Request for project plan on Bristol’s clean air zone is refused

A Freedom of Information request to see a project plan relating to Bristol’s clean air zone has been refused. The Bristol City Council response, which also outlines the request, is set out below with a link to the full documentation.

You sent us a Freedom of Information request on 24/01/2019. Your request number is CRN00209794. Our reply to your request is:

Thank you for your information request received on 24 January. 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: The Environment Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, wrote to the mayor Marvin Rees on 16 January about the council’s failure to produce an Outline Business Case about their air quality plans. She writes: “I am alarmed to hear that Bristol City Council have stated they will not provide your final plan, in the form of an Outline Business Case, until summer 2019, and would not share documents with JAQU before this date. This means you have unlawfully failed to comply with the Direction, and I am absolutely astonished at your delay in improving air quality for the people of Bristol as quickly as possible.” Dr Coffey writes:  “Drawing on the project plan provided by your officials I require that a final plan, in the form of an Outline Business Case, is provided by 21st February 2019.” I would like a copy of the ‘project plan’ that Dr Coffey says was provided by council officials, please.

I can confirm that Bristol City Council holds the information requested, however we are not disclosing it 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 in Bristol is still being developed. The project plan forms part of this policy development.
Furthermore, the project plan is a fluid document and subject to revision as the policy is developed. We therefore consider that the arm of Regulation 12(4)(d) for unfinished documents also applies.
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.

This response should answer your request in full.