Date received: 8 October 2018
Date responded: 5 November 2018
- copies of all papers, memos, emails and notes of meetings between ELC [East Lothian Council] and Transport Scotland officials relating to 20mph speed limits;
- copies of all papers, memos, emails and notes of meetings between COSLA and Transport Scotland officials relating to 20mph speed limits; and
- copies of all other Transport Scotland documents containing current and developing policy on 20mph speed limits on non-trunk roads in local authority areas.
As the information you have requested is ‘environmental information’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.
This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.
Fristly before I respond to your request I thought that it would be helpful to set out the Scottish Government’s current position in relation to 20 mph speed limits. We are clear that 20 mph speed limits are a good idea when implemented in the right environment. Through Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020 we are committed to achieving safer road travel in Scotland. The Mid-term Review of the Framework, which concluded in March 2016, identified Speed, Age and Vulnerable Road Users as the key priority areas for activity through to 2020.
Our road safety partners agreed a commitment within the Road Safety Framework to ‘Encourage local authorities to introduce 20 mph zones or limits in residential areas and areas of towns or cities with a high volume of pedestrians and cyclists’. This is set out in Transport Scotland’s Good Practice Guide on 20 mph speed restrictions, which encourages local authorities to introduce such measures where appropriate and this is being acted upon. The guidance can be found at: https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/38640/20-mph-good-practice-guide-update-version-2-28-june-2016.pdf
Given the varied nature of Scotland's urban road network and the number of factors which need considered when setting appropriate limits, the Scottish Government’s position remains that decisions on 20 mph speed limits are best taken at local authority level.
However, as you may be aware Mark Ruskell MSP has introduced a Member’s Bill into Parliament which proposes reducing the default national speed limit on restricted roads from 30 mph to 20 mph. The Cabinet Secretary for Transport recently met with Mr Ruskell regarding his proposals. Mr Matheson indicated that whilst he was broadly supportive of the principles of the proposals there is a lot of detail, including wider impact which was yet to be considered. He also provided his reassurance that he will keep an open mind going forward and indicated that he welcomes discussion of the merits or otherwise of these proposals throughout the parliamentary process. We recognise the importance of giving full consideration to these proposals to ensure we achieve our shared objectives of safe roads.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested: An email between Transport Scotland and COSLA in relation to 20 mph speed limits. This email was in relation to another matter but within which COSLA asked if we could discuss our position in relation to the proposed Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limits) (Scotland) Bill. At this meeting I confirmed that our position remained that the decision are best taken at a local level and that we would be monitoring the progress of the proposals as they proceed through the Parliament.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance Transport Scotland does not have some of the information you have requested. Therefore we are refusing your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs. The reasons why that exception applies are explained below.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because an exception under regulation 10(4)(b) of the EIRs applies to that information. The reasons why that exception applies are explained below.
Your request for copies of all papers, memos, emails and notes of meetings between ELC [East Lothian Council] and Transport Scotland officials relating to 20mph speed limits.
Under the terms of the exception in regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs (information not held), Transport Scotland is not required to provide information which it does not have. This is because Transport Scotland officials have not held any discussions with East Lothian Council about 20mph speed limits.
This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. While we recognise that there may be some public interest in information about discussions with East Lothian Council about 20 mph speed limits, clearly we cannot provide information which we do not hold.
Your request for copies of all other Transport Scotland documents containing current and developing policy on 20mph speed limits on non-trunk roads in local authority areas.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, under the exception at regulation 10(4)(b) of the EIRs a public authority may refuse a request for information if it is ‘manifestly unreasonable’. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s guidance on the regulation 10(4)(b) exception at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/Law/FOISA-EIRsGuidance/EIRsexceptionbriefings/Regulation10(4)(b)Manifestlyunreasonable.aspx says that there may “be instances where it is appropriate for the Commissioner to consider the proportionality of the burden on the public authority in terms of the costs and resources involved in dealing with a request when considering the application of this exception”.
We estimate that it would take up to 80 hours to comply with the request, excluding time to review information and to decide what information to redact.The future policy position in relation to a change in the national default speed limit on Restricted Roads to 20 mph is a complex and sensitive issue and we are currently considering emerging evidence as well as trying to identify impact in order to reach a more settled view on the proposals going through Parliament. Therefore we would require a considerable amount of time to be spent applying those redactions. We therefore consider that the time, costs and resources involved in complying with the request are not manageable due to the volume of work involved and the consequent diversion of staff away from other core work, including reaching a settled policy position on this matter. We aso do not consider that extending the response time by an additional 20 working days under regulation 7 of the EIRs would not have been sufficient to make the request manageable. For these reasons, we consider that your request is manifestly unreasonable and so we are refusing it under regulation 10(4)(b).
As the exception is conditional we have applied the ‘public interest test’. This means we have, in all the circumstances of this case, considered if the public interest in disclosing information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. While we recognise that there may be some public interest in information about 20 mph speed limits, as well as the general public interest in disclosing information about Scottish Government policy as part of an open and transparent government and to inform public debate, this is outweighed by the public interest in ensuring the efficient and effective use of public resources by not incurring excessive costs when complying with information requests.
You may however wish to consider reducing the scope of your request in order to make it manageable by making a more specific request for example requesting information relating to implementation of the Government’s existing policy on 20 mph speeds or information relating to a specific aspect of 20 mph speed limits policy or impact. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ‘Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs’ on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
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