Stone Lord: The Legend Of King Arthur, The Era Of Stonehenge by J P Reedman
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General Forum >> Save Penwith Moors and their MP being ignored by Natural England, backed up by Minister
||Save Penwith Moors and their MP being ignored by Natural England, backed up by Minister
from Surrey, UK
| Posted 13-05-2011 at 14:27  |
This is getting a bit long for our Tregeseal East page, further information on the relevance is there:
PRESS RELEASE from SAVE PENWITH MOORS
Ian McNeil Cooke (Co-ordinator)
Cornwall TR20 8NR
Web Site: http://www.savepenwithmoors.com
LIB-DEM MP ‘GAGGED’ BY NATURAL ENGLAND
AN ACTION SUPPORTED BY TORY MINISTER
MP NOT TO BE USED AS A “CONDUIT”TO OBTAIN INFORMATION
APPEAL TO INFORMATION COMMISSIONER
MINISTER CONTRADICTS COMMISSIONER
LETTER OF COMPLAINT SENT TO THE PRIME MINISTER
LOCAL MP GAGGED BY NATURAL ENGLAND
On 23rd April 2011 I received a remarkable and disturbing letter from the Secretary of State at Defra, the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP,i in which, to paraphrase her remarks, it was confirmed that unelected officials of a Government quango – Natural England – had the right, under certain conditions, to refuse to answer correspondence from a local Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament acting on behalf of his constituents – and therefore a member of the Government itself.
The action group Save Penwith Moors, of which I am the co-ordinator, has been in dispute with Natural England for almost three years about various aspects of the environmental scheme known as the HEATH Project [an acronym for Heathland – Environment – Agriculture – Tourism – Heritage] that ended in March 2009 by which time all publicly funded stock proofing infrastructure should have been completed across West Cornwall – which it still is not.
The HEATH project was a 4 year multi-million-euro trans-national conservation scheme designed to ‘manage’ heathland, primarily through cash incentives favouring towards grazing that predetermined the choices made, with partners in the UK, France and Holland, in which English Nature and then, after October 2006, Natural England, was the Lead Partner. The effects on the ground in West Cornwall has been the installation of miles of new barbed wire fencing, dozens of gates and cattle grids on hitherto unobstructed public open access land. Our campaign has limited itself to opposing this scheme to four relatively small areas of moorland containing some important prehistoric sites that are, arguably, the most frequently used local open ‘wilderness’ areas for recreational purposes (walking and horse riding) by both locals and tourists on whom the local economy largely depends – a prime objection being the virtual total lack of any public consultation before works began, despite objections by some local councils.
It has been a daunting and time-consuming task to challenge such a powerful and, generally speaking, hitherto well respected and knowledgeable organisation and, in the course of our campaign, we have had a ‘steep learning curve’ that required requests for items of information concerning the planning and application of the Project in order that we might be able to accurately present our case that has now been progressed to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the second time for their assessment.
However, in March 2010, Natural England informed usii that they would no longer be responding to further requests “on the same issues” as it considered them to be “manifestly unreasonable”. [NOTE: Does the phrase “on the same issues” refer to any information request about the HEATH Project as a whole or does it merely refer to a specific aspect of that Project i.e. finance, stock proofing, etc? We have never been told this.]
An appeal was lodged with the Natural England Area Manager who upheld their decision of “manifestly unreasonable” on 7th April 2010.iii
We then appealed against this decision to the Information Commissioner’s Office that was acknowledged on 30th April 2010 but not upheld in his report dated 10th January 2011. However he made one very important point in the final paragraph : “The Commissioner wishes to note that, while it may be appropriate to take into account previous conduct (as explained in this notice), the public authority must still treat every new request on its own merits. When doing so it is essential that it does not treat the requester (or the Group), rather than the request, as being vexatious or manifestly unreasonable.”iv
OUR MP MUST NOT BE USED AS A “CONDUIT”TO OBTAIN INFORMATION
On 21st May 2010 the Chief Executive of Natural England, Dr Helen Phillips, had written to our Member of Parliament, Andrew George MP, v confirming that “Natural England would not be responding to any further requests for information from members of the SPM [Save Penwith Moors] group on matters relating to this and similar issues as we consider them to be manifestly unreasonable …. we hope that in these circumstances SPM do not seek to use yourself as a conduit to try to obtain information”.
This extraordinary final sentence by an unelected agency official would effectively deny a constituent the right to request help from his/her elected Parliamentary representative – a right that we consider fundamental in a parliamentary democracy. [NOTE: SPM does not have a membership but was formed in July 2008 by six concerned local residents although it does have a much larger residue of supporters and sympathisers: Natural England seems to consider anyone who expresses opposition as coming under the umbrella of SPM and can therefore be dismissed out of hand.]
SECRETARY OF STATE CONTRADICTS INFORMATION COMMISSIONER
On 23rd April 2011 I received a letter from the Secretary of State at Defra, the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP,vi in which she elaborated on this issue: “When a request for information has been declared to be manifestly unreasonable the Public Authority [in this case Natural England – I McN C] may also refuse to respond to requests for information or any other correspondence from anyone else whom that Public Authority believes to be attempting to continue the correspondence on the original requestor’s behalf. I understand that this was the rationale for Helen Phillips’ response to Andrew George MP on 21 May 2010.”
The Secretary of State has now widened the ‘disenfranchised’ from alleged members of SPM to anyone who Natural England “believes” – now that is an all-embracing term that smacks of McCarthyism – to be working on SPM’s behalf including our Member of Parliament, and she has also expanded requests from information to “any other correspondence”.
These statements by the Secretary of State directly contradict that of the Information Commissioner in that requests for information should consider the request NOT the requester as to whether it is “manifestly unreasonable”.
Save Penwith Moors consider the remarks by the Natural England Chief Executive, elaborated upon by the Secretary of State, to be a gross violation of the public’s right to Freedom of Information and, possibly, rights under the UNECE Aarhus Convention to be consulted and informed of environmental decisions that affect local communities, as well as a denial of the Coalition Government’s attempt to create open and transparent Government Departments.
It is our intention, should concerns and complaints not be openly and honestly addressed, to progress these complaints to the Aarhus Compliance Committee in Europe.
A letter of complaint regarding this issue has been sent to the Prime Minister requesting that a thorough investigation is launched by his office into the morality – if not indeed the legality – of the statements made by Dr Phillips and Mrs Spelman in line with the Coalition Government’s stated aim of being “inspired by the values of freedom, fairness and responsibility”. Copies have been sent to the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and local Member of Parliament.
Original documents can be supplied if required.
Further information on our campaign can be found on our web site at
Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive Natural England,
1 East Parade, Sheffield, S1 2ET
firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 0300-060-3990
Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State DEFRA,
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR
SPELMANC@parliament.uk Tel (defra): 08459-335577
Andrew George MP (St Ives Constituency)
‘Trewella’, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance TR18 4NG
Matthew Carter, Natural England Area Manager Cornwall, Devon & Isles of Scilly Team,
Pydar House, Pydar Street, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 1XU email@example.com Tel: 0300-060-1969
Peter Bowden, Natural England
Pydar House, Pydar Street, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 1XU Peter.C.Bowden@naturalengland.org.uk
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