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Row over Kidderminster Library gallery FOI request
A WAR of words has broken out between Kidderminster Library gallery campaigners and Worcestershire County Council over a freedom of information (FOI) request.
Wyre Forest MP Mark Garnier has become involved in the row saying the council – which rejected the application – should have helped the Friends find plans showing the library’s original design.
Kidderminster Gallery Friends are convinced the topfloor arts facility was designed with “special acoustics and environmental controls”, despite the council’s planning committee in December being told it was not. The gallery is due to become offices for council staff while a new arts space will be created.
Campaigners logged an FOI request for the council to dig out the documents but it was refused because the authority said it would take longer than the ‘appropriate limit’ of 18 hours. Officers said it would take between nearly 48 hours and nearly 90 hours of staff time to deal with the task.
Although there is no statutory requirement to do so, the county council could have offered the applicant the opportunity to pay towards finding the information – which the Friends said they would be prepared to do.
Mr Garnier said: “I don’t want to take sides but the council should help those people find the information they need under the [Freedom of Information] Act. I have said I am slightly worried and asked if they will look at it again.”
Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which independently regulates FOI requests, says when a local authority refuses a request in this way it should, where reasonable, help the requester refine the request so it can be dealt with under the 18-hour maximum.
Council officers have apologised to the Friends that that did not happen, saying it would have been “difficult for any negotiation to take place relating to the number and nature of the documents requested” because of how the papers are stored.
Council leader, Conservative councillor Adrian Hardman told The Shuttle the authority would “reassess the possibility of giving people the option of paying for an FOI that would take more than 18 hours”.
Friends secretary Stephen Brown said: “This has been going on for more than 12 months and with all the controversy surrounding it you would have thought they would make some effort to find the original plans.”
Builders have already moved into the library to prepare its first floor for the new gallery and are due to start work on the top floor, including removing the current gallery, next Monday.