600 emails on Edinburgh Christmas Market planning fiasco to stay secret

The Christmas market came under fire after it was discovered the event did not have planning permission for its scaffold structure.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 6:49 am

The release of at least 600 private emails between senior council officers on the planning fiasco surrounding the Christmas Market is not in the public interest, according to Edinburgh City Council officials.

Details of what was discussed between the market’s organisers Underbelly, the chief planning officer, and the executive director of place Paul Lawrence will remain secret after the decision.

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Edinburgh's Christmas Market was found not to have been granted planning permission.

Edinburgh’s Christmas came under fire after it was discovered the event did not have planning permission for its scaffold structure, and last month council officers admitted mistakes were made and apologised publicly for the scandal.

Councillor Joanna Mowat branded the latest decision “shocking” and said the council needs to “face up” to accusations of poor decision-making.

'Substantial Prejudice'

The comments come after a request for the emails made by the Evening News, and handled under the legislation covering environmental information which is similar to that governing Freedom of Information, was refused.

Council officers said release of the emails would “prejudice substantially the ability of council officers” to do their jobs, despite admitting a “clear public interest” in releasing the information.

One request was described by the council as “manifestly unreasonable” as part of a refusal to release nearly 600 emails involving Paul Lawrence on the Christmas market.

The council also said emails to the planning, licensing and finance departments would not be released due to the need to allow “free and frank” discussions between officials in private.

Cllr Mowat, who put forward a motion which led to an internal investigation into decisions surrounding the Christmas market, due to be made public in February, said the issue highlighted problems with the way the council operates.

She said: “It is shocking that we have to go to the extent of FOIs and, if the information is going to be forthcoming in the February report, there is no public interest test, so why not just release it?

“[The refusal] will just raise more questions about whether they will refer to all the information they have.

“You don’t deal with governance issues by covering them up, there are too many ways these things come out, you need to face up to them.

“Decision-making is quite difficult to do and there seems to be that view that shutting everyone else out, it is easier, but it is not working.

“In this case you have got legitimate questions and we have essentially got a contractor of the council getting special treatment with questions as to who has messed up.”

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “The location of the Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens is currently subject to a live planning application and, under the regulations, a request for information can be refused if it could prejudice the process. The Chief Executive is preparing a report on Edinburgh’s Christmas 2019/20 which councillors will discuss in February.”