Meetings between people from the Taylor Wimpey housing development business and Mid Suffolk planners cannot be revealed to the public because it would cost the district council too much to establish how many contacts there have been.
Most of these contacts would have been before the housing developer applied for permission for 295 houses in Debenham. During this time the developer was also discussing another site in the village of 2,500 people where it wants to build a further 340 houses.
In refusing to divulge the extent of meetings, asked for in an information request, Mid Suffolk District Council says:
“An attempt to comply with this request would involve the time of nearly all out professional Development Managements Planning Offices as well as administrative staff… An attempt to comply with this request would have a significant impact on the efficiency of the planning service in the short-term,” the council says in a letter refusing an information request.
It has ruled that the cost would be more than £450, based on staff time at £25 an hour, which is the guidelines for such requested set by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The council also reveals that the planning department is under-staffed and face a heavy workload of “planning applications including major developments, planning enquiries, complaints and EIR (Environmental Information Request) investigations.”
Having weighed the “obvious importance of transparency in the affairs of Local Government and in particular the planning process” against the costs and the impact on the planning department’s efficiency, the council has decided it would not be in the public interest to provide the information.
I asked the council for the information on January 24 and was told it would be answered in 20 working days. On the 17th working day the council said it was taking longer than expected and asking for a further 20 days.
On asking the reasons for the delay, I was told one of the planning officers had been on leave and his/her return was awaited .
No reply to the information request was forthcoming on March 19, the day by which a reply had been promised, and I was told the response was with the legal department. On March 21, the 40th working day, I received the refusal letter.
The request had been for:
The dates, locations, subject matter and attendees of meetings between officers and/or members of MSDC and staff, representatives and/or agents of companies in the Taylor Wimpey group in the past two years
I would also like copies of all correspondence and electronic communications between MSDC and Taylor Wimpey and its agents in the same time period.
I have now asked the council to review the decision and the process from the time the request was made and have been told this is underway.
A consultation on a Neighbourhood Plan prepared by Debenham Parish Council has gained overwhelming support in a consultation. The plan envisages substantial housing development in Debenham but the sites chosen by Taylor Wimpey are rejected.