A few weeks ago we reported an important development in the ongoing saga of whether information on the whereabouts of empty homes should be made public. The information commissioner ruled that Bexley Council should release the information they had denied to a developer. Bexley ’s reasoning was that releasing the information may lead to an increase in crime. At least one council The Royal Borough of Kennsington and Chelsea have changed their policy as a result of the information commissioner’s decision and are now providing lists of empty homes on request. Others it seems have simply found new reasons not to give out the information. The most extraordinary is this one reported in Inside Housing. Camden Council’s standard line is currently this:
“If this information was released into the public domain, we feel that the ability of the Council to negotiate favourable prices with property owners would be affected. The Council would have to compete with property developers whose primary motivation is to make profit.
The public interest arguments for releasing this information are as follows
To assist in work to redevelop vacant and uncared for properties, which would improve the quality of the surrounding area
The public interest arguments for withholding the information are as follows:
It is a key national target to increase the number of affordable homes available; releasing the information will affect the Council’s ability to do this.
The cost to the Council in buying properties would increase, we do not feel that it is in the public interest to spend more public funds than necessary.
On balance we feel the public interest is better served by withholding this information.”
You have to commend them for their honesty, but this is incredible. The local authority is suggesting that it wants to buy the empty properties itself, and is using the Freedom of Information act to try and achieve commercial advantage by excluding the competition. There are currently 3,576 empty homes in Camden, surely enough for everybody.