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Weekly paper exposes council's FoI inconsistency

A weekly newspaper has received an apology from a local council which did not release a document to it under the Freedom of Information Act – but gave it out to a member of the public.

The Bucks Free Press discovered Wycombe District Council had released a report by consultants into a controversial stadium plan to a local person after an FoI request, while denying it to the newspaper.

Under the Act, chief reporter Oliver Evans applied for copies of all documents from consultants relating to plans to build a new sports stadium, which could be sited at Wycome Air Park.

He was provided with a 2009 technical report into having the stadium at that site but not one from the previous year – which covered key details about where new development could be sited on the airfield.

But a member of the public who asked for that report specifically was given it under FoI legislation and provided a copy to the newspaper.

The authority has now apologised to the paper and said it will review the FoI request to ensure all appropriate documents are released.

Editor Steve Cohen said: “We were stunned when we realised that the council treated our request differently but we are pleased that the council was big enough to accept its error and apologise.”

The council could spend up to £750,000 on the project to move teams Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps to a new stadium, which would also include providing sports facilities for local people – but there has been opposition to the plans.

A spokeswoman for Wycombe District Council said: “When we received the FOI request from the Bucks Free Press, the most recent report from 2009, which superseded the 2008 report, was released.

“We have apologised to the Bucks Free Press for any inconvenience or confusion caused by not releasing the 2008 report.”

Earlier this year, the authority faced further controversy over how it used the FoI Act after it blacked out a section of a covenant document about the airfield site because of ‘commercial confidentiality’, which was released to the newspaper uncensored by the Ministry of Defence.