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Outstanding Information Requests to EWRCo. August 2022 Update

File Containing Reasons for EWRCo. Chosen Approach To Cambridge and the Business Case.

The previous version of this saga was provided in this post back in February 2022. Here is an update.

Recap

During the EWRCo. 2021 consultation, we wanted to understand the fundamentals of how EWRCo. had arrived at their proposed approach to Cambridge. If an approach that required a Great Wall to be built through our villages, severing communities etc. was the best option, then so be it, at least we would understand why that was so. We have the same issues with the business case, but the FOIs for that are another story.

Previous experience with freedom of information requests indicated that we needed the request to be carefully written as any mistake might be used by EWR Co.’s legal team as a reason not to release the information. The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations contain many exceptions and no doubt for good reasons. We had also noted that EWRCo. tended to refuse requests that other public bodies had accepted. This was in cases where people had asked EWRCo. and another public body for the same information.

We engaged our lawyers at Leigh Day to write a limited FOI request for the most important information. Separately we sent a less formal letter asking for information that did not fit the criteria for the Leigh Day letter. Leigh Day were asking for information already referred to in the 2021 consultation, but not provided.  As always EWRCo. waited the full 20 working days before responding to Leigh Day. They then threw the book at us. They went through all the requests CA had made and bundled that with the Leigh Day Letter. They worked out exactly how many hours they had spent responding to our requests. We would view that as time spent providing information that should have been available in the first place. Noting the association between CA and local parish councils, they even went through parish council minutes looking for statements they felt were unreasonable.

In their lengthy refusal letter, the request was labelled “manifestly unreasonable” and “vexatious”. We were a bit surprised, since all we were doing was asking for information that they must have had to support their 2021 consultation and preferred approach to Cambridge. They also accused us of deliberately timing the letter to land when they were busy with the consultation.

Maybe they were a bit stressed. Maybe their supporting information was not all that it should have been. After all who worries about documents that are never going to be published.

We then asked Leigh Day to write an appeal letter for an internal review, explaining in legal terms why the request should be answered including case law supporting that (especially the Dransfield case on vexatious requests).

To their credit EWR asked another senior member of staff to look at the case, he was an Engineer rather than a lawyer. In any event when the pressure of the consultation was over and they had time to look again at our request … they decided to stick with the decision not to disclose and for the same reasons as before. It was still in their view manifestly unreasonable and vexatious.

At this point we decided to refer the matter to the information commissioner’s office (ICO) along with another letter from Leigh Day explaining legally why the request should have been accepted. The ICO accepted that there was a case to answer but did not have anyone available to properly look at it. 

Update since February 2022

Time passed and we published a post on this blog setting out the information we had requested and our experience up to that point in getting it.  As a result of that, local MP Anthony Browne took up the case and wrote words to the effect that whatever issues EWRCo. had with Cambridge Approaches, he would like to see the answer to those questions.

EWRCo. refused that request as well on the grounds that the matter was now with the ICO. Clearly, it’s not about who asks for the information or when.

I note that the recent Lib Dem Statement on EWR, read out at the last SCDC meeting and kindly copied to us by Cllr Bridget Smith, contains the following paragraph.

EWR is a Government scheme being delivered by a private company resulting in poor accountability and little transparency. It has been an enormous frustration that government has kept residents completely in dark for years now about their intentions. This is a pitiful way of delivering a major piece of public transport infrastructure.

It seems that locally at least, there is some crossparty agreement on EWRCo.’s lack of transparency.

Months later and about a year after the original FOI request, the ICO looked at the case. They started by asking us if we still wanted the information. We did. They also asked EWRCo. if they would now provide it. They would not.

Time passed and eventually the Information Commissioner ruled that EWRCo. could not use the argument that the request was vexatious etc and they should respond again within a certain number of days without using that exemption.

We waited, were EWRCo., actually going to supply the information? 

Well, the latest news is that EWRCo. have appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision, so the saga continues and we will provide evidence to the tribunal next month.

Stay tuned for the next gripping instalment.

16 replies on “Outstanding Information Requests to EWRCo. August 2022 Update”

This shows a disgraceful lack of respect from EWR toward the public. They know their case doesn’t withstand scrutiny and therefore will do anything so they don’t have to publish

Legal games and EWR activity just going through the motions to invoice as work done as part of “non statuary consultation” as part of the illusions of democracy in action. In no way a criticism of the outstanding work done by CA.
I will try to be brief (unlike my nature). The case for this section was weak and predicated on construction industries lobbying direct to central government so as to side-step local democracy and input in the main. The ARC thing. The south entrance to Cambridge was decided before any consideration of freight, by a minister who had no interest in this area, just a line on a map and even less understanding of the issues. Confusion reigned between local, regional and national requirements so the chosen proposed route was of no use to local people. Then to further justify the escalating costs (because it has taken 25 years so far and counting), Network Rail included major up grades to Bedford area. The housing thing has now been called into doubt and Covid came along, is still with us and always be, changing the way we view commuting and 5 day office attendance.

It has been reported and commented that a complete re-think of the requirements of an east West Rail link are to be taken back to the drawing board and the project in it’s present form is dumped.

Is it any wonder that our infrastructure projects cost so much and are often out of date or not needed in the form presented (say like the Guided Busway) by the time they are finished. Surely in times like this we must drop our traditional adversarial way of doing everything and get a consensus prior to spending big bucks and 25 years to achieve NOTHING ?

Please excuse me if I’m wrong, wasn’t the original thought about the central section for EWR (when the project was still run by Network Rail) that Route A i.e south of Sandy across to Bassingbourne and then South Cambridge the decision for that approach ?

Once MoD said “no” to the housing there, then Cambourne development seemed to pull north the route. It made perfect sense at that point to reassess the approach to Cambridge rather than plan that monstrous wall across the countryside.

The whole thing is a sham anyway as Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) in the NR reports admitted in 2018 that they had made a mathematical error when working out the BCR’s in the 2017 NR reports. The entire project went from High value for Route A to extremely poor value for money, which meant it wasn’t technically meeting the requirement to be a Nationally Significant project! But the farce continued until the route announcement where the BCR went even lower. Talk about marking your own homework!!

Thank you once again for your pursuance of EWR. They hold the people who will be affected by this proposal in utter contempt – that much is obvious. There is seemingly no transparency, democracy or accountability.

This is turning into an Agatha Christie novel….the plot thickens. Nicely written and thank you for all you hard work!!

A big thank you for all your work from me too. The lack of transparency is appalling and you are so right to fight this. If you need more money for lawyers please send an appeal out.
Personally I am not against a new railway but given its impact and cost any scheme needs to be justified and stand up to scrutiny which this current one is so far removed from. And for the sake of clarity i most certainly dont support the current proposal on the information available. It is such a pity / discrace they are responding to you/us in this secretive/ doubt inducing fashion. Please keep up the excellent work. Thank you.

This is awesome, painstaking work and you also have my thanks. I wonder if the recent High Court ruling that the government’s Net Zero policy was unlawful has any bearing on this case. The High Court ruled that the Net Zero policy contained insufficient information to determine whether it would meet the government’s legislated climate goals. Since transport is one of the key issues which need to be addressed, it seems to me that any major infrastructure project like this one needs to contain – and make public – complete information on its greenhouse gas emissions impact, both in construction and in operation. https://www.globalgovernmentforum.com/uks-net-zero-strategy-ruled-unlawful-by-high-court/#:~:text=The%20UK%20high%20court%20has,contravened%20the%20Climate%20Change%20Act.

It’s actually crazy that any infrastructure project in the UK does not have to provide Green House Gas (GHG) emissions! EWR have stated categorically that they won’t publish the Western section numbers (even as a baseline).

It also doesn’t help that EWR don’t know what they actually meant by “net-zero” i.e operationally or whole life carbon wise.

Sterling work by CA, as always.
As I get older, I trust my gut instincts more. I just wonder if EWR know that the third leg may well be cancelled, after the axing of HS2 eastern leg and the comments re. EWR from Grant Shapps during the leadership hustings.
The eastern leg must be a massive target for such action with the advent of WFH and the ballooning cost-unless it really is just about freight. If so, why route through central and south Cambridge?
I hadn’t realised that EWR was a private company-it seems they are milking the golden cow for as long as they possibly can.
It would be wonderful to get them in front of a Parliamentary select committee….

EWR are sufficiently rattled enough by the ICO’s decision to have issued a “major communication” about it – https://eastwestrail.co.uk/library/ico . They don’t (yet?) seem to have fulfilled their promises that “We are… reviewing our approach to publication generally in light of the decision… [We] will clearly set out our approach to information publication at each point in the development of the railway.”

Well done in persevering with an issue that affects many of us. EWR are or seem to think they are a law unto themselves and care not for the effects that the railway would have on thousands of us who live along and near to the route.
Keep up the really good work for all our sakes.
John

EWR Company do not live up to their policy of communication – this is clearly demonstrated. Option E route runs directly next to our property (actually takes a small strip of land) and the embankment is 11m high. My wife wrote to EW R and received a letter that she was being “vexatious” in her reasonable cause for concern.

Thank you again CA for your continuing, outstanding due diligence which puts to shame the lack of same from EWR. In the link provided by Annabel Sykes, EWR’s final sentence is beyond cynical: “We are committed to being straight-forward [sic] and honest with the communities we serve.”

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