A Fear of Green

Green

This is not a subliminal political message

Certain factions at Wirral Council appear to be suffering from a form of chromophobia (fear of colour) and a particular form known as prasinophobia which is fear of the colour green.

From the Green Party to the Green Belt to Dave Green (remember him? – if not we’ll be reminding you soon) to er, bowling greens

I am a member a member of a Crown Green bowling club in West Wirral which pays a fee to the Council for use of a Clubhouse and the Bowling Green. The maintenance of the Green is the responsibility of WBC Parks and Gardens. Over the last 3 years the maintenance of the Green I play on has diminished due to cuts in Parks and Gardens maintenance staff. This has affected not just my Green but about 8 other Greens in the District. The deterioration of our Green means that this year it has become unplayable. Promises by the Council to improve the playing surface has not materialised, but the cost of the hire has risen in this financial year to over £1000. As a Club we arrange fixtures with other local clubs and we also have internal club competitions. None of this is now possible for this season. Within our club we have at least one experienced bowler who has been bowling for over 60 years as well as being a knowledgeable green keeper in his earlier years. He has categorically stated that the Green is an utter disgrace and is ‘unplayable’.

The Wirral Health Strategy imposes a responsibility on the Council to encourage older people to not only keep exercising but to also socialise to alleviate loneliness and isolation. Our Club cannot now meet and play on our Green this season due to it’s condition. We are still expected to pay the fee? For over a 2 months we have been asking those responsible to get the Green into a playable condition, but we have received is promises…

Meanwhile on a slighter bigger scale we have been alerted to this particular item which is to be found on  Defend Wirral’s Green Spaces  Facebook page :

Wirral Council have REFUSED to publish their instructions / brief to the University of Liverpool who, we believe, have been contracted to review Wirral Council’s Housing need calculations.

They have also REFUSED to publish the Council’s brief to a top Planning QC who they are employing at a cost of £135,000 to advise on the Local Plan and Green Belt Review. The Council state that this QC has advised that the Council must meet the Governments Housing Target despite the Secretary of State for Housing writing to the Council Leader stating that the housing “target” of 12000 homes is NOT MANDATORY.

We wonder why, if the Council are supposedly doing everything they can to reduce the housing “target” number and are supposedly wanting to save the Green Belt they would not want to publish these briefs? In the interest of Transparency and Openness, surely the Council would want the people of Wirral to see exactly just what the University and this QC have been tasked with doing on our behalf and what they are spending our money on?

For further information read on……..

The Wirral Green Space Alliance submitted the following Freedom of Information Request on 1st March 2019:

“Nature of contact: This FoIR is lodged by ITPAS at the request of WGSA .

In the spirit of openness and ‘transparent’ local government, we request the following information, records and other relevant documents be made available to us in normal electronic format(s):

1.  The Appointment Documents, Terms of Reference (ToRs), Briefing(s), Instructions and the like of (i) Liverpool University and (ii) the Council’s QC (Chris Katkowski ?) for services in connection with Wirral Council’s emerging Local Plan.

 

2.  The Minutes and Notes of all meetings between the above two parties and Wirral Council Officers, Councillors, Consultants and other relevant parties, together with all other related correspondence and communications (including advice, reports, etc. to and from each party) in connection with services related to Wirral Council’s emerging Local Plan and the Case in support of and/or against it, whether prior to actual appointment(s), at appointment(s) or since appointment(s).
Any other information:  This information is requested in order to provide what the Groups within the WGSA consider to be missing, unclear, conflicting or essential information, and to facilitate a proper response to Wirral Council’s proposals and actions to be made in an informed, robust and timely manner.

 

‘ITPAS’ refers to ‘Irby, Thurstaston & Pensby Amenity Society’ and

‘WGSA’ refers to ‘Wirral Green Space Alliance’: a grouping of 20 local community, environmental and wildlife groups and specialists.”

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Wirral Council should have responded within 20 days. The Council failed to give a response by the deadline, so again on 16th April the Council were contacted to provide a response. Finally on 25th April the Council responded as follows:

“We refer to your request for Information which has been processed in accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs) as the information requested is considered to be ‘environmental information’ under Regulation 2(1) (c) of the EIRs; being information on planes, activities, measures etc. affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment.’

 

Please accept our apologies for the delay in providing a response.  As previously advised we have been dealing with a high volume of requests with limited resources, resulting in a backlog in enquiries.  We do endeavour where possible to respond within 20 working days but acknowledge we were unable to do so on this occasion.  We are now in a position to respond to your request as follows.

 

Your request stated:

 

In the spirit of openness and ‘transparent’ local government, we request the following information, records and other relevant documents be made available to us in normal electronic format(s):

1.  The Appointment Documents, Terms of Reference (ToRs), Briefing(s), Instructions and the like of

(i) Liverpool University and (ii) the Council’s QC (Chris Katkowski ?) for services in connection with Wirral Council’s emerging Local Plan.

 

2.  The Minutes and Notes of all meetings between the above two parties and Wirral Council Officers, Councillors, Consultants and other relevant parties, together with all other related correspondence and communications (including advice, reports, etc. to and from each party) in connection with services related to Wirral Council’s emerging Local Plan and the Case in support of and/or against it, whether prior to actual appointment(s), at appointment(s) or since appointment(s).

 

In response the Council can advise the following.

 

Request 1

The Council is of the opinion that the documents requested relating to the appointment of, and work undertaken by, Liverpool University  are exempted from disclosure.  Regulation 12 (4) of the EIRs states that a public authority may refuse to disclose information where the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion; being unfinished documents or incomplete data. The work of Liverpool University in this instance relates to the formulation and preparation of the Local Plan, which is in the course of completion. Further, the Local Plan is a document which will be published in any event at a stage in the future.

 

The aims of the Regulation 12 (4) (d) exception include the protection of work in progress by delaying disclosure until a final or completed version can be made available.

 

With regards to the appointment of Counsel, the qualified exemption relating to legal privilege applies to Counsels advice. Advice privilege applies where no litigation is in progress or contemplated. It covers confidential communications between the client and lawyer, made for the dominant (main) purpose of seeking or giving legal advice. Further as these documents relate to material that is still being completed, unfinished documents including drafts, or incomplete data, the Council also refuse to provide the information under regulation 12 (4) (d).

 

The Council considers that at this stage in the Local Plan preparation the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Whilst there is a presumption in favour of disclosure under the Regulations the Council has taken into account the fact that the draft Local Plan will be subject to further public consultation in the near future.  The Council has also taken account of the fact that under the Regulations, when more than one exception applies to the information, the Council may combine the public interest arguments in maintaining the exceptions against the public interest in disclosure. This is different from the approach required under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Request 2

As stated above Regulation 12 (4) (d) of the EIRs states that a public authority may refuse to disclose information where the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion; being unfinished documents or incomplete data. In this instance the documents requested  relate  to the formulation and preparation  of the Local Plan, which is in the course of completion. Further, the Local Plan is a document which will be published in any event at a stage in the future.

 

Further, Regulation 12 (4) (e) exempts disclosure of internal communications, and the documents requested include such communications.

 

The Council considers that at this stage in the Local Plan preparation, the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Whilst there is a presumption in favour of disclosure under the Regulations, the Council has taken into account the fact that a the draft Local Plan will be subject to further public consultation in the near future.  The Council has also taken account of the fact that under the Regulations, when more than one exception applies to the information, the Council may combine the public interest arguments in maintaining the exceptions against the public interest in disclosure. This is different from the approach required under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

The Council is aware that, in addition to the public interest in transparency and accountability, there is a further public interest in disclosing environmental information because it supports the right of everyone to live in an adequate environment, and ultimately contributes to a better environment. Normally, public interest arguments in favour of the exception have to be specifically related to what that exception is protecting, but this is a general public interest argument for disclosure, and it does not have to be related to the specific exception. However, given the fact that the Local Plan is in the course of preparation and will be subject to further rounds of public consultation and to public examination prior to being finally adopted by the Council, the Council is of the opinion that the right to live in an adequate environment will be protected by this process and that this right does not therefore outweigh the public interest in non-disclosure of the requested information at this stage.

 

You have the right to make representations under Regulation 11 of the EIRs if you are unhappy with how the Council has dealt with your enquiry informationmanager@wirral@gov.uk.  If you were to remain dissatisfied, you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner, but would normally be expected to make representations before doing so. Contact details for the Information Commissioner’s Office can be found at https://ico.org.uk/global/contact-us/

Yours sincerely

Lynette Paterson

Principal Information Management Officer

Business Management “

Wirral Green Space Alliance have responded as follows:

“Dear Lynette Paterson,

The belated responses to our Requests for Information are sadly much as expected but are nevertheless disappointing and unacceptable to us.  We ask you to reconsider your decision to refuse to release anything as this seems unreasonable to us.

 

We can understand that supplying information of a fluid situation, where hypothetical and unresolved matters which are being discussed and examined could be counterproductive, even misleading and would have the potential to distract key personnel from catching up on woefully late delivery.  However, all the items under ‘1.  The Appointment Documents, etc.’ and some of the items under ‘2.  The Minutes and Notes, etc.’ are finished documents and not fluid.  The Appointment process regarding the referenced parties is also concluded.  Therefore, to the extent that our Requests relate to the actual work being undertaken pursuant to these finished documents and process, we are prepared to wait.  However, we are advised and of the opinion that Information and Documentation relating to the completed documents and process could safely and reasonably be released (albeit redacted where commercially sensitive) and would be in the Public Interest.

 

Groups within the ‘Wirral Green Space Alliance’ (WGSA) have been advised to share with the Council instances where we consider that the Council’s approach and/or actions related to the production of its belated legal Local Plan to be flawed or not sufficiently reasonable/appropriate or could be improved, in order that the Council has the opportunity to change and so that the Planning Inspector at the Inquiry stage will not dismiss/set aside such evidence and suggestions, citing the Council’s lack of opportunity to take it into account at an appropriate stage.

 

Conversely, WGSA Groups would presumably have the opportunity to show the Planning Inspector that the Council had opportunity to change but did not do so and was requested of Information to assist us in our own public duty but were denied such useful Information.

 

May we have your further consideration and Information as soon as possible, please.  Many thanks.”

We will keep you posted when a response is received!…

 

 

3 thoughts on “A Fear of Green

  1. No one on WBC knows what they are doing,I reckon they bought their qualifications from the internet! Transparency means no colour!

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