Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 12/8/22 – #FOIFriday

Summer – sunshine, ice cream, picnics with friends, a trip to the beach, a dip in the pool.

Or possibly. Summer – heatwave, drought, noisy neighbours, barbecues starting fires, closed down pools, and seagulls nicking your chips.

This week Freedom of Information requests are exposing the less fun side of summer.

Unwatered trees

A Freedom of Information Request to The City of Edinburgh Council disclosed the council has planted trees at a cost of almost £50,000 which could be left to die as there is no money to pay for someone to water them. The council confirmed five years ago in 2017 that 14 Corten Steel tree planters were purchased for installation on Leith Walk at a cost to the local authority of £18,532 plus VAT.

The local authority then bought trees at a cost of £8,119.82 plus VAT, according to the Edinburgh Reporter. The council also allocated £19,750 plus VAT for a five year maintenance plan which includes soil and watering during the five year period The contract to water and maintain the trees may have run out, but the trees still need cared for. 

Instead locals have taken up keeping the trees watered in the recent hot weather.

Summer socialising

There were 193 such noise complaints in Herefordshire in July – more than six a day, according to a freedom of information request. That is the highest figure since the same month in 2018, when there were 268 such complaints, according to the Hereford Times.

There have been between 800 and 900 complaints across the county in each of the past five years, but in each year almost half were made in June, July and August. Herefordshire Council says this summer’s spike in noise complaints is down to loud music and parties, as well as barking dogs and loud factory equipment.

BBQ fires

Scots have been warned to take care when using barbecues after new figures revealed they were responsible for dozens of emergency calls to the fire brigade. Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur urged the public to be cautious when lighting or disposing of the devices with temperatures in Scotland set to soar today.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has been called out to 161 fires involving barbecues since 2017/18, according to a freedom of information request by the party, the Daily Record reports. And the number of fires caused by barbecues is on the rise, with more than half of the incidents occurring since 2020, figures show.

Closing pools

Swimmers across the UK have lost access to more than 60 public pools in the last three years, BBC News has found. Freedom of Information requests to UK councils revealed 65 pools had closed, either temporarily or permanently, in the three years to March 2022.

The BBC found about one in six local authorities had lost at least one pool on a permanent or temporary basis, as of March 2022. Ukactive, which represents gyms and leisure centres, said a lack of staff, rising energy costs and chemical shortages had created a “perfect storm” for centres.

Gull attacks

Gull complaints are soaring, with numbers doubling in five years after a change in the rules meant councils were no longer allowed to remove nests and eggs, the Telegraph has revealed. Data shows that complaints for gulls across 84 English councils doubled from 544 in 2016 to 956 in 2020 and 1,075 in 2021 – a 98 per cent rise.

Most incidents were mess and noise complaints, but one in four councils highlighted complaints involving physical attacks by gulls, on people or pets.

Out of juice

This seems like a more modern take on police put diesel in the petrol patrol cars – police forget to charge the electric vehicles.

Electric police cars have only run out of power twice while on duty in Gloucestershire over the last three years, a freedom of information request by GloucestershireLive has revealed.

This was a follow-up to comments by Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Chris Nelson raising concerns about the operational capability of electric vehicles. He said at the time that he heard of “lots of stories” of on duty police officers who drive electric vehicles who struggle to find recharging facilities in the county. He also said the vehicles “run out of puff” and need to get another police car.

The FOI revealed that neither were in an emergency situation as the force says the electric vehicles are not authorised to respond to emergency incidents. The vehicles are used by officers, staff and volunteers to move within and outside the force area to complete enquiries or travel to other locations.

Burglaries undetected

The Metropolitan Police dropped almost 54,000 burglaries cases over the past three years on the same day they were reported, the Evening Standard has revealed.

Between 2019 and 2021, just over 360,000 crime calls were “screened out” by the force in the 24 hours after they were made, meaning that after basic enquiries detectives decided not to launch a full investigation. These also included more than 38,000 violent offences, 11,000 reports of robbery, 118,000 theft allegations, more than 93,000 vehicle offences and 364 sexual offences, including 10 reports of rape.

Last year 131,000 crime reports were dropped without an investigation,

Fuel thefts

Fuel thefts have sky-rocketed in Kent in the last year, with petrol stations losing up to £8,000 a year as prices continue to rise. Between January and mid-July, there were 1,134 called in – an average of six a day, KentOnline reports.

The FOI revealed there had been a year-on-year decline in fuel thefts in the county since 2017. However, this year the number of reports have risen by an average of 75% when comparing monthly figures with 2021. Last year, the force recorded 1,543 reports, or four a day.

Cladding on schools

New figures obtained through a freedom of information request show at least 109 public buildings, including hospitals and 88 schools have potentially combustible materials either the same or similar to the Grenfell Tower, STV reports. The FOI by the Scottish Conservatives showed 71 primary schools and 17 secondary schools across Scotland are affected.

The Fire Brigades Union said: “The information coming out of this freedom of information request is horrifying. The work to identify and resolve building safety issues has been disgracefully slow. It simply isn’t good enough.”

Busking banned

Buskers in Birmingham will be fined up to £1,000 for performing at some of the city centre’s most-prized pitches under a controversial new noise ban which could leave some in financial turmoil, BirminghamLive reports. The Public Space Protection Order ( PSPO ) will come into effect on Monday, August 15 and bans ‘excessive noise’ in certain areas of the city.

In March, an Freedom of Information request revealed a ‘one-man complaints machine’ had submitted an astonishing 77 of the 80 complaints received about busking in the Temple Street area. Campaigners fighting to save live music in the city claimed it was evidence the council had ‘overreacted’ to the complaints of one individual who was ‘known to buskers’.

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