Information withheld in relation to Bristol’s air quality plan

A recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request relating to the modelling for Bristol’s clean air plan has only been partially successful. Key aspects of the modelling, which relate to the Mayor’s decision to delay the Outline Business Case , are being withheld. The FOI request and response are reproduced below:

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Thank you for your information request received on 26th February.

I have processed your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (‘EIR’) as the information requested is environmental according to the definition in regulation 2 of the EIR. Section 39 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the FOI Act’) exempts environmental information from the FOI Act, but requires us to consider it under the EIR.

In your email you requested the following information:

“Please provide copies of:

1) The most recent draft of the Outline Business Case (OBC) for actions to improve Bristol’s air quality.

2) Any modelling and reports that have been or will be used to inform the air quality OBC. Including a) any Distributional and Equalities Assessments, Economic Cases, and Equalities Impact Assessments.

3) Any modelling of the relative impact of private cars, buses, taxis and HGVs on air quality.

4) Any reports on Bristol air quality shared with the Joint Air Quality Unit.

I can confirm that Bristol City Council holds the information requested. Documents and data reports that set out our methodology and assisted with our baselines and validation for the technical work for the Outline Business Case are available on our Clean Air for Bristol website here.

The other information requested relating to the OBC and specifically the Economic Case is being withheld on the following grounds:

Regulation 12(4)(d) – Material in the course of completion, unfinished documents and incomplete data

Regulation 12(4)(d) of the EIRs provides that a public authority may refuse to disclose information “to the extent that the request relates to material which is still in the course of completion, to unfinished documents or to incomplete data”.

The exception in Regulation 12(4)(d) of the EIRs refers to ‘material in the course of completion’ as something distinct from ‘unfinished documents’. Guidance produced by the Information Commissioner’s Office explains that these two terms are not necessarily synonymous: “While a particular document may itself be finished, it may be part of material which is still in the course of completion. An example of this could be where a public authority is formulating and developing policy.”

We consider that Regulation 12(4)(d) of the EIR applies to this request because it relates to information which forms part of material that is still in the course of completion as the policy for delivering compliance with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in Bristol is still being developed. The data requested forms part of our policy development in identifying a Clean Air Plan that will be compliant with legislation.

This exception is subject to a public interest test which means that consideration must be given to whether the public interest favouring disclosure is greater than the public interest in maintaining the exemption. Public interest means what is in the best interests of the wider public not what is of interest to the public. We have weighed up the benefits to the public of releasing the information against the factors for not releasing it. On balance we find the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

[https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/reports_and_analysis_on_bristol?nocache=incoming-1349408#incoming-1349408]