The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a Decision Notice on a Freedom of Information request to disclose evidence given to the Lord Dyson Inquiry commissioned by the London Borough of Lewisham into New Bermondsey or Surrey Canal Road including land around Millwall FC.
The full ICO decision notice refusing disclosure is here
Here are some key paragraphs:
30. As officers would be likely subject to a second wave of intense scrutiny (unmerited on the basis of the findings of the Inquiry) and had already been subject to great criticism, disclosure of the withheld information was likely to inhibit them freely providing information in the future for fear of further unmerited criticism. This chilling effect would be likely in relation to both contributing to any deliberation in relation to the New Bermondsey Development (of which there will be many such deliberations in the near future and which remains controversial), and to any future Inquiry (including the inquiry for any CPO).
33. ……..Were this information to be disclosed, it would reveal the totality, or at the very least the great majority, of the public authority’s approach to and strategy within the New Bermondsey Development.
62. The Commissioner considers that there is a strong public interest in not disclosing the withheld information in view of the real and significant risk of inhibiting free and frank exchange of views in relation to the New Bermondsey Development. A chilling effect on free and frank exchanges in respect of the matter would significantly hamper the public authority’s decision making process at potentially considerable cost to the tax payer. Given the controversy surrounding the matter, there is a strong public interest in members and officers being able to deliberate in a free and frank manner without fear that their views would be revealed prematurely, leaving them open to criticism potentially including allegations of impropriety. It is right that the actions of members and officers in relation to the New Bermondsey Development are properly scrutinised which was what the Inquiry did. Clearly the public interest in additional scrutiny of their views and actions should not be dismissed in view of the fact that the New Bermondsey Development remains a live issue. Indeed the public authority has mentioned the possibility of a public inquiry into the matter and an affirmation decision in relation to any CPO by the Secretary of State. However, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that scrutiny is not conducted in a manner that would be detrimental to the interests of the residents of the borough. Publishing the withheld information while the decision making process in relation to the development is still very much ongoing would hinder, rather than facilitate the process. The risk of disclosing the withheld information outweighs the public interest in its value to additional scrutiny.
A correction was added: “Paragraph 9 of this notice suggests that an internal review was conducted by the public authority on 5 February 2018. In fact, the public authority advised the complainant that there were “no other section 36 statutory officers who are able to carry out the review who have had no prior involvement in this matter.” Hence, a review was requested.