Council was wrong on housing report, says watchdog

Council was wrong on housing report, says watchdog

Council was wrong on housing report, says watchdog

First published in News
Last updated
York Press: Photograph of the Author by , Chief reporter

A NATIONAL watchdog says City of York Council was at fault over the way it dealt with a request for information about a ‘Get York Building’ survey.

However, the Local Government Ombudsman - giving its provisional view on a complaint by quantity surveyor Paul Cordock - says he did not suffer any significant injustice as a result.

The Press reported last autumn that the Ombudsman had performed a U-turn after initially refusing to investigate the council’s refusal to release the “confidential” results of a survey, conducted as part of its initiative to kick-start stalled developments.

Mr Cordock said then that the survey was used to inform the authority on affordable housing target reductions and claimed officers failed to comply with regulations by failing to publish the detailed findings, ostensibly because they were considered confidential.

He claimed the confidentiality excuse did not fit the appropriate criteria under the Freedom of Information Act. He complained to police, who recommended he contact the ombudsman.

The Ombudsman said in its provisional conclusions that the council had claimed there was nothing in the regulations which authorised or required disclosure of confidential information.

“The regulations state that where a report for a meeting is made available for inspection by members of the public, the background papers should also be made available,” it said.

“As the survey was relied on to a material extent in preparing the report, I consider it likely that the survey was a background paper. However, information that is confidential or exempt does not have to be made available."

He said the survey was not  confidential but was exempt as it relates to the ‘financial or business affairs' of particular people.

The Ombudsman said it did not consider Mr Cordock had suffered sufficient injustice to warrant a remedy but said the council should remind staff of the circumstances that need to apply for a request for information to be treated as a request under the FOIA.

Mr Cordock does not accept he did not suffer significant injustice, due to the time he spent on the issue, and has asked the Ombudsman to think again.

Steve Waddington, council assistant housing director, said: “While we await the final decision, we welcome the Ombudsman’s provisional view that the council was correct in withholding commercially sensitive information.”

Comments (2)

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4:16pm Tue 18 Mar 14

Badgers Drift says...

There are some mistakes in this article.

1. The Police actually referred the matter to the LGO.
2. Statutory Instrument no 2089 requires that 'confidential' information is either deemed so under an Act of Parliament or requires a Court Order. The council's interpretation of confidential did not meet the criteria of SI2089, and the LGO and Mr Waddington are both wrong on this point.

Further points not covered in the story:

3. This is a verbatim extract from the Get York Building Steering Group meeting minutes dated 30th May 2013:-

"DM said that the redacted version of the report should be released. In agreement that confidential information shouldn’t be released when it was clear from the outset that the information was intended to be confidential. SW to discuss with Andy Docherty next week"


'DM' is Coun Dave Merrett and 'SW' is Steve Waddington.

This is a verbatim extract from the GYBSG meeting minutes of 16th July 2013:

" Re the request from Paul Cordock to release the Consultation Report, SW advised he had tried to contact Robert Beane to discuss.There was a question at full Council and SW suggested we could provide a redacted version of the consultation report. However, we would need to inform the individuals of any information that is going into the public domain.
SW to action and circulate the redacted version following discussion with individuals who contributed"


The council did not release the redacted version of the survey until 3rd January 2014 - almost six months after Mr Waddington was told to circulate it. This is a disgrace, that he delayed the release of this document so long, which indicates that the council did all they could to conceal it.

The redacted survey that the council released is incoherent and the information lacks consistency with no details of any questions asked, just the status of the site and occasional vague references to the reason why some had stalled or had not started.

Over half the 43 sites had started or been completed, and most were under the threshold for affordable housing.

Out of the 18 sites that had stalled or had not started; the three largest; Germany Beck, Hungate and Grain Stores equating to 1,475 dwellings out of a total 1,679, all had viability issues owing to unworkable affordable housing quotas, yet the GYB report failed to not this. This shows that the report was based on a sham survey. Councillors were misinformed and a the report should have been thrown out.
There are some mistakes in this article. 1. The Police actually referred the matter to the LGO. 2. Statutory Instrument no 2089 requires that 'confidential' information is either deemed so under an Act of Parliament or requires a Court Order. The council's interpretation of confidential did not meet the criteria of SI2089, and the LGO and Mr Waddington are both wrong on this point. Further points not covered in the story: 3. This is a verbatim extract from the Get York Building Steering Group meeting minutes dated 30th May 2013:- [quote] "DM said that the redacted version of the report should be released. In agreement that confidential information shouldn’t be released when it was clear from the outset that the information was intended to be confidential. SW to discuss with Andy Docherty next week" [/quote] 'DM' is Coun Dave Merrett and 'SW' is Steve Waddington. This is a verbatim extract from the GYBSG meeting minutes of 16th July 2013: [quote] " Re the request from Paul Cordock to release the Consultation Report, SW advised he had tried to contact Robert Beane to discuss.There was a question at full Council and SW suggested we could provide a redacted version of the consultation report. However, we would need to inform the individuals of any information that is going into the public domain. SW to action and circulate the redacted version following discussion with individuals who contributed" [/quote] The council did not release the redacted version of the survey until 3rd January 2014 - almost six months after Mr Waddington was told to circulate it. This is a disgrace, that he delayed the release of this document so long, which indicates that the council did all they could to conceal it. The redacted survey that the council released is incoherent and the information lacks consistency with no details of any questions asked, just the status of the site and occasional vague references to the reason why some had stalled or had not started. Over half the 43 sites had started or been completed, and most were under the threshold for affordable housing. Out of the 18 sites that had stalled or had not started; the three largest; Germany Beck, Hungate and Grain Stores equating to 1,475 dwellings out of a total 1,679, all had viability issues owing to unworkable affordable housing quotas, yet the GYB report failed to not this. This shows that the report was based on a sham survey. Councillors were misinformed and a the report should have been thrown out. Badgers Drift
  • Score: -78

12:15am Wed 19 Mar 14

Badgers Drift says...

So, 61 more readers have marked my comment 'thumbs down' (currently -61), than have marked it 'thumbs up'...... ?

As if...... ?!!!

I have just looked at the redacted Get York Building survey report that was issued on 3rd January 2014, and the section described as "Review of Housing Sites: Site Detail (confidential)" listed all 43 sites, with notes on each one which formed the basis of the findings used for the report. Of these only FOUR (4) had anything actually redacted - so why all the secrecy ?

Where was all the commercially sensitive information that the council was correct to withold ?

What an absolute farce !
So, 61 more readers have marked my comment 'thumbs down' (currently -61), than have marked it 'thumbs up'...... ? As if...... ?!!! I have just looked at the redacted Get York Building survey report that was issued on 3rd January 2014, and the section described as "Review of Housing Sites: Site Detail (confidential)" listed all 43 sites, with notes on each one which formed the basis of the findings used for the report. Of these only FOUR (4) had anything actually redacted - so why all the secrecy ? Where was all the commercially sensitive information that the council was correct to withold ? What an absolute farce ! Badgers Drift
  • Score: -31

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