Watchdog threatens MK Council with contempt of court over Blakelands freedom of information request

    Residents have won another battle in their fight to get to “the truth” over how a giant warehouse was permitted near their homes.

    Blakelands Residents Association campaigners have been carrying out their own line-by-line detective work to see how a long list of planning conditions were left off a decision notice issued to developers.

    That’s included requests under Freedom of Information law to find deleted emails involving key planning officers at Milton Keynes Council and a “backup failure” in attempts to recover them.

    Now the Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled that the council used “irrelevant” arguments to prevent the details being revealed.

    It has been given 35 days to respond or it may face a charge of contempt of court.

    “Failure to comply may result in the commissioner making written certification of this fact to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court,” says the letter dated August 11.

    The council had blocked release of information by claiming it was the same as an earlier request for information.

    But that had been for “pre-application advice” and “all correspondence between the council’s officers and the applicant and their agents in relation to this application.”

    Saying “All of these arguments presented to the commissioner by the council are irrelevant,” the ICO said it “does not hold the same view as the council that the two requests are the same or substantially similar.”

    A council spokesman said officers are taking legal advice.

    A spokesman for Blakelands Residents Association said: “It is our view that this is another example where senior officers in the council have tried to hamper our search for the truth over the Blakelands warehouse.

    “When we have put in requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the council has repeatedly delayed or refused to response.

    “We now hope the council will respond this request in accordance with the requirements by the Information Commissioner’s Office.”

    The council is also facing the possibility of a police investigation over the issue after residents passed them a dossier.

    This week a spokesperson for Thames Valley Police, confirmed: “An assessment is being conducted by the Economic Crime Unit to determine if an investigation is warranted.”

    Local Conservative MPs have also stepped in and asked the Government to launch its own inquiry.

    Meanwhile there is still no sign of a long delayed independent review into the saga.

    A recent meeting was told that the cost of this will be capped at around £20,000 however long it takes Marc Dorfman to present it.

    A council spokesman was asked if residents can have confidence that the Dorfman review will be “fully, openly and honestly considered by the council?” He said: “Yes. The council will consider and respond to the recommendations made following the completion of the review.”

    A panel of senior council officers are also due to present their ideas to a meeting of the development control committee in September.

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