FOI request (FOI-83964970)
Requested Mon 06 August 2018
Responded Wed 22 August 2018
I would like to know a full list of Vacant Properties held by your organisation and any of its subsidiaries.
If possible their market value for sale or to let, whether they would be considered for a community asset transfer, if not then whether they are for sale or to let. In a clear and easy to read format. It would be supportive if the property is for sale or to let that it is listed on here too: https://e-pims.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/government-property-finder/Home.aspx and that you inform us of this intention or such listing in the request.
In the previous case in Voyias v IC and LB Camden (EA/2011/0007), the requesters asked for substantially similar information, and the judge favoured disclosure. I appreciate the circumstances here are quite different, but the same principles should apply.
I understand there is a risk that your empty properties would be targeted by squatters should this the list of empty properties be public, but this is a very slim risk. The prejudice to law enforcement should be real, likely and substantial, as per Hogan v the ICO and Oxford City Council. I can assure you that my request is not sent in order to cause trouble for the authority, it is predominantly for my own research, with publication as part of campaigning materials. I am concerned at the sale of public assets, not a not an advocate for their illegal occupation. I would also say that I cannot imagine the disclosure of this list of properties to significantly affect a squatting problem that pre-existed my interest in the organisation. Overall the prejudice to law enforcement is very slim, and not severe. Since 12 months will be the time that this information will be released onto this site, unless others request this information separately. The requester is not liable for any issues that may arise in between or after.
It is in the public interest and transparency that this information is made publicly available under the public sector duty under the equality act allowing people to know of this information and make use of it under the Community Asset Transfer scheme and under the Human Rights Act Article 11 enabling the community to gather and make decisions on the allocation of such assets.
Currently the former toilets at Cross Street, St Leonards on sea are empty as listed on our website here: https://www.hastings.gov.uk/estates/propertiestolet/
We would consider a Community Asset Transfer if such a proposal was received.
Notice of Refusal
Please note that I consider the information you have requested regarding 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
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
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
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.
Freedom of Information