Council spends £10,200 to keep reports private

Exeter Magistrates Court

Exeter Magistrates Court - Credit: Archant

A six-month legal battle over the release of confidential relocation documents has so far cost the district council more than £10,000 in lawyers’ fees.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) had been ordered by the Information Commissioner to release progress reports given to behind-closed-doors working group meetings on the authority’s proposed move from Sidmouth.

The council chose to appeal the decision rather than release the documents.

A hearing took place at Exeter Magistrates’ Court in August last year.

In a written question to EDDC leader, Paul Diviani, Councillor Claire Wright asked for an update on the cost of the appeal.

In his response last week, Cllr Diviani said: “Legal costs to date are £10,200.

“As has previously been made clear, it was not this council’s desire to see this matter go to a tribunal and EDDC offered to resolve the matter by correspondence at the outset and during the process but the Information Commissioner decided otherwise.

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“We have again offered to resolve the matter in writing and we are hopeful that matters will conclude sooner rather than later.”

An EDDC spokesman added that the tribunal was due to reconvene on March 20 to consider final evidence, with a judgement expected ‘shortly after’.

The council is due to make a final decision on its plans to sell Knowle to a developer and relocate to vacant offices in Exmouth Town Hall and purpose-built facilities at Honiton’s Heathpark on March 25.

This could mean a judgement from the court comes after EDDC has voted on whether or not to go ahead with its move.

Cllr Wright said: “It is quite astonishing to me that, in times of great financial hardship, the Conservative leadership would waste taxpayers’ money on keeping reports from the public that the Information Commissioner has ruled that must be released.”

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