The Information Commissioner has ordered the Department of Environment to release its full report on the impact of fracking on the rural economy.
DEFRA released a heavily redacted version of the report in response to a Freedom of Information request last year. Many of the redacted sections appeared to be about the effect of fracking on property prices.
Members of the government repeatedly refused to release the full report, saying it was a work in progress and a incomplete document.
But following a complaint, the Commissioner has ruled that DEFRA must disclose an unredacted version.
A statement from the Commissioner’s office said DEFRA had “incorrectly withheld the information”. The department has 35 calendar days with which to comply. If it fails to release the full report, the Commissioner could take action for contempt of court.
The statement continued that the Commissioner had decided the information in the document related to research carried out in order to inform and influence government policy on fracking.
“He is satisfied that the subject matter of the report is intrinsically linked to the overall policy on fracking and information on that measure, for example the extent to any decision to promote fracking may impact the rural economy.”
A Defra spokeswoman said: “The Information Commissioner’s Office informed us of his decision which we will now consider in full.”
Greenpeace UK urged the government to release the full version before next week’s decision on Cuadrilla’s planning applications in Lancashire.
Its energy and climate campaigner Daisy Sands said: “The Government’s stubborn refusal to publish this report in full is totally indefensible. By cherry-picking which evidence is released, ministers are misleading both the public and local councillors as to the real impacts of fracking.
“Lancashire authorities are about to make a decision that will have huge repercussions for the life of their communities. They should have access to all the evidence, not just the sanitised digest produced by the Government. We urge ministers to disclose the whole report before next week’s decision, letting residents and their councillors make up their own minds about fracking.”
Surely LCC are quite within their rights to defer any decision on fracking until the DEFRA report is made available to them and the public. Why should they be expected to make what is likely to be their biggest ever decision without the full information.
The act of withholding this information has to be quite simply – criminal – surely.