'In order to assist our clients understanding of the delay and to assist us in considering the legal implications, we would be grateful to receive copies of all correspondence between DPEA, the Reporter and the Chief Reporter relating to our clients' appeal and the decision to sist the appeal. It is presumed that in considering whether our clients' appeal required to be sisted, regard was had to the Reporter's decision letter which had been drafted and was due to be issued in October/November 2022 and any subsequent conclusions which the Reporter had made on the evidence provided in response to the various Further Information Requests. As such, copies of these documents are also requested.'
Please find attached the information you requested in respect of copies of all correspondence between DPEA, the Reporter and the Chief Reporter relating to your clients' appeal and the decision to sist the appeal.
In terms of your request for copies of the Reporter's decision letter which had been drafted and was due to be issued in October/November 2022 and any subsequent conclusions which the Reporter had made on the evidence provided in response to the various Further Information Requests, we are not in a position to release a copy of the draft decision notice in this appeal or any conclusions in respect of additional information received contained within it.
Regulation 10(4)(d) of the EIRs provides an exception from the duty to make environmental information available, where the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data. The reporters decision notice is clearly unfinished as further submissions will be requested from parties following Ministers decision on the Mossend appeal. In accordance with Regulation 13(d), I can confirm that we anticipate, at this stage, to issue the decision notice on or as soon after the 31 August as possible.
Having applied this exception to this information I am required to apply the public interest test to see whether, in all the circumstances of this case, the public interest test in maintaining this exception outweighs that in making the information available. As a starting point I can confirm I am considering the public interest test to be something that is of serious concern and benefit to the public and not merely something of individual interest. In applying the public interest test I note that the starting point is that this information should be disclosed and only if there is a strong competing public interest in withholding the information should exceptions be applied. I also note that "public" in this context does not mean the entire population and it may mean a relatively localised public group. Given the above, I recognise that there is public interest in planning appeals and specifically appeals relating to housing developments; in understanding whether a reporter is likely or otherwise to grant planning permission; and the assistance it would provide to parties taking part in similar other appeals. I also recognise that there is strong public interest in ensuring that the planning process is open, fair and transparent with regard to public scrutiny of both the decision making process and decisions themselves. As such I can see that there would be some public interest in releasing this information.
At the same time I recognise that reporters require time and space to consider an appeal; to ensure that they have all the information necessary to fully consider an appeal and issue a decision; to ensure they understand the determining issues and to fully set out their conclusions and make their final decision as to whether or not to grant planning permission. All of the above may be subject to change as the reporter considers an appeal. Having considered the above I have concluded as follows. It is clear that there is a public interest in relation to this information; there would be some benefit in release of this information to the public; release would help the public understand the position of the reporters conclusions at this point in time; and that it would help demonstrate the perception of a planning system that is open, transparent and fair. However I have also concluded that it is essential that reporters have the time and space to fully consider proposals in front of them; that it would be confusing and not in the public interest for draft decisions, subject to possible change, on planning proposals to be in the public domain; and that the planning system itself would suffer from release of this information by releasing a decision in draft form prior that be subject to change both in content and in the decision itself. I therefore consider that the public interest test is in upholding the exception and not releasing this information. The public interest, in my view, is not served if for my reasons set out above.
By way of general background I can confirm that the Mossend case was selected for recall due to an opinion of senior counsel submitted in that case, which directly challenges the application of all elements of Policy 16 prior to adoption of ‘new style’ LDPs. As such, it was decided to ensure we do not prejudice or otherwise undermine the ministerial decision by issuing related appeal decisions in advance of that. The decision also reflects the need to protect scarce public resource, which could quickly be consumed by further appeals to the Inner House.
A direction was given to Reporters pending the issue of the Ministerial decision in the Mossend appeal because decisions by individual Reporters in those other cases mustn’t prejudice or otherwise undermine the pending ministerial decision as detailed in the response above. Procedural decisions of the reporter to the Mossend appeal will have no bearing on the conduct of your clients appeal.
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.
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Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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