AddThis SmartLayers

New laws help weekly paper ferret out stories

The Freedom of Information Act has allowed The Whitehaven News to uncover the lengths that a council has gone to revitalise a struggling tourist attraction.

The weekly newspaper, which is published by Cumbrian Newspapers, obtained 12 reports from six separate teams of consultants who all conducted research and put forward proposals on ways to boost The Beacon.

And the paper revealed that, over a seven-year period, the council had paid almost £100,000 to experts in a bid to reverse the fortunes of the harbourside attraction.

In an in-depth feature headlined Experts’ reports galore – yet still the Beacon fails to shine, the paper also published some of the contents of the consultants’ reports, which ranged from suggestions to improve The Beacon’s education provision, to closing it down.

The paper’s findings sparked a debate on its letters pages, and an online poll on the subject attracted a strong response, with 62 per cent of readers saying they felt the attraction was a “white elephant”, and 38 per cent saying it was a “jewel in the crown”.

This was The Whitehaven News’ second FoI success in as many months.

The first concerned parking tickets in Whitehaven and revealed how the council dished out £18,000 of fines on a single town centre street, raked in nearly £80,000 in parking fines across Whitehaven, and blamed the cancellation of dozens of fines on a faulty batch of tickets which failed to stick to windscreens. The latter finding was picked up by the Daily Telegraph.

A third FoI investigation is also under way, based on the council’s spending after the freak storms which hit the area on January.

Editor Colin Edgar said: “The Act is already proving extremely useful at ferreting out the stories that directly affect our readers – where the parking ticket hot-spots are, for example, or how much has been spent on consultants’ reports into a Whitehaven tourist attraction, The Beacon.

“Our local council has responded quickly and efficiently to all our requests so far.

“When we asked for details about The Beacon, by necessity our request took a broad approach and led to an avalanche of documents, but it was a sound investment spending the time to go over each report carefully. Our other approaches have tended to be more specific and equally worthwhile.

“We have more investigations in the offing and hopefully the Freedom of Information Act will continue to be a valuable tool for our reporters – and a great source of information for our readers.”