Posted by: westlancashirerecord | January 16, 2019

The Cabal, Also Known As The Local Plan Cabinet Working Group

Residents of West Lancashire  will be surprised that a Council Cabal, a secret political clique, is operating in the borough Planning Department. Apparently the proposed Local Plan Cabinet Working Group needs “space to think”. Council tax payers of the borough don’t know how many officers and how many elected members form the cabal. 

It is a fact that speaking at meetings of Cabinet and committees is allowed by WLBC. The Borough Constitution refers members of the public to having the opportunity to speak in public on agenda items at meetings of the Council’s Cabinet, and at Audit and Governance Committee; Standards Committee; Overview and Scrutiny Committees; Planning Committee; Licensing Committees and sub committees. But there is no mention of a Local Plan Cabinet Working Group in the Borough Constitution. It is as stated a secret political clique.

When a resident sought disclosure of some internal communications he was told “As you refer to, the EIR (2004) only provides a qualified exception for disclosing internal communications (regulation 12(4)(e), (EIR), and so the Council must apply the public interest test set out in Regulation 12(1)(b) in considering whether they should disclose the internal communications or not.

“The Council did apply the public interest test in considering your request to view the Local Plan Cabinet Working Group (LPCWG) minutes and came to the conclusion that the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information because:

“The underlying rationale behind the exception is that public authorities should have the necessary ‘space to think’ in private I.e. to protect internal deliberation and decision making processes. The LPCWG is tasked with deliberation and making recommendations on the Local Plan and this is an ongoing process.

“Consideration of the public interest test should include a consideration of the content and sensitivity of the particular information in question and the circumstances of the request. These factors are especially relevant in the context of the Local Plan which, at the time of your request, was the subject of a Preferred Options consultation. Even now that the consultation is closed, the preparation of the Local Plan is ongoing, and so the consideration of content and sensitivity still applies.

“The need for ‘space to think’ will be strongest when the issue is still live (confirmed in DDBERR v Information Commissioner and Friends of the Earth (EA/2007/0072, 29 April 2008 and DIES v IC and Evening Standard EA/2006/0006, 19 February 2007). As the preparation of the Local Plan is still ongoing (‘live’), the public interest in withholding the LPCWG minutes outweighs the public interest in disclosing the minutes.

“As such I am satisfied that your EIR request was handled correctly by the Council”.

Residents and council tax payers will not understand why a secret political clique not only requires space to think, but finds the results of that space to think is denied them.  

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