Borough to appeal Heygate FOI order

Thu 29 August 2013, 4:33 pm

Southwark Council is challenging an order to disclose a financial viability statement detailing its deal with developer Lend Lease for the £1.5 billion regeneration of Elephant and Castle's Heygate Estate.

The move, which the council argues will set a worrying benchmark for the future of commercial confidentiality in relation to regeneration schemes, follows a Freedom of Information Act request for full details of the financial underpinning of the agreement.

Southwark originally declined to disclose the financial viability statement in response to a request from a member of the Heygate Estate Leaseholders Group in May last year. Following a subsequent internal review, the matter was passed to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Last month, Information Commissioner for England Christopher Graham issued a judgement that found against Southwark and gave the council 35 days to disclose the requested information, unless it chose to appeal his decision.

Councillor Fiona Colley, Southwark’s regeneration lead, said the authority had a duty to protect the confidentiality of the agreement.

“There is nothing I would like more than to publish this document and show the world what a fantastic deal we negotiated for the people of Elephant and Castle,” she said.

“However, we entered into those negotiations with Lend Lease on a confidential basis, and I am not willing to break that agreement because a handful of people wrongly think the document contains something sinister.

“Moreover, the ICO's decision has huge implications for councils wanting to enter into commercial partnerships with developers across the country.

“We could find ourselves sleepwalking into a situation where developers refuse to work with councils for fear their commercially sensitive information will be forced into the public domain.

“That wouldn't be in anyone's interests, and that is why we're appealing the ICO's decision."

The appeal will be scheduled by the Courts and Tribunals Service at a date to be fixed, likely to be towards the end of 2013 at the earliest.