Brentwood Council criticised over FOI blackout

Brentwood Weekly News: Russell Quirk with all 425 blacked out pages returned to him after an FOI request relating to the William Hunter Way redevelopment plans Russell Quirk with all 425 blacked out pages returned to him after an FOI request relating to the William Hunter Way redevelopment plans

TORY councillors' concerns over the William Hunter Way plans have heightened after a Freedom of Information request returned a 425 page blacked out document.

On Monday, Russell Quirk and William Lloyd went against their fellow Conservative councillors at a Brentwood Council debate looking at the major redevelopment project, which has stalled.

The pair's concerns escalated when an FOI request made by Mr Quirk to the council relating to the project returned a 425 page document almost entirely redacted.

The papers took Mr Quirk, councillor for Hutton North, an hour to print out and used up a whole black ink cartridge.

Mr Quirk said: “Receiving this document only heightens my concerns over the project.

“We were told by [council leader] Louise McKinlay earlier this year the revised deal would be done behind closed doors, something I objected to because this is too big a deal to be kept out of view.

“When you get a document like this though when you’re trying to find out more information, it just makes you think “what are they trying to hide?”.

“As our own MP Eric Pickles said, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and I think this applies here.”

During Monday’s full council debate, Mr Lloyd, councillor for Warley, said what the public sees is the most important thing.

Mr Lloyd said: “This council strives to be as transparent as possible, but I think in this case we have not practiced what we preach.”

During the council debate, Mr Quirk questioned the “longstop” date, which allows a timeframe for both the developers and the council to work with as they try to complete elements of the proposals.

If the elements, including getting 60 per cent occupancy of units on the site, are not reached by the set date, the agreement would end.

The original expiry date was June 2010 but was extended to October 2011 and once more to December 2012.

Confusion came when it was stated the current date is December 2013, with councillors querying how three years plus one plus another one starting from 2007 added up to next year.

Council officials have stipulated a condition to the latest longstop date means the developers can go up to December next year as certain issues are ongoing.

A council spokesman also apologised for the redacted pages sent in the FOI request response.

The spokesman said: “A decision was taken, based on advice, to include completely redacted pages as part of the bundle.

“But we wanted to be sure we provided the councillor with all the information we possibly could so I asked someone independent to review.

“Following this, we were pleased that we were then able to provide more information.”

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