FOI request (FOI214105)
Requested Thu 11 May 2017
Responded Thu 11 May 2017
In terms of the relevant Freedom of Information legislation (FOI) I would be grateful if you could let me have details of the following:-
1] A list of council buildings that are laying empty and/or unused as at the date of this FOI request?
2] A list of your council buildings that are for sale as at the date of this FOI request?
3] A list of your council buildings that will be coming up for sale within the next 12 months starting from the date of this FOI request?
4] Copies of the official council minutes relating to the last four meetings of your council's property committee (appropriately redacted to avoid unnecessary refusal of this FOI)?
Q1 - Notice of Refusal
Please note that I consider the information you have requested regarding long term empty commercial properties to be exempt information under S31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act in that disclosure of that information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.
The nature of the prejudice in this case is that the disclosure of the information in question would render the properties in question more vulnerable to damage and potential unauthorised occupation and the crime and disorder commonly associated with such occupation. Because it is our policy to refuse disclosure of the addresses of empty properties we are unable to provide direct evidence of a causal link between such disclosure and prejudice to the prevention or detection of crime. We believe, however, that there is evidence that the advertisement of the fact that a property is empty serves to make it vulnerable to damage and potential unauthorised occupation and the crime and disorder commonly associated with such occupation and that the nature of such prejudice is real and substantial and that there is a real and significant risk of such prejudice.
The exemption afforded by S31(1)(a) is subject to what is known as the 'public interest test'. When applying the test in a particular case a public authority is deciding whether the public interest is better served by non-disclosure than by disclosure.
Although the Freedom of Information Act does not define 'in the public interest', there is a presumption under Freedom of Information that openness is in the public interest. In applying the public interest test a public authority will take into account the distinction that has been often made by courts between things that are in the public interest, and things that merely interest the public. Where applicants have not identified public interest considerations succinctly or accurately, the public authority has a responsibility under the Act to make their own assessment of the public interest considerations in the particular case.
We have identified the following public interest factors that may be seen as encouraging the disclosure of information:
a) furtherance of understanding and participation in the public debate of issues of the day
b) promotion of accountability and transparency by public authorities in the decision they make and the spending of public money
c) bringing to light information affecting public health and safety
d) bringing empty properties back into use
We consider these factors to be generally of limited or no relevance in relation to the information in question.
We believe that there is no evidence that disclosure would bring any significant proportion of empty buildings back into use. In this respect we would point out that we consider that any disclosure would take no account of the reasons such properties are empty.
Public interest factors seen as encouraging non-disclosure are, generally, the exemptions themselves. In consideration of this matter we came to the following conclusions:
a) that there is no evidence of a wider public (rather than individual) interest in disclosure
b) that the disclosure of the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime
c) that the nature of such prejudice is real and substantial and that there is a real and significant risk of such prejudice
d) that crime associated with empty properties, whether owned by individuals or by organisations, has a substantial detrimental effect upon other individuals in the neighbourhood and wider community
e) that the motives behind the request (albeit not provided to us) have no relevance since disclosure would mean the information would be in the public domain
In weighing the factors for and against disclosure we have concluded that the likely benefit to the applicant and the wider public of disclosure is outweighed by the likely prejudice caused by such disclosure and that therefore the public interest is better served by non-disclosure.
Q2 - Please see http://www.hastings.gov.uk/estates/propertiesforsale/
Q3 - Please see http://www.hastings.gov.uk/estates/propertiesforsale/
Q4 - Not applicable, there is no Council property committee
Freedom of Information