Why isn’t the Berkeley Group answering our questions?

We prepared a list of 14 questions for the Berkeley Group – one from each of the 14 City amenity societies opposed to the Gasworks proposals. You can view them here: List of questions

None have been satisfactorily answered.  We sent them on March 29 and requested they reply before today.  They should have the information at their fingertips.

They have not even acknowledged receipt let alone answered any of the questions. This failure to respond demonstrates their lack of real commitment to listen to the local community.

They are not the only one

We sent a copy to the Council Planning Department and asked if it had posed similar questions and if so,  what response it had received.  We also asked whether it considered Berkeley’/St William’s recent pre-application consultations complied both with the letter and spirit of paras 4.10 – 4.14 and the accompanying Table 4 of the Council’s own Statement of Community Involvement dated March 2015.  You can read that here:  Statement of Community Involvement

Again – we’ve had a deafening silence.  And this isn’t the first time the Council has failed to respond to our requests for information.

The Council blockade on public information gets worse

On February 7th we lodged a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Council to see details including relevant dates and content of all contacts between the Berkeley/St William Group and BHCC between 1 January 2019 and now.

We want to find out if the planning department and Berkeley Group had discussions about changing council planning policy to extend the Marina Tall Buildings Area to the Gasworks site by including a provision in the the Draft Urban Design Framework. This would be in conflict with the City Plan, a legally binding document agreed in 2016. You can read more about that here: Has the Council surreptitiously….

The Council replied asking for clarification. We did so. “Our request relates primarily to the Gasworks site … relating to planning issues associated with that development,” we wrote.

The Freedom of Information Act requires a response within 20 working days – effectively a month. Once that had passed, the council emailed us saying there could be “implications of releasing information under s43 (commercial interests) of the Freedom of Information Act. We now aim to respond to you by 6 April 2021. This new date exceeds the 20 working day statutory time limit. We thank you for your patience and apologise for any inconvenience this extension causes you.”

You might not be surprised to learn that we’ve again had no response. It’s now well past 6 April.

Postscript, April 12 at 15.00: the Council have requested a third extension until 30 April.  We have refused that request saying that , “In the circumstances we are not prepared to wait for the Council’s response any longer. What is there to prevent the two delayed requests for information becoming three?

The subject matter of our request is a live development proposal which is moving at speed towards a planning application. We think the information requested may throw light on material which could form an important element of the public consultation process both before and at that stage.”

 We have now contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to request its intervention.

But there is one glimmer of light

In the meantime we had written to the Council’s Legal Advisor, Elizabeth Culbert, asking whether an Urban Design Framework Special Planning document (SPD) could trump the City Plan and whether instead a full amendment to the Plan was needed.

We received the following response:

Further to your enquiry….I can confirm the following:

  • The draft SPD guidance has not been finalised;
  • The draft SPD will be amended before it is finalised to ensure that there is no conflict with City Plan Part 1 (Policy CP12);
  • This means that the Gas works site and land to the east will be removed from the draft SPD before it is finalised;
  • The SPD is a guidance document only.

So despite the planning department attempting to bring in a new Tall buildings zone for the Gasworks site, it can’t.

Once more, we call upon Berkeley and its subsidiary St William to think again.

A good start would be for them and the planning department to answer legitimate questions from local groups.