Trago Mills boss vows to fight on in legal wrangle with Teignbridge Council
RETAIL giant Trago Mills has vowed to fight on after losing the latest stage in a long-standing legal wrangle with Teignbridge Council.
Trago Mills boss Bruce Robertson said he owes it to 'the district and himself' to pursue the authority over historic planning complaints.
Mr Robertson's comments came after an Information Rights Tribunal dismissed his appeal seeking the release of sensitive information surrounding the departure of one of the authority's former senior planning officials.
The tribunal's decision, issued on August 22, was unanimous.
The council said it was 'gratifying but not surprising' that the Tribunal had found no wrongdoing.
The dispute dates back to 2009 when Mr Robertson complained to the council alleging the officer — referred to as X in the tribunal decision papers — had 'displayed prejudice and a distinct bias against Trago' when dealing with the shopping complex's planning applications to upgrade its filling station and install more of its iconic towers.
Tribunal papers state: "Mr Robertson told us the relationship between his company and the council made him frustrated and sometimes irritable."
Teignbridge District Council commissioned an independent investigation into his claims, which later found there was 'insufficient evidence' to substantiate his allegations.
The tribunal papers say in early 2010, the planning officer was among six senior managers who opted for voluntary early retirement or voluntary redundancy when the authority underwent a cost-cutting drive.
Mr Robertson became 'suspicious', the tribunal heard, and thought the manner of X's departure was 'not as the council would have it'.
He requested information under the Freedom of Information Act relating to the terms of the remuneration X would have received in connection with the termination of his employment.
The council said the officer's departure was the subject of a 'compromise agreement', the terms of which prohibited disclosure.
Mr Robertson appealed to the Information Commissioner last September.
A decision notice, issued in January, found in favour of the council.
Trago Mills appealed that decision. A first-tier tribunal was heard in Bristol before Judge Chris Ryan and panel members Jean Nelson and John Randall on July 25.
Their decision exonerates the council and the officer of any blame or wrongdoing.
It states: "The difficulty Trago Mills faces is that the material in the closed bundle makes it very clear, as the council has stated in the evidence it presented in this appeal, that X's departure and the terms of his severance package were not influenced in any way by conduct or performance issues.
"The contemporaneous documentation which we have considered confirms this is so.
"We do not find that the council's duty to be transparent and accountable about the expenditure of public money outweighs the requirement to respect the former employee's reasonable expectation of privacy", they said.
"We conclude that disclosure would have breached data protection principles.
"In the light of our findings, we have concluded that the appeal should be dismissed. Our decision is unanimous."
A Teignbridge District Council spokesman said: "We have been open and honest in dealing with this complaint, as we are with any issue. Therefore it is gratifying, but not surprising, that the Tribunal found there was no cover up and that we have been beyond reproach in the way we treated this request for information.
"An independent firm of solicitors and the Information Commissioner had already backed our approach, and we hope it is reassuring to the public that yet another independent organisation which protects the public interest has supported our stance."
Speaking yesterday, Mr Robertson said: "I owe it to the district and not just myself to get to the bottom of it.
"If there is anything positive in all of this it is that the committee supported all of those applications in question upon their individual merits, and in so doing upholding the integrity of a reasoned and objective membership."