen as an attempt to thwart our legitimate interest in seeing relevant material. It shows no commitment to open and transparent decision making and is undemocratic.
Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office states that charges for information requests should be reasonable and must not exceed the costs council’s incur in making the information available, or act as a deterrent to the right to request information.
Surely if there’s nothing for the Council to hide, it should hand over the information without such a cost impediment. This is not some time-wasting, vexatious approach. Nearly 90% of the submissions to the council’s consultation on the new town objected to it. As we continue to fight the decision to site the new town at Hammerton/Cattal we have a right to know what has passed between key people.
The council was content to spend some £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to hire consultants to shore up its decision after it was made, so this is a drop in the ocean.
Councillor Rebecca Burnett, cabinet member with responsibility for planning, said:
Fees for dealing with Environmental Information Requests (EIRs) are set in accordance with guidelines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
In this case, in the light of information received, we are going to review our charging structure.
While this review takes place, we will apply a fee of £25 per hour to process this, and future, EIRs.