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Telford Council told it must respond to information request

By Alex Moore | Telford | Politics | Published:

Telford and Wrekin Council has less than a month to respond to an information request from an applicant it previously branded “vexatious”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) sided with the local authority’s 2016 decision to stop answering the original set of questions because of their “aggressive or rude” nature and the “grudge” that appeared to lie behind them.

But the data watchdog now says this was not a “lifetime ban” and does not cover new requests submitted by the same person in 2019.

An ICO decision notice gives Telford and Wrekin Council until Friday, August 9, to provide the information or give new reasons for withholding it.

The anonymised 2016 ICO report says the complainant received planning permission for a homebuilding project in 2013 with five conditions, and applied to have those discharged two years later.

“Between August and October 2015 the council did discharge four, but one, relating to a drainage issue, still applied,” the report said.

“Some 16 days later the complainant submitted his first request for under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Between then and February 2016, five requests – under the FOIA, Environmental Information Regulations and Data Protection Act – were sent, often copying in “numerous council officers”.

“Having dealt with the initial requests and attempted to resolve the complainant’s significant follow-up enquiries, the council reached a position where it felt the only option available […] was to treat the requests as vexatious and to determine that no further similar requests would receive a response,” the report added.

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In his messages, the report said, the complainant suggested the council was ignoring him and breaking the law and used an “aggressive or rude” tone.

“It is the council’s position that the complainant’s requests and voluminous correspondence represent a personal grudge stemming from the situation surrounding his own planning application,” the ICO report said.

The more recent ICO decision notice said the same applicant wrote again in January 2019, re-making two previous requests he claimed the council had not answered properly.

Telford and Wrekin Council said it would not reply, and cited its ICO-backed 2016 justification. The applicant complained to the ICO three days later.

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“The council initially appeared of the view that, because the commissioner had previously found requests submitted by this particular complainant to have been manifestly unreasonable, the present request would automatically be manifestly unreasonable,” the notice says.

“The commissioner explained this was not the case. The council would either have to demonstrate that the pattern of behaviour previously identified had continued, or it would have to make the case afresh.

“Refusing a request as manifestly unreasonable does not impose a ‘lifetime ban’ on making requests.

“Whilst it is able to consider previous history and context, a public authority must consider each request on its own merits.”

Telford and Wrekin Council was given 35 days from July 5 – the date of the decision – to issue a fresh response.

Alex Moore

By Alex Moore
@TelfordLDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Telford.

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