Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority end 15 month information request over Greasby and Saughall Massie fire stations by supplying the information, but ask First-tier Tribunal for costs award in their favour against Mr Brace
This is a report of a hearing held today of the First-tier Tribunal held in Tribunal Room 3, 3rd Floor (Tribunals Service), Liverpool Civil and Family Court, 35 Vernon Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L2 2BX
At the hearing I was the Appellant and Janet Henshaw represented Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. ICO did not attend. The case number was EA/2016/0054.
The decision at the hearing was to end the matter by consent order.
The Tribunal consisted of First-tier Tribunal Judge Mr. David Farrer QC, First-tier Tribunal Member Mr. Michael Hake and First-tier Tribunal Member Dr. Malcolm Clarke.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that they had not provided the information covered by decision notice FER0592270, because they had changed it during the course of the EIR request to remove both “Not for publication” and the reason or reasons why under the Local Government Act 1972 it had initially been classed by them as exempt information (although this is a position they reversed during the course of the appeal).
Despite the Appellant informing them by letter in response to what they had sent him on Monday 19th September 2016 (which are the reports below), are not the version he asked for, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority saw it unreasonable to have a hearing today on the withheld information.
During the course of the hearing MFRA supplied extra information to the Appellant Mr. Brace both in written form and verbally.
MFRA asked the Tribunal to make a costs award against Mr Brace, the Appellant.
The Appellant was asked to explain his point of view. He explained that the law stated information that should’ve been in what was supplied, therefore he knew it was the wrong version and he had informed MFRA, the Tribunal and ICO of this by letter.
He had not yet received a response to this letter from MFRA.
MFRA argued that the hearing was pointless, because from their perspective even if the information supplied was two A4 pages shorter than the case management note had required them to supply, in their view, the extra pages contained no information relating to the request in it and referred them to Mr Brace’s letter describing the extra pages.
MFRA were asked during the course of the hearing to supply the version in existence at the time of request to the Appellant Mr Brace.
Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority explained that she hadn’t brought it with her to the hearing.
Due to the explanation provided by MFRA as to the withheld pages of information, the Appellant agreed to end the matter by consent order.
Janet Henshaw of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority argued that the Appellant was being unreasonable in bringing the proceedings to a hearing.
The Appellant was given a chance to make representations.
The Tribunal did not agree to make an award of costs at the hearing, but directed Janet Henshaw of MFRA to make a formal application for costs and to serve it on the Appellant and Tribunal by a specified date.
The the Appellant would have a chance to make representations and as he is an individual, supply the Tribunal (and MFRA) with details of financial means (which would have to be considered) when the Tribunal makes a decision.
The First-Tier Tribunal Judge explained that the Tribunal’s rules on costs were different to that of the court.
One of those present also seemed upset at the trees that had been cut down to produce the bundle and the First-Tier Tribunal Judge referred to the cost to the public purse.
Any decision by the Tribunal on costs can be appealed to the County Court.
The information in the two reports relates to MFRA plans for a fire station at Greasby, then Saughall Massie.
Both reports (which were not made public during the two twelve week consultations) show indicative values for selling Upton Fire Station (£350,000) and selling West Kirby fire station (£200,000).
The land value assigned for the abandoned Greasby plans is £300,000 and the notional value assigned for the land at Saughall Massie is £300,000.
The Appellant awaits MFRA’s costs application with interest as at least one of the questions directed towards Chief Fire Officer Dan Stephens (pictured below) during one of the two consultation was why this information wasn’t in the public domain.
The First-tier Tribunal Judge stated during the hearing that the reasons given in ICO’s decision notice no longer applied for withholding the information.
MFRA (in line with councillors stating that people should be charged for FOI or EIR requests) despite agreeing to end this by consent order feel that is unfair to pay MFRA’s costs in providing the information, even though the First-Tier Tribunal Judge told them that the reasons for withholding the information in the decision notice didn’t apply.
Janet Henshaw was the person that also refused the information at the internal review stage as she is a senior manager employed by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service.
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