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Labour Forced to Reveal All Over Pet Town Hall Project

January 5, 2017 4:38 PM

Following a freedom of information request Labour-run Lambeth Council has been told that it is in the Public Interest for Lambeth to reveal previously secret financial viability assessments on its New Town Hall development in Brixton.

This ruling of the Information Commissioner follows previous refusals to reveal detail of the Council's deal with Muse Developments to provide the vast new office complex now being constructed next to the original Town Hall.

In coming to this decision the Information Commissioner frequently refers to and quotes from The Clyne Decision of an Information Tribunal last summer arrived at after Lib Dem former councillor Jeremy Clyne complained about the lack of financial transparency regarding another massive deal with developers in Streatham Hill.

The Information Commissioner agreed that the the requested information is commercial in nature as it relates to a development agreement in place between the council and a private sector developer to provide new civic facilities for staff and the public and new residential and commercial floorspace for Muse.

The council argued that disclosure of the withheld information would adversely affect the legitimate economic interests of both the council and Muse.

However, " The Commissioner notes that the council has publicised this development as a development that will pay for itself through the redevelopment of office buildings that are increasingly expensive to run. It has stated that the project will enable the council to run fewer more efficient buildings which it estimates will save the council 4.5 million a year. New homes, new jobs and new spaces for businesses and the community will be created which will ultimately improve the services Lambeth residents get from the council."

Importantly, " The Commissioner considers there is much importance in openness and transparency, particularly in proposals such as this whereby it involves the initial expenditure of significant public funds, which it alleges will be clawed back year on year due to the overall savings it will make. The public has a right to know exactly how this decision has been made and evaluate for itself whether it considers it will deliver such savings over the medium to long term."

And crucially, " If the information is not accessible to the public until after the application is determined, the public is hindered during consultation. "

Further, " At paragraph 64(iii) of the Clyne decision, the tribunal stated:
"There is a deficit if only developers and planning departments have access to the information needed to form an opinion."

In coming to the decision the Information Commissioner dismissed the notion that a Financial Viability Assessment being disclosed to the public would adversely affect a developer's ability to deliver a project or that such disclosure would damage their commercial interests.

Let us hope that this conspiracy of convenience between developers and council decision-makers will end soon.

This landmark case is another victory for The Public Right To Know.