Residents urged to help save Askham Bog

On Saturday 15th September, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) will be holding an open event for local residents to help save York’s oldest nature reserve; Askham Bog.

Over the summer, developers announced plans to build 500 new homes on land adjacent to the Bog off Moor Lane in Woodthorpe, despite the fact that the land is earmarked as Green Belt in the emerging Local Plan. They organised a leaflet drop in the local area to promote their proposal, which has generated anger from residents concerned about the impact.

Cllr Stephen Fenton at Askham Bog with Alastair Fitter and Louise Wilkinson from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Sir David Attenborough, who visited Askham Bog in June 2016, described the nature reserve as a ‘cathedral of nature conservation’ and as important to the people of York as the Minster.

The YWT is encouraging residents to visit Askham Bog on Saturday from 10am to 3pm, where they can learn more about the nature reserve and how they can help protect it.

Cllr Stephen Fenton, Liberal Democrat Ward Councillor for Dringhouses and Woodthorpe, commented:

“As ward councillors, I and my colleagues have been absolutely clear that we do not support this proposed development because of its proximity to Askham Bog, and I know many local residents feel the same. We have had to fight off previous proposals to develop this green belt site, and we will do the same again.”

“I want to thank YWT for organising Saturday’s event, and I would encourage residents to attend and get involved by learning what they can do to help save Askham Bog.”

“I hope that when they consider the emerging Local Plan, the planning inspectors take into account the strength of feeling about this special site.”

More information on YWT’s event can be found here:

York Council wrong to turn down information request

Information Commissioner rules rates defaulter information must be made public

In a landmark ruling the Information Commissioner has said that the York Council acted improperly earlier in the year when it turned down a Freedom of Information request for a list of Business Rate debtors in the City.

The Council had said that it could not do so during the “purdah” period which precedes a Council election. It claimed that release of the information could “affect public support for a particular party”. In February 2018 – when the original request was lodged – a by election was taking place in the Holgate ward (although this would have been over before any information was likely to be published).

The withheld information in this case related to the value of individual unpaid business rate accounts and the associated recovery action planned or undertaken including any amounts of money that had been written off.

The Commissioner has now ordered the York Council to release the information within 35 days.

The information is unlikely to include any shocks. Debtor information was routinely reported publicly to a Council committee until recently. In some cases, it prompted inquiries which led to the recovery of the debt. A list of Business rate overpayments was also published prompting some businesses to claim a refund

Quite why this information was likely to influence a by election taking place in the Holgate Ward may remain a mystery. (Three of the four candidates there – at least – worked in the public sector and are highly unlikely to have had outstanding business rate debts).

This is, however, the second time that the Council has refused to divulge information quoting the Purdah restrictions. In 2017 they declined to say how many enquiries each individual Councillor on the authority had recorded during the previous year. The information was eventually supplied after the election campaigns of that year had concluded.

The Commissioners ruling therefore sets a precedent for how information requests must be treated by local Councils in the future.

FOI requests can only reveal facts. It will be for residents to judge whether those facts influence their actions.

If this includes their voting intentions, then so be it.

The full decision notice is being published on the ICO website