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ICO orders disclosure of Town Deal proposals

Local residents should finally get a sight of all the proposals submitted in the Town Deal call for ideas last year following the ICO’s decision requiring Hastings Borough Council to publish the list it has determinedly kept under wraps. Nick Terdre reports.

More than 150 proposals, understood to range from simple one-liners to worked out projects, were submitted last year following the call for ideas for the Town Deal. A small number were included in the Town Deal bid, which was awarded government funding of £24.3m.

Most were discarded, but Hastings Borough Council has refused to issue a list of what they were, alleging confidentiality issues.

It has taken a Freedom of Information request by Chris Lewcock, who fronted the Hastings Urban Design Group’s unsuccessful Science-on-Sea proposal, to force the council to publish this information – unless it decides to challenge the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and appeal. It has until 15 June to make up its mind.

Lewcock, who has since moved to Scotland, first requested a list of the ideas submitted in December 2020, then asked for a review of the council’s refusal on grounds of commercial confidentiality in January 2021. When this confirmed the original decision, he took the case to the ICO the following June.

Diverse range

On reviewing the list of projects supplied to it on a spreadsheet, the ICO noted that they ranged from simple, one-line project ideas to more developed, ‘shovel-ready’ proposals. Despite this diversity, the council’s arguments assumed that “all the information [was] of the very highest commercial sensitivity,” the ICO notes in its decision.

After detailed consideration of the council’s arguments, the ICO has concluded that “the Council [had] failed to show that disclosure would result in harm to a legitimate economic interest.”

Among other findings it noted that the council had not provided any evidence from third parties themselves that disclosing the withheld information would harm their legitimate economic interests.

It also found that the council had failed to answer questions which in correspondence the ICO had specifically told it needed to be addressed.

“…the presumption in favour of disclosure is to be applied and the withheld information is to be disclosed,” it ruled.

Lewcock told HOT he welcomed the decision, though noting that “it has taken over a year, going through the HBC complaints process and then the ICO, to get here. I hope that HBC won’t drag its feet even further by appealing.”

The council and the Town Deal board were also criticised for a lack of transparency while drawing up Hastings’ bid, despite clear guidance from government that local communities should be engaged all the way.

Town Deal progress

The £24.3m award from the Town Fund was actually £3m short of what the Town Deal board applied for. Before government funding is released for the selected proposals, each one has to have a detailed business case approved and show that it has secured matched funding. Matched funding  should take the overall value of the Town Deal projects close to £100m.

So far, of an overall 13 projects (one of the original ones has been cancelled), four have had their business cases approved and can start to be implemented: Churchfield’s Business Centre, Hastings Co-Working Flexible Office Space, the Town Centre Core Project 1a and Broadening Future Together.

Another, the Town to Sea Creative Quarter/Hastings Commons project currently has its business case under review.

The government has decided that a small portion of each project’s funding may be released to assist with the development of the business case.


This article was amended by the writer on 27 May 2022.

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Posted 16:40 Wednesday, May 25, 2022 In: Local Economy

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