Hidden agenda

PUBLISHED: 11:52 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:12 06 May 2010

SIR, — I wrote to the Freedom of Information Officer at St Albans District Council requesting information on the Nomansland Grazing project. My queries and her response is précised below: Question: The publishing of the results of the consultation on Nom

SIR, - I wrote to the Freedom of Information Officer at St Albans District Council requesting information on the Nomansland Grazing project. My queries and her response is précised below:

Question: The publishing of the results of the consultation on Nomansland Grazing were withheld in January apparently for legal considerations. Could I please see the consultation results and report together with an explanation of the legal considerations.

Reply: A report has not yet been prepared and therefore the "result" does not exist yet, as the result would arise from an analysis of the data - i.e. a comparison of the responses received via e-mail, letter or petition. This analysis has not yet been carried out.

The documentation that does exist is the e-mails, letters and petition. I consider that these should not be released at this stage because they are covered by the exemption provided by section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

You also requested an explanation of the legal considerations with regard to the grazing on Nomansland. I can confirm that counsel's advice was obtained, and therefore this documentation does exist. It consists of a cover letter to counsel and instructions with enclosures together with counsel's advice, and an exchange of e-mails and meeting notes between the legal department and the leisure department.

In my view this part of your request is covered by the legal professional privilege exemption within the meaning of Section 42 of the Act because it relates to legal advice and communication between the council's legal department and the council's barrister, and the legal department and the leisure department.

In respect of your request I acknowledge that disclosure of this information would assist transparency in the actions and decisions taken by the council with regard to the proposal for Nomansland. However, I consider that there is a stronger public interest in the council being able to take legal advice in the strictest confidence and in a timely manner. The fact that the decision with regard to Nomansland has not yet been taken adds further weight to my assessment. Accordingly, I conclude that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure. I therefore refuse this part of your request.

Question: The Commons Act 2006 Section 38 prohibits the erection of fences and other works without the consent of the National Authority which I believe to be the Secretary of State. Can you confirm that this permission has been obtained as part of the consultation exercise .

Reply: I can confirm that the Section 38 permission does not exist. The matter will be considered and a decision reached by the Nomansland Committee. Only when that decision has been made, and subject to what that decision is, will we need to obtain permission.

The only consolation I get from the above lack of information is that after a year of so-called consultation and procrastination we are no nearer making any decision on this matter. Hopefully with a change of council on May 1, common sense will prevail and this matter will be put to bed thus saving any further expenditure on resources and ongoing legal fees.

JOHN STOCKER,

Nomansland, Wheathampstead.

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