LETTER: Documents were not released

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Deputy Leader Cllr Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North) protests at the suggestion from the public that Horsham District Council (HDC) is ‘developer led’.

Speaking at a meeting of Cabinet (20/03/14) which was reported in this paper (27/03/14) Cllr Croft accused the public of sounding like a broken record when she said: “If I can raise the view point of being developer-led, we need to knock that argument on the head because I’m quite tired of hearing about it to be honest!”

But Cllr Croft’s argument is at odds with North Horsham Parish Council’s (NHPC) Alternative Preferred Strategy (February 2014) where they concluded that the Cabinet’s proposed North Horsham development: ‘...is a classic example a local authority [HDC] becoming too close to a developer...’ (para 16).

I note that Cllr Croft did not attend the NHPC meeting on February 11 2014 in Roffey Millenium Hall when NHPC’s Alternative Strategy was debated with many of the parish residents including some of her ward constituents. There was agreement to NHPC’s alternative strategy.

If Cllr Croft is not persuaded with NHPC’s analysis of the facts, then let’s look at some others.

On 21 December 2013 I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to HDC to obtain details of all meetings between Liberty UK (whose parent company is in the US) and Crickmay surveyors (Liberty’s agent), Cllr Helena Croft and her leader Ray Dawe, who she so publicly professed her absolute loyalty to last year (01/05/13). I also wanted to see all correspondence between Liberty, Cllr Croft, Cllr Dawe and HDC’s officers.

On 14 March 2014, three months after my FoI request, HDC’s planning department wrote to me stating: “Upon receipt of your request the council started to search its records. However, upon collating the information additional files were identified which contained substantial amount of information.”

The letter went onto say: ‘There is clearly a public interest in individuals having access to information that helps them to understand the reasons why certain actions were undertaken by the Council. Disclosure would promote accountability and transparency by the Council, allow individuals to understand decisions affecting their lives and to challenge them, and would contribute to public understanding and debate in a matter of intense local interest. However, there is also a very clear public interest in allowing the Council to think in private.’

HDC was prepared to release files of documents to me, suitably redacted, but once they found some ‘additional files’ during these 12 weeks, HDC changed its mind and decided not to release any documents at all!

So that’s the nub of it. This secretive and authoritarian council, that crushes all dissent even from the office of Vice-Chairman, wants to keep all information hidden on this controversial planning matter to allow itself to ‘think in private’.

The disinfectant of sunlight must fall on this planning affair and if Cllr Croft wants to prove to the public that HDC is not ‘developer-led’ then let actions speak louder than words.

She must ensure that all the Liberty files that HDC hold, including the ‘additional files’ that they found, are released into the public domain as requested under the FoI legislation. Nothing less will do to demonstrate total transparency to the public.

Dr. Geoffrey

Richardson

Tennyson Close, Horsham