Emails to and from East Devon District Council concerned with costs of producing flood and cliff defence schemes for Sidmouth.

Jumping through hoops to get a simple Freedom of Information request properly addressed?

This page starts with an email to the Environment Agency (EA) Exeter. The EA (and also South West Water) were helpful in providing data for an interim report produced for SAFE. The report was prepared in July 2009 but not released, still in an incomplete form, until early 2010 owing to delays in obtaining information from East Devon District Council.


To Environment Agency EXETER:

From: (stevewozniak42@hotmail.com)

Sent: 10 June 2009

To: pamela.meadows@environment-agency.gov.uk

I am hoping this email address is still valid. I spoke to you some years ago re: Hamilton Close Sidford.

I now wish to pursue another matter - maybe you can direct me to the most relevant person?

There is considerable interest in Sidmouth at the moment about the flood risks to 'Eastern Town' owing to continuing erosion/collapse of the cliffs to the east of the Sid.

A new 'action group' has been set up, I have told them they are likely mixing up different problems, and they have asked that I try and clarify the current position with the EA and SWW, for example.

An EA report has been quoted saying that '300 homes are at severe risk of flooding in Sidmouth'. I suspect that this is not so much 'at risk' from the sea pounding its way up the river Sid in a southeasterly gale but the age-old problem of combined sewers in Sidmouth (and many other older towns). Can I speak to someone who understands this please? Is the 300 figure from an EA report - if so it is on the web?

There is also the suggestion (again, I suspect it is incorrect) that many houses in Sidmouth are 'below sea level' (howsoever defined), and at risk of inundation. One town councillor suggested that if Sidmouth were to be 'flooded by the sea' large areas would be lost to trade, etc etc. My own (perhaps flawed) understanding of the old sewerage system in the town is that it comprised essentially a gravity outfall to sea, and given that all properties and road gulleys drained out to sea, they would have to be above sea level.

In the long term of course, if the Greenland Ice Sheet melts and the sea rises 5 or 8 metres, Sidmouth may well have to be either better protected or sacrificed, but I am interested for the moment in what is the current position.


Emails to East Devon District Council (EDDC).
Records of dozens of phone conversations may be added later.

Original request under FoI dated JUNE 2009:
To: Freedom of Information staff, EDDC.


I have been asked to review consultants reports and other material relating to sea defences off Sidmouth. As a start I wish to have a list of what reports have ever been commissioned by EDDC with dates costs and whether the reports are in the public domain. My understanding is that some have been withheld. I have been asked to initiate a challenge to this under FoI. Please have the officer most concerned with the sea defences schemes (rock islands off Sidmouth etc) contact me. Also provide the list of reports as detailed above. If this is not done a complaint will be made under FoI.


From: KSymington@eastdevon.gov.uk
To: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 2009
Subject: Request for information

Further to my acknowledgement of your request for information, I have been informed that, to search through archived files of all reports ever commissioned in relation to sea defences in Sidmouth, would far exceed the appropriate time and cost limits as set out under s12 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. There is no "list" of such reports, as you have suggested, and to find them all would involve searching through a vast number of archived files, dating back many years.

It would therefore be appreciated if you are able to refine your request by, for instance, stating a specific time-scale or by specifying what information, in particular, you wish to gain from your request and which aspects of the sea defence work you are most interested in. Again, a timescale would be helpful.

This will enable us to focus our search for information and, hopefully, avoid us having to charge a fee.

Freedom of Information Officer
East Devon District Council
01395 516551


Sent: 19 June 2009
To: Kate Symington
Subject: RE: Request for information

Thank you for your prompt reply.


My initial request related to reports commissioned from outside consultants. Maybe I didn't make this sufficiently clear for you. You should easily be able to produce a list of these - "with dates costs and whether the reports are in the public domain".

I asked also for "the officer most concerned with the sea defences schemes (rock islands off Sidmouth etc) (to) contact me". Who is this person/persons please?

I assume you do not let large engineering feasibility and design contracts without someone competent being in charge in order to help ensure value for money? I have experience of public sector contract management in fields of science and engineering - but perhaps EDDC does things differently?

For the moment, kindly produce the name(s) of the officers, their contact details and the titles and costs and other summary details of externally produced reports commissioned into the design and construction of the 'rock islands' off Sidmouth. This probably goes back only ten or fifteen years and with three or four major contracts being relevant? Also state which of the contract reports may be freely inspected at EDDC or otherwise in the public domain and/or copies loaned to me.

If EDDC has competent systems in place for contract management and recording this should take you no more than a few minutes?

You ask "what information, in particular, you wish to gain from your request". It is not necessarily the case under FoI that this needs to be known in advance. For example, few people might have expressed a prior interest in either duck houses or moats, however trivial the expenditure compared with sea defences.

However, in this case, the interest is quite clearly the competence with which sea defences off Sidmouth has been managed to date. There was apparently academic advice given that constructing the 'islands' would lead to detrimental effects (erosion/displacement of the beach) to the east of Sidmouth. Also I have been told that one of the 'islands' or other structure to the east of the Esplanade that was in the original plan was never built (to save money?) and this may have contributed to the problems now being experienced to the east of the Sid. In particular I am interested in any reports of wave tank tests / computer simulations undertaken to predict the effects of the defences that were constructed.

It is clearly in the public interest that the reasons for the current problems are as well understood as is possible before further expenditure is planned or work undertaken, especially if there were any risk of further 'unwelcome consequences' if adequate modelling of side effects is not commissioned as a part of any overall design brief.

This much, surely, should be obvious? If EDDC has a different view perhaps you could confirm it to me, ensuring that what you say is fully in accord with EDDC policies of contract management, obtaining value for money, and (of course) FoI.

Many people may become more interested in these matters in the coming years - it may prove more efficient for you to provide me with information as requested at the outset. There is obviously the risk of adverse publicity in respect of any attempt to withhold information or to attempt to charge unreasonably for its production.

It might be helpful if initially I were to come and visit you?

S Wozniak
19 June 2009


Mr Wozniak,

Apologies for not responding to your email sooner. I have asked one our Senior Engineers to contact you to discuss your request and how best we can meet your needs. I will chase this up today and make sure he gets in touch with you as soon as possible.

Regards

Kate Symington
6 July 2009

Information and Complaints Officer
East Devon District Council
01395 517417


From: KSteel@eastdevon.gov.uk
To: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com
Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2009
Subject: Request for information

Dear Mr Wozniak

I have been tasked with gathering together the information you require

Your first request is that you wish to have a list of what reports have ever been commissioned by EDDC with dates costs and whether the reports are in the public domain.

I will endeavour to collect this information for you by the beginning of next week 20 July.

When would be a convenient time for your to drop in to these offices and view this information?

If you wish, please do not hesitate to call me to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely

Keith Steel


From: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com
To: ksteel@eastdevon.gov.uk
Subject: RE: Request for information
Date: Wed, 15 Jul 2009

Thank you.

I am very busy in the run up to folk week - I would have thought this initial information - merely a list - could be collated, typed and sent in written or email form? When it comes to viewing various reports, I agree this might best be done at your offices to avoid unnecessary printing/duplication.


From: Keith Steel (KSteel@eastdevon.gov.uk)
Sent: 24 July 2009
Cc: Kate Symington (KSymington@eastdevon.gov.uk)

Dear Mr Wozniak

Attached is the list of consultants reports for Sidmouth beach. They are all in the public domain except for the Pennington Point Cliff Erosion report which is in draft form at the moment but will be released in a couple of months.

I apologise for being unable to supply costs for these reports but the figures are included in the overall scheme costs.

I hope this is a start but please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further information.

Yours sincerely

Keith Steel
Senior Engineer (Technical)


Sent: 07 September 2009
To: ksteel@eastdevon.gov.uk
Cc: ksymington@eastdevon.gov.uk

Thank you for this list - I do not appreciate the costs not being included - and I do not understand your statement: but the figures are included in the overall scheme costs - the costs of all the reports, that is the cost of the contracts to produce the reports, are hardly in the overall scheme costs?

What I thought I was clearly requesting was the costs to date, itemised for each report, of how much has been spent by EDDC sometimes in co-operation with other bodies, on the various reports that have been produced - the costs paid to the various contractors from EDDC funds to produce these many and varied reports.

Can you assist with this?

Apologies for reply - too many folk festivals in August - and too much to write up. www.seered.co.uk/folk123.htm etc.

S Wozniak.


Sent: 25 September 2009
To: ksymington@eastdevon.gov.uk
Cc: ksteel@eastdevon.gov.uk

Ms Symington + Mr Steel:

I refer to earlier emails and in particular to that of 19 JUNE 2009 when I asked for information including:

"the titles and costs and other summary details of externally produced reports"

I am here requesting simple cost data for a number of reports (those itemised by Mr Steel in his email of 24 July to me) - that is, the total costs to the public purse of producing all the reports to date, these costs to be totals including and contract extensions etc. I asked initially quite clearly for the costs of the reports not the costs of works envisaged by the reports and recommendations therein for further work etc.

Mr Steel stated in his email: I apologise for being unable to supply costs for these reports but the figures are included in the overall scheme costs. This does not address my question.

This information is clearly in the public interest (we paid for the reports) and is surely very easy to produce - simply click on the cost summaries in your management system records, which I assume are recorded in a competent manner. I would have thought it would have taken about 5 minutes?

Please let me know the current position and if I need to complain formally to the Information Commissioner.

It has already taken over 3 months to extract simple information from EDDC - other organisations have responded helpfully within a couple of weeks and this will be reported. I accept here was some delay in my responding to Mr Steel's email of 24 July.

Is this all to your usual standard of performance?

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

I cannot trace a response to my email of 7 Sept sent to Mr Steel.

S Wozniak


In the period September 2009 to January 2010 I telephoned East Devon District Council about 20 times asking when information would be produced.

Mr Steel was always apologetic and conceded several times that he thought that it should have been easy enough for EDDC's finance section to produce a few cost figures for major past expenditure. The matter was passed to Mr Darbourne when I became more vexatious.


From: Bob Darbourne
Sent: 21 January 2010
To: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com
Cc: Keith Steel
Subject: Historic Capital Budget Information

I am sorry that I did not reply to your enquiry yesterday as Keith Steel had promised.

However, I have been examining the reasons for the delay in dealing with your original request and trying to ascertain when you may expect a response.

I would like to advise you that you may expect a formal response to your original request within the next few days.

Regards. Bob

Bob Darbourne
Communications and Improvement Manager
East Devon District Council
tel: 01395 517418
Mobile: 077 3456 8857
email: bdarbourne@eastdevon.gov.uk
web: www.eastdevon.gov.uk


From: BDarbourne@eastdevon.gov.uk
To: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 2010
Subject: RE: Historic Capital Budget Information

Dear Dr Wozniak,

Further to my email of 21 January below, I regret to advise you that dealing with your request is taking rather longer than I had anticipated but I expect to be able to provide a formal response to you by the end of the week.

Regards. Bob

Bob Darbourne


RE: Historic Capital Budget Information?
To: bdarbourne@eastdevon.gov.uk

Thank you.

I am not the only person who continues to be perplexed as to why EDDC has taken over six months to produce a few figures that in any competently run organisation would have been available inside a day. Various EDDC staff have been prompted almost 30 times about this, via various emails and phone calls.

I am here assuming that there are proper systems in place to record and account for monies spent on external contracts? I ran scientific research contacts for the UK government decades ago (long before computerised accounting became universal). There would have been no difficulty in extracting total spend summaries from dozens of dusty files within a few hours.

I look forward to receiving your proper response.

S Wozniak.


From: Bob Darbourne
Sent: 09 February 2010
To: stephen wozniak

Subject: RE: Historic Capital Budget Information

Dear Dr Wozniak,

Apologies once again for the further delay.

Things are not as easy as you may think in extracting the information that you have requested. If I am not able to provide you with it by the end of the week, I will provide you with an update then.

Regards. Bob

Bob Darbourne
Communications and Improvement Manager
East Devon District Council


RE: Historic Capital Budget Information

From: Bob Darbourne
Sent: 12 February 2010
To: stevewozniak42@hotmail.com

Dear Dr Wozniak,

I now have some of the information that you have requested and I just want to double check that I cannot locate any more and I will send you a formal response no later than next Wednesday.

Regards. Bob

Bob Darbourne
Communications and Improvement Manager


From: stephen wozniak
Sent: 13 February 2010
To: bdarbourne@eastdevon.gov.uk


Some months ago your colleague Keith Steel provided me with a list of reports. For some reason they were not in chronological order so I have made this adjustment - I hope correctly. They are now listed on the Internet here: http://www.seered.co.uk/cliff_report_list.htm

I am hoping your data will enable me to fill in the blank cells. If you provide costs at the time, I can easily enough correct for inflation. There would appear to be several periods during which there was no activity, perhaps you could forward this email to Keith Steel and ask him to confirm that the list is complete. In particular 'Report no X' of a series seems to start with number 5 in June 2003.

There has been increased interest recently in all of these topics - the EA propose spending over 700 million - 10,000 or more per house 'defended' against floods?

I recall EDDC budgeted 4000 recently (per house) for a few homes in the Ottery area - rather more than I have spent to protect my own home, but maybe less than the 'cost per home defended' for cliff protection at Sidmouth? The cases are not directly comparable of course.

I look forward to hearing from you.

S Wozniak


From: stephen wozniak
Sent: 24 February 2010 10:02
To: Bob Darbourne
Subject: RE: Historic Capital Budget Information

Mr Darbourne,

Could you tell me please which 'next Wednesday' you had in mind? As of today, Wednesday 24 February, I do not appear as yet to have heard from you again.

Please forward to me also relevant email addresses and direct line phone numbers for the office of your Chief Executive.


From: Bob Darbourne
Sent: 24 February 2010
To: stephen wozniak

Dear Dr Wozniak,

Please accept my sincere apologies for a further week’s delay and for not keeping you up-to-date with progress during that time as I have tried to do recently.

I was waiting for one last piece of information but I think it would be best if I send you the information that I possess and that last piece of information can follow when it is available. I will do this by no later than tomorrow lunchtime.

Regards. Bob

Bob Darbourne


From: Bob Darbourne
Sent: 25 February 2010
To: stephen wozniak

Dear Dr Wozniak,

The first thing I would like to do is to extend to you my outright apologies for the very lengthy delay in responding to your FOI request.

I can assure you that retrieval and extraction of the information that you requested was not as straightforward as you indicated in your email of 28 January. Furthermore, misunderstandings between the officers involved in retrieving and extracting the information led to false starts and wasted time.

The time involved in retrieving and extracting the information to date has exceeded the appropriate cost limit for dealing with FOI requests but I accept that some of that time has been our fault and so I have allowed the search for the information that you have requested to continue.

For efficiency purposes we destroy as much information as possible that we are not obliged statutorily to keep. Therefore, we only hold information back to 2002/03 and I am afraid that I cannot provide you with any of the information that you requested prior to then.

What we have to keep historically is stored away from our main work areas and requires time and effort to locate. We changed our financial system in 2004 and I am able to provide you with the cost details of the three payments made after the financial systems changeover that you requested:

August 2005: 6,765.23
November 2005: 4,454.10
October 2007: 8,000.00

Retrieving and extracting the information requested between 2002 and 2004 has proved much more difficult and is the cause of recent delays. A search for this information is ongoing and I will forward it to you as soon as possible.

Regards. Bob
Bob Darbourne
Communications and Improvement Manager


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