You may already have seen our blogs on the issue of disclosure of confidential information and Beverley Firth's article in the September issue of FuturePerfect? The High Court's recent decision in R (Ian Frazer English) v East Staffordshire Borough Council and National Football Centre Ltd (interested party) (2010) adds to this debate.
The council had granted planning permission to the National Football Centre Ltd (NFC) for the erection of 28 houses, the profit from which NFC would use to bridge a funding gap and construct a football centre. NFC submitted a supporting financial report to the council on the understanding that this was highly confidential and exempt from disclosure under FOI regimes. The council accepted this position and had the report independently verified, on the same highly confidential basis.
The claimant applied for judicial review of the council's decision to grant permission on the grounds of procedural unfairness and "perversity" as neither the public nor the planning committee had seen the financial report or independent review.
The court held that enough information had been provided to the committee and the public to allow them to get the "gist" of the reports. Further, while the football centre development was EIA development, the enabling housing development was not and therefore the financial reports were not "environmental information" which the committee was required to consider under the EIA Regulations. As for the allegation of perversity, the court pointed out the bar for this was set extremely high and this kind of decision could never satisfy the test of being "so outrageous in its defiance of logic or accepted moral standards that no sensible person could ever have arrived at it". In any event, the claimant had not brought his challenge "promptly" and so had prejudiced NFC's ability to get the football centre completed before the 2012 Olympics.