'FOI request refusal leaves residents in darkness'

Councillors Sebastian Kindersley, Susan van de Ven, and Peter McDonald

Councillors Sebastian Kindersley, Susan van de Ven, and Peter McDonald. - Credit: Chris Sidell

County councillors have criticised central government after a Freedom of Information request - sent by the South West Cambridgeshire Action Group to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government - on the proposed new town was refused.

The request was for information relating to a Cambridge ‘Development Corporation’ – a central government vehicle for creating new towns that bypasses normal planning processes. 

The Action Group is seeking to understand whether or not the Development Corporation is tied to the proposal by Thakeham developers for a new town of 25,000 homes, announced last month.

But their FOI request - seen by the Crow - was refused on the basis that information revealed would be a ‘"distraction" and that it was "not in the public interest to disclose this information at this time".

County Councillor Sebastian Kindersley - who represents  Barrington, Orwell and Wimpole on Cambs County Council - said: “In last year’s budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the setting up of a Cambridge Development Corporation, but did not reveal any details, including where exactly the new town would be situated.

"Almost a year later, we are none the wiser. No engagement has taken place. No timeline for the idea has been published. We just have no idea what the scope or scale of the Development Corporation might be, nor where it is to be.

Cllr Susan van de Ven - Melbourn, Meldreth, Whaddon and Bassingbourn county councillor - said: “The response to our request demonstrates that discussions about a Development Corporation are ongoing. This is ‘live’ policy, the letter says. However, the refusal of our Freedom of Information request leaves residents in darkness.

“Surely government should be transparent about its intentions and defend the principle of Freedom of Information. Many communities stand to be profoundly adversely affected and residents have every right to know the facts.

“The action group formed to fight the South West Cambridgeshire proposal will be appealing the denial of this Freedom of Information Request.”

Cllr Peter McDonald, who represents Shepreth and Foxton, said: “Thakeham, the developers behind South West Cambridgeshire, have been lobbying government hard. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor who announced the Development Corporation, met Thakeham at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference.

“With such a high level of concern locally about the Thakeham proposal, it is essential that we get the reassurance we need from the government. The lack of transparency is very frustrating and risks damaging confidence in the government’s management of the planning process.”