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Shepway District Council to charge the public for information requests

By Matt Leclere

Members of the public will have to start paying if they want to find out information relating to development, pollution and waste management in Shepway.

A new charging scheme is set to be introduced by the district council after it was approved by Conservative cabinet members.

The Environmental Information Regulations charge is being introduced in a bid to deter "fishing expeditions" for information when requests ask for wide-ranging and non-specific information.

The old pound coin is going out of circulation this weekend. Picture: Thinkstock
The old pound coin is going out of circulation this weekend. Picture: Thinkstock

It means members of the public wishing to access information about the environment will have to pay £25 per hour for each request submitted.

The cost will be calculated on the amount of time spent by council officers finding out the information requested.

Chief executive Alistair Stewart said: “One of the reasons we want to do this is because quite often they are fishing expeditions.

“It starts to cost us with officer time and pulling this together.

"We shouldn’t just be putting our resources into this.

"Publishing data is absolutely what we need to do.

Cllr Rory Love
Cllr Rory Love

"The requests are sometimes incredibly complex. If you want to come in that way, then this is how you do it.”

Council leader David Monk said: “If there’s a very specific request it’s very easy to reply.

"A fishing expedition takes a long, long time to find it.”

Councillors chose a flat rate of £25 per hour over using the same charges as those already used for Freedom of Information requests – £25 per hour after 18 hours of work plus £450 for the initial 18 hours.

Requests which take less than 18 hours are carried out without charge.

"One of the reasons we want to do this is because quite often they are fishing expeditions" - Alistair Stewart

Cllr Jenny Hollingsbee said this would be “straightforward” for the public and not complicate it with an 18-hour time limit.

Cllr Rory Love, who was the only cabinet member to vote against the charge, said: “Should it be made available anyway?

"The more data we put out there the better. It is for the public and [then] we don’t have to go searching for it.”

The council’s head of democratic services and law, Amandeep Khroud, said: “The requests vary considerably.

"They usually relate to the major projects the council is working on, Princes Parade and Otterpool Park.

“We don’t have a blanket approach. We do go through the decision and make an effort to put information into the public domain as much as we can.”

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