Wuthering Moors 14

My Freedom of Information requests which were posted on this blog on 2 April (for example, this one) should have been answered this week since they were electronically transmitted to Natural England and Defra on that day.  I followed up by posting letters to Defra and Natural England.

Yesterday, at 1637, I received an email from Natural England telling me that they needed another 20 working days to deal with my requests.  Their letter is posted below with my reply.

This feels to me, although I might be wrong, like delaying tactics.  First, I would be happy to receive any of the information I requested even if some of it will take a little longer.  Second, the nature of the request was not complex – it may be unwelcome but it is not complex.   I have asked for copies of documents that I know exist and will be in a filing cabinet somewhere, and I have asked for details of meetings between NE staff, Ministers and others.  That’s not complex.

And, for the record, I didn’t get a reply from Richard Bannister to this letter  – but then I didn’t really expect to get a reply and he is under no obligation to reply to random letters from people like me so I am not complaining.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Letter received from NE:

 

Dear Mr Avery

Environmental Information Regulations 2004 – Extension of time – Request no 1494

I am writing to advise you that the time limit for responding to your request for information under
the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which we received on 02 April 2012 needs to be
extended.

The Regulations allow us 20 working days to respond to your request from the date of its receipt.
However, it is occasionally necessary to extend the 20 working day time limit for issuing a
response. In this case, I regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by a further 20
working days to 31 May 2012, because of the complex nature of the request, although we hope to
reply sooner.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. As you may be aware, under the
legislation should you have any concerns with the service you have received in relation to your
request and wish to make a complaint or request a review of our decision, please contact me and
I’ll arrange for a colleague to conduct an internal review. Under Regulation 11(2) this needs to be
done no later than 40 working days after the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint, you may apply directly to the Information
Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you
have exhausted the complaints procedure provided by Natural England. The Information
Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water
Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF. Telephone: 01625 545 700, www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Reply sent to NE:

Thank you for your email and attached letter of 2 May.

I’m not happy that at the last moment you tell me that you need more time to satisfy these requests.  I don’t agree with you that they are of a complex nature.  I am sure that you can provide some of the information that I have requested now and I would ask you to do that.  I made several separate requests for information and I do not think that you should delay answering any of them if you are having difficulties with just some of them. For example, I have asked for copies of documents – these documents certainly exist and 20 days is long enough for you to copy them and put them in the post or send them to me electronically.  Please do this at once.  If you cannot supply any of these documents then please let me know at once.

I do not accept that the details of emails, letters and meetings of civil servants, Ministers and NE staff are particularly complex and I am sure that good records are made of all such things.  I would be grateful if you could fulfill these FoI requests within 10 further working days, that is by the morning of Thursday 17 May, or let me know, now, if that will prove difficult.

Yours sincerely

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4 Replies to “Wuthering Moors 14”

  1. Hi Mark
    Can you request an internal review? Although, having said that, how robust is a review undertaken by 'a colleague'?
    Perhaps the extra 20 days is due to the implementation of DEFRA's Business Plan (2011-15) which did say it was going to streamline the work of NE (and 'end their lobbying work activities').
    Look forward to next update
    M

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  2. Look forward with interest to what you finally get from them, let's hope it's worth the wait. I worry however all the critical bits we want to know will be redacted like MP's expense claims so it's hard to get to the bottom of the mess/coverup. Let's hope they have nothing to hide and give you the whole truth or it may prompt further questions and suspicions.

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  3. Based on the Our Forests experience I wouldn't hold your breath. The evidence suggests that Defra at least doesn't beleive in freedom of information - as with our requests over meetings and contacts between NGOs and Government over forest sales it streched credulity that it takes an extra 20 days to supply the information - in fact, i wonder, is there anyone out there who has requested an FOI from the Defra 'family' and recived the information without an extension ?

    It fascinates me that noone seems to be learning the levenson lesson: even if you are quite good, totally unscrupulous and very determined if you tell a lie you may well still get found out - so why not simply tell the truth and in the meantime not do shady deals that will look bad when they're exposed ? And, while, as in this case you prevaricate remember that its quite fair for people to assume the worst if they aren't given a straight answer. News International has conclusively proved that actually reality may be a good deal worse than your worst speculation !

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