Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Disappearing Data: how to rewrite history

It's just over a year since the council's Public Rights of Way and Greens (PROWG) committee, under the 'open-minded' chairmanship of Peter Abraham, made its now discredited decision to refuse registration of part of the Ashton Vale site as a Town Green. That ruling was meant to trigger the Bristol City stadium project (plus the mega-Sainsburys at Ashton Gate, all the 'hospitality' infrastructure, and that 'exclusive' new housing estate at the Ald. Moore allotment site).

A year later, we're in the same place as before the committee meeting, except attitudes have hardened still further, and the council's thrown away a small fortune in its efforts to defend the decision it now admits was wrong.

Revisiting the webcast of the original meeting, I was surprised to see that it's just been wiped from the public record. It seems to have gone the way of many (but by no means all) BCC meeting webcasts over a year old. So the act of dodgy decision making is now kept from public gaze. Only the bare Minutes of the meeting are there – and of course they tell next to nothing of the whole story.

[ Still amazed at the sheer brass neck of the Chairman to remain in the chair and claim 'open-mindedness', I've put in an FoI request for a copy of the advice he claims to have received to legitimise his remaining in the chair ]

It's not just webcasts that disappear from the record. For the last year or so, the 'Public Forum' Statements submitted to council meetings have been disappearing into a black hole – or, at best, a 'Minute Book' somewhere in the recesses of the council house. Older statements are still on the net and readable from your laptop; Councillors' statements are there too, up to date. But if you – or an organisation – want to put in a helpful Statement to members discussing a particular issue, it won't be on the record.

Apparently it's a 'data protection' issue... or so it's said.

By way of a local example (and there are far more important ones out there...) this meant that our Statement from Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces (about voluntary registration of Town Greens) to the March Neighbourhood Partnership was unavailable once that meeting had passed – even though it had prompted a request for an officers report at the next meeting, so it was a key part of the information/decision process. So for the following meeting, the Friends have had to put in another 'reminder' Statement, this time specifically asking that it should be included in the on-line record. We've yet to see whether it will be included in (or linked from) the meeting Minutes – but the signs aren't good.

South Glos seems to publish on request. In BaNES it's not even a concern, all statements are still part of the online record.

But here in progressive democratic Bristol, it looks like the rule is rigid, no matter how irrational. And the rule is....BURY IT.

You have to wonder what the real reason is for making the public's statements so inaccessible.


Anonymous said...

If you want to see BCC's attitude to Information, check out this FOI Request -

Looks like BCC's decision to gerrymander the 2nd Ashton Gate/Sainsburys planning decision is going to the Information Commissioner


Stockwood Pete said...

Thanks bert. I had the same kind of difficulty with questions about the Area Green Space Plans; even when the answers came, they were chaotic, I think they were deliberately made hard to interpret.

The fixing of meetings to get the stadium has become a very expensive habit.