Hackney Council come under fire in secrecy row

Paul Charman outside Keltan House, Hackney.

Paul Charman outside Keltan House, Hackney. - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council is at the centre of a secrecy row after it refused to divulge details of how much was made hosting Future Cinema’s Dirty Dancing event when all of its accounts were supposed to be made public.

Upper Clapton resident Paul Charman has been trying to find out for months how much the council pocketed last August when it hired out Hackney Downs so Future Cinema could bring to life the 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze for thousands of fans.

When the council refused to reveal the figures through the Freedom of Information Act, the Information Commissioner recommended he take advantage of the month-long audit period in July when the public is invited to inspect its books through the 1998 Audit Commission Act.

But when Mr Charman rang the number in the public inspection notice, then asked to see the figures in person at Kelton House in Mare Street, he drew a blank.

The council has refused to let him see the figures, citing commercial sensitivity.

Mr Charman said: “That doesn’t make any sense because virtually all of their transactions with any company could be said to be commercially sensitive and that would mean nobody would ever see any of the accounts.

“The idea the information would be used by competitors, or undermine the council’s capacity to get the best revenue from parks, makes no sense at all as far as I can see.

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“It makes no difference what people paid on that occasion, the council can ask whatever it wants, and people can pay it or not.

“They are trying to be secretive, and what’s not clear is what makes this particular item so sensitive.”

Mr Charman’s only recourse now is a potentially bank-breaking judicial review.

He believes the sum taken from Future Cinema was unlawful and should be given back, because he claims common land restrictions were breached during the event.

He said: “While they are entitled to allow entertainment events on 10 per cent of the land, they used about 30 per cent of it – that makes it unlawful.

“Because it’s common land, there’s an ancient right of access to the land, it’s there as an open space for people to use.

“The only way to stop them holding big events on public land is if they can’t make any money from it, otherwise as long as they can keep the money they will just do the same thing next time, as there’s no form of legal redress.

“It’s important the rights aren’t eroded away, it’s the same protection for common land which means it can’t get built on.”

A council spokesman said the council is open and transparent regarding its accounts and added: “In line with the Audit Commission Act 1998 and subsequent case law regarding the release of commercially sensitive data and/or personal information, we cannot release the information requested.”