Flag market redevelopment winner decided – but how decision is reached is kept secret

Posted on - 26th January, 2009 - 10:48pm | Author - | Posted in - Uncategorized
flag market set for a makeover

flag market set for a makeover?

UPDATE: The Freedom of Information request related to this post was successful and the full report that was given to the City Centre Committee has been released.

Read with interest today that Preston City Council has announced the winner of the Flag Market redevelopment design competition.

The winner was design one, which includes 17-foot high electronic banners and some trees.

In the story, Councillor Anthony Gornall says: “After very careful consideration and public consultation we have chosen a design which will complement the historic nature of the Flag Market but will also improve the area as a whole.”

Careful consideration? Right. So I skipped along to the Preston City Council website to try and find out a bit more about the flag market redevelopment. I found Anthony Gornall and saw he sat on the City Centre Committee. I’m guessing they would make decisions about this sort of thing. I looked up their most recent meeting (Thursday 22nd January 2009) and on the agenda was:

5.0 Improvements to the Flag Market and Environs (Paragraph 3)

Brilliant. I could read how the council had reached their decision (which is attracting all kinds of fury from Prestonian’s over on the LEP’s story comments box). No. Wait. I got this message:

Exclusion of Press and Public

To consider passing the following resolution:

That the public be excluded from this meeting during consideration of the following item of business on the grounds that there is likely to be a disclosure of exempt information which is described in paragraph of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 which is specified against the heading to each item, and that in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.”

So in the debate over how a public space – the flag market – is to be redeveloped, the council has decided that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweights the public interest in disclosing it. I don’t think so. Publicly elected officials discussing a report from a civil servant (which probably includes a recommendation) about a public space. If that doesn’t meet public interest, I don’t know what does.

I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request to try and open up these discussions by the committee about how they reached their decisions – especially considering they ran a consultation in conjunction with the local newspaper to put the six designs that made it through to the final into a public vote on the newspaper’s website and in the paper itself (and in that vote, the winning design came second with 21% of the vote, compared with design #4 which won with 41% – the LEP article did not specify the number of votes).

The request went something like this:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to request the repealing of the restriction on agenda
item 5.0 ‘Improvements to the Flag Market and Environs (Paragraph
3)’ from the meeting of Preston City Council’s City Centre
Committee on Thursday 22nd January 2009
so that the public can see how the decision was reached by the City
Council’s City Centre Committee to award the winning design for the
flag market redevelopment.

I do not understand why the redevelopment of a public space, and
the discussion of councillors, elected representatives of the
people, should be hidden from the public. Particularly after the
council carried out such a public consultation with an online vote
conducted in partnership with the local newspaper.

If there are business/financial matters that need to remain
confidential then these should be omitted, but the discussions of
councillors and recommendations made to them by civil servants
should be viewable by the public.

Yours faithfully,

Edward Walker

You can follow it’s progress. They have until February 23rd 2009 to respond.

Join the discussion on the Flag Market Redevelopment

You can attend a meeting of the Central Area Forum (if you live in the St George’s, University, Town Centre, Moor Park, Riversway and Tulketh wards) where the plans will be presented. Confirm you’re coming on Upcoming.

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