Press release: Censored Bexhill Hastings Link Road documents should be released in full, say campaigners
October 17, 2016 by combehavendefenders
Combe Haven Defenders 
Monday 17 October
Contact 07565 967 250. Image available: http://tinyurl.com/BHLRredacted
CENSORED BEXHILL HASTINGS LINK ROAD DOCUMENTS SHOULD BE RELEASED IN FULL SAY CAMPAIGNERS
Concerns raised that East Sussex County Council may be misusing Freedom of Information Act to hide embarrassing criticism
A heavily-censored East Sussex County Council (ESCC) document about the £124m Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) raises serious issues about transparency and accountability, according to campaigners in Hastings who obtained the document using the Freedom of Information Act.
The document  – a ‘Gateway Review’ of the BHLR, written in March 2015 – is supposed to provide ‘an evidence-based snapshot of the project’s status at the time of the review’. However, the version made available to campaigners has been very heavily redacted, with several whole pages blanked out .
The Review assessed the project as ‘amber/red’ – defined in the document as ‘Successful delivery of the project is in doubt with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas’. Eight recommendations are made in the report. Of these, three have been totally redacted, and a further one partially redacted.
In its response to the request for the document , ESCC stated that it could not release the full document as this would ‘undermine the council’s ability to achieve best value’. However, some of the redactions appear not to relate to value for money, but to quite different areas, such as archaeology. Moreover, some of the redacted information appears to be freely available on ESCC’s website , and other information appears to have been redacted solely because it could cause embarrassment, in contravention of official guidance .
Andrea Needham, spokesperson for Combe Haven Defenders, who requested the document from ESCC, said, ‘The huge number of redactions in this document suggests that East Sussex County Council may be using – or even misusing – exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act in order to hide serious criticisms of the management of the link road project. The road was built using over £124m of public money, and we have a right to expect transparency and accountability in the use of such funds, especially at a time when the council is making huge cuts to services in other areas. We are calling on ESCC to come clean, and to release the document in its entirety’.
Contact 07565 967 250
 See bottom of page 7: ‘In January 2015, the ESCC Cabinet established a [redacted] to cover four sets of risks across the capital programme, including the Bexhill Hastings Link Road’. The ESCC Cabinet minutes for 27 January 2015 (https://combehavendefenders.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/escc-cabinet-27-jan-2015-c2a310m-set-aside-for-risk.pdf), contain (point 3.23) a decision to allocate £10m to risk management, including risks created by the Link Road. This would appear to be the information redacted from the document provided
 Guidance for public bodies from the Information Commissioner’s Office, responsible for upholding rights to information, states that ‘Information should be disclosed if the only likely harm would be embarrassment to the authority’ (https://ico.org.uk/media/1178/awareness_guidance_5_v3_07_03_08.pdf). Yet one of the redacted areas in the document states ”These are reputation issues for [redacted] ESCC [redacted] which require handling at a senior level. The role should [redacted] using the partnering board and other approaches, and key stakeholder relationship management’ (italics added). The use of the phrase ‘reputation issues’ suggests very strongly that the redaction in this case has been made precisely because release of the information would cause embarrassment to ESCC.