Friday 22 January 2010

OPEN draws a blank

OPEN Dalston's appeal to the Secretary of State has been rejected for reasons which, we are told, "the balance of the public interest favours non-disclosure".

We had appealed to the Secretary of State against the approval of Hammerson's Bishops Place planning application where it appeared that the authorities had abandoned their affordable housing and other policies. Hackney had granted planning permission for this £500million, 51-storey, tombstone scheme in Shoreditch. And agreed to reduce the developers contribution towards 'off-site' affordable housing from £14million to £3million.

Hackney intended to take the 'off-site' money from Shoreditch and spend it in Dalston, thus robbing Peter to pay Paul. It would spend it on The Slab - the GLA's half of Dalston Square scheme - where, embarrassingly, there is so far to be no affordable housing at all.

Following OPEN's appeal a reply was received from the Government's Office for London stating that "the application does not raise issues of more than local importance" and that the Secretary of State, Rt Hon. John Denham MP, would not intervene.

But how could a scheme that appears to depart from national planning policies PPG 1, PPS3 & PPG 15 - regarding appropriate design, protection of the the historic environment, meeting housing need and transparency - be justified? " What are the reasons?" we asked. The government replied by forwarding us its appraisal of the scheme on which it commented thus:
"A small section of the case appraisal has been redacted (removed, concealed) The redactions are of the recommendations as to whether a case should be called in for public inquiry and the decision of the Secretary of State. We consider this advice and recommendations to be of a policy nature and subject to a qualified exemption..This is to allow free and frank thinking and consideration between officials and Ministers. Therefore, we consider that the balance of the public interest favours non-disclosure....Government Office aims to be as helpful as possible..."

OPEN Dalston had drawn a blank. The answers to OPEN's question, to be found in the government's appraisal, had been removed from public view. Apparently the officials' policy recommendations, and the Minister's reasons for his decision, are confidential internal communications. In the "public interest" they can be withheld from the public. So, no "free and frank thinking" will be permitted for the public then.

Fortunately the BBC picked up the story from OPEN's blogs. It scrutinised all the documentation available, canvassed the authorities opinions, and then published the story here.

The BBC, as well as OPEN, have asked for a review of the secrecy decision. We've been told it will be undertaken by a separate government department.


  1. Do you think it's better to carpet bomb Dalston?

  2. Sadly not a surprise.

    I suggest you stand or get someone to stand in the upcoming elections against the corrupt Labour Party. Actually don't bother it's a waste of time. Labour would win even if they put up a Donkey with a Red rosette

  3. "Carpet bomb Dalston"? No, not necessary. The developers (Hackney, TfL, Mr Bahamas etc) have already burnt out 9, and demolished 25 buildings in Dalston over the last 3 years.


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