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Community news magazine wins 19-month FoI battle with council

salford-star-logo-e1468497722967A city council has been ordered to respond to a community news magazine’s Freedom of Information request after a 19 month-long battle.

The Information Commissioner has warned Salford City Council it could face a Contempt of Court charge if it does not respond within 35 days to a request from the Salford Star.

The Star made two requests under the Freedom of Information Act in March 2015 to try to find details of a ‘development trust account’ understood to be administered by the authority, but has so far been met with refusal.

In 2009, it was agreed that property developers in Salford would pay into the account instead of agreeing to meet planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which sees them pay for infrastructure improvements in the communities in which they build.

Editor Stephen Kingston told HTFP: “The Salford Star hasn’t seen a penny of this account go anywhere near the community, so we asked under FoI to see the details of its income and expenditure, plus all correspondence relating to it.

“After almost a year of internal reviews and refusals the Information Commissioner got involved and, last Friday, agreed that the council could not hide under the cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’ any longer as an excuse not to release details of the account.

“She gave them 35 days to cough up the information or face possible Contempt of Court proceedings. Basically, from an accountability perspective, the Salford Star is appalled that we’ve had to wait for over a year just to get a result.”

“By not releasing this information, the community is entitled to believe that Salford Council has got something to hide.”

Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, said: “We are pleased that the Commissioner agreed with us that the original request was unreasonable given the volume of emails and paperwork involved. We now need time to study the rest of her comments and we will work with the applicant to try and refine the query into something more manageable.

“The regeneration of Salford Central is one of the largest regeneration schemes in the country, is the largest planning application Salford City Council has ever dealt with and covers a 20 year project to provide new homes, offices and commercial premises, new public spaces and improve transport over a wide area.

“The development trust is a mechanism to capture funds from various phases of the development to invest in improving non-commercially viable sites as part of the whole transformation package.

“All developments as part of the plan are subject to the usual full public planning scrutiny and approval and details are published as each one arises.”