Campaign against proposed relief road for Sudbury hails legal victory in Freedom of Information case
The campaign fighting against a proposed relief road for Sudbury has hailed an important legal victory, after a tribunal ruled in its favour in an ongoing Freedom of Information (FoI) dispute.
Julian Manyon, member of the Save Our Meadows campaign, appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, arguing Suffolk County Council had failed to fully comply with his FoI request for information relating to the bypass proposal, which he believes will show such a scheme would be ineffective and detrimental.
The Free Press has seen a number of documents released through this request, which opponents say raise questions about the potential impact of a new relief road, although supporters say judgement should be reserved until a more detailed outline business case is published in the coming months.
Mr Manyon’s appeal claims there is further information within the scope of his request that the county council is withholding.
He also accused the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of unquestioningly accepting the council’s handling of the FoI request – a claim the commissioner has refuted.
Accepting the appeal in part, the presiding judge, Brian Kennedy QC, has now ordered the county council to expand its search for documents and release any additional information before 4pm on November 30.
“This is a big victory,” said Mr Manyon. “The judge has ordered Suffolk County Council to carry out more searches, which we believe will produce more evidence of how pointless and damaging a western bypass would be.
“Overall, we expect that the case will produce further important evidence for the Save Our Meadows campaign, which is supported by increasing numbers of people in and around Sudbury.
“We would like to thank everyone who has supported us through this process, and we appeal to Suffolk County Council to stop wasting public money on solicitors and release all the information it holds.”
In its ruling, the council has been told to release any remaining documents relating to WSP, the consultancy that carried out preliminary research into the benefits and drawbacks of a potential Sudbury bypass.
Last month, the Free Press reported that an environmental assessment by WSP from 2017, released under this FoI request, had stated the negative effects of a relief road would “far outweigh” the positives.
This led to opposition campaigners accusing the council of watering down the report’s findings in its initial business case for the bypass last year.
Mr Manyon said he expects this process will yield evidence that such a road would only have a minor effect on traffic levels and would cause “enormous environmental damage”.
The First Tier Tribunal’s ruling requires Suffolk County Council to search its Microsoft Outlook calendars of key transport officials, between January 1, 2015, to September 28, 2016.
It must also search the email account of David Watson, the council’s former head of transport strategy, and either release relevant information, or explain why doing so would be ‘manifestly unreasonable’.
The tribunal has also directed the council and Mr Manyon to set out what matters, if any, remain in dispute, by 4pm on December 14, 2018, which would pave the way for further legal hearings.
Backers of the proposed bypass argue the scheme would be the only realistic way to tackle the long-standing traffic congestion and pollution issues in Sudbury.
But opponents have disputed this, and suggested improvements to public transport and investment in new cycling and walking routes as potential measures to address the issues.