The Grenfell Action Group are used to be kept waiting by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea whenever we submit a Freedom of Information request and the Council behaved true to form by refusing to release the Financial Viability Assessment we requested on 23rd March 2016 concerning their plans to demolish the Silchester Estate in North Kensington.
RBKC are citing regulation 12(5)(e) of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) as their reason for not disclosing the information that we have legitimately sought claiming that doing so would infringe on the “confidentiality of commercial or industrial information”.
Despite submitting evidence to the Information Commissioner that included references to recent decisions finding in favour of issuing disclosure notices in other London Boroughs’ and giving a robust argument in support of the public interest in favour of disclosure the RBKC have steadfastly refused to release the contents of the information that we have requested.
What makes the RBKC’s decision to withhold the Silchester Financial Viability Assessment particularly upsetting is that the Council have always claimed that they wish to act with the utmost transparency and work with the residents of Silchester Estate by allowing them to be involved with and participate in the planning and decision making process. This clearly cannot happen when the residents of the Silchester are being denied access to the most important and influential document concerning the Council’s regeneration plans for their Estate!
We are currently waiting for the Information Commissioner to draft a Decision Notice concerning the release of the Silchester Financial Viability Assessment and when this takes place the Grenfell Action Group fully expect that the decision will be in favour of disclosure.
While we are not at all surprised by the decision of RBKC not to release the contents of the Silchester Financial Viability Assessment we are rather sickened that the same Council have the temerity to use many of the same arguments (public interest and past decisions by the Information Commissioner in favour of disclosure) in an attempt to gain access to the Financial Viability Assessment produced by property developers, Capco in relation to their regeneration plans at Earl’s Court. On 19 October the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council passed the following motion unanimously at the Full Council Meeting in Hornton Street:
“This Council notes the announcement that CapCo is considering a significant change of housing mix and a significant increase in the density of its Earl’s Court redevelopment, which would impact on the wider masterplan for the area as reflected in the Earl’s Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area Joint Supplementary Planning Document adopted by this Council in March 2012. The Council also notes the very high level of public interest in the Earl’s Court development, as one of London’s major regeneration areas.
Such a change would require a new planning application to be considered in the normal way including:
• a policy compliant level of affordable housing and, where necessary, publication of a financial viability assessment consistent with previous decisions of the Information Commissioner on the balance between the need for commercial confidentiality as against public interest in disclosure; and
• public consultation.
In the interests of sound, open and transparent planning, the Council calls on CapCo to fully engage with the Council and local resident and business communities over any proposal to change the scale of development on the site from that already approved.”
So it seems that the hypocrisy of the RBKC knows no bounds. On the one hand the RBKC are using Environmental Information Regulations to justify the withholding of the Silchester Financial Viability Assessment while, on the other, putting pressure on CapCo to release the Earl’s Court Financial Viability Assessment “in the interests of sound, open and transparent planning”!
No wonder the residents of Silchester Estate view the Council’s claims that they wish to pursue the plans to regenerate their Estate in a transparent manner with contempt and assess that RBKC is duplicitous and has double standards and an overriding ambition of doing things “to” their community rather than “with” them. The Grenfell Action Group will update our readers with the Information Commissioners “Decision Notice” as soon as it is made and we hope very much that they will find in favour of disclosure.