FOI request detail

Lambeth Green / Garden Museum

Request ID: FOI-3554-1920
Date published: 18 March 2020

You asked

Please supply correspondence and documents relating to the Lambeth Green proposal put forward by the Garden Museum in relation to the road junction at the south end of Lambeth Bridge.

We answered

Our Ref:         FOI-3553-1920 / FOI-3554-1920 / FOI-3555-1920

Thank you for your requests received on 18 February 2020 asking for information about the Waterloo Roundabout Feasibility Study, the Lambeth Green / Garden Museum proposal, and the Waterloo Station / York Road station entrance.

Your request has been considered in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and our information access policy. I can confirm we hold some of the information you require.

However, FOI-3553-1920 and FOI-3555-1920 are being refused under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, which provides an exemption to the disclosure of information where a request is considered to be ‘vexatious’. In reaching this conclusion we have drawn on guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), both in relation to the specific application of section 14 and in relation to FOI-handling more generally.
On the specific application of section 14(1) we have been steered by the ICO guidance on the use of that exemption that can be found on its website here:

You will note that this guidance includes the following advice to public authorities:

“Section 14(1) may be used in a variety of circumstances where a request, or its impact on a public authority, cannot be justified. Whilst public authorities should think carefully before refusing a request as vexatious they should not regard section 14(1) as something which is only to be applied in the most extreme circumstances”;

“Sometimes a request may be so patently unreasonable or objectionable that it will obviously be vexatious….In cases where the issue is not clear-cut, the key question to ask is whether the request is likely to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress…This will usually be a matter of objectively judging the evidence of the impact on the authority and weighing this against any evidence about the purpose and value of the request”;

“The public authority may take into account the context and history of the request, where this is relevant”;

“The information Commissioner recognises that dealing with unreasonable requests can place a strain on resources and get in the way of delivering mainstream services or answering legitimate requests.”

“Section 14(1) is designed to protect public authorities by allowing them to refuse any request which have the potential to cause a disproportionate or unjustified level of disruption, irritation or distress”.

“…the concepts of ‘proportionality’ and ‘justification’ are central to any consideration of whether a request is vexatious”;

The guidance includes some specific indicators to help public authorities judge whether or not a case should be considered vexatious. This includes the following:

“Burden on the authority: the effort required to meet the request will be so grossly oppressive in terms of the strain on time and resources, that the authority cannot reasonably be expected to comply, no matter how legitimate the subject matter or valid the intentions of the requester”;

“Frequent or overlapping requests: the requester submits frequent correspondence about the same issue or sends in new requests before the public authority has had an opportunity to address their earlier enquiries”.

“Disproportionate effort: the matter being pursued by the requester is relatively trivial and the authority would have to extend a disproportionate amount of resources in order to meet the request.”

Considering each of your requests in isolation it is unlikely that we would find that some of them would meet the criteria of being ‘vexatious’. However, the guidance from the ICO makes it clear that public authorities should take into account the ‘context and history’ in which a request is made, and that this will “…often be a major factor in determining whether the request is vexatious”. This part of the guidance goes on to say that:

“In practice this means taking account of:

- Other requests made by the requester to that public authority (whether complied or refused).
- The number and subject matter of those requests”, and;

“A request which would not normally be regarded as vexatious in isolation may assume that quality once considered in context. An example of this would be where an individual is placing a significant strain on an authority’s resources by submitting a long and frequent series of requests, and the most recent request, although not obviously vexatious in itself, is contributing to that aggregated burden”.

It is this ‘aggregated burden’ that is central to our decision to apply the exemption set out in section 14(1) in response to your requests. Whilst you have only submitted two requests  we believe that the time and resource it would take to process both of these requests meets threshold for applying section 14(1) has been met. The cumulative effect of these requests is that it ultimately provides a sustained burden and disruption to our colleagues across the organisation whose principal function is the running of transport services or the support services required to make that happen. We do wish to clarify that whilst we consider that your requests fall under section 14(1) of the FOI Act, this does not reflect a conclusion that it has been your intention to deliberately place an undue burden on our resources.

The ICO guidance provides the following examples of a request which may fall under section 14(1) if it:

• Imposes a burden by obliging the authority to sift through a substantial volume of information to isolate and extract the relevant details;
• Encompasses information which is only of limited value because of the wide scope of the request;
• Creates a burden by requiring the authority to spend a considerable amount of time considering any exemptions and redactions.

Our view is that all three of these examples apply in this instance.

With regard to your request for a copy of the Waterloo Roundabout Feasibility Study and related correspondence (FOI-3553-1920) we believe that to comply would this request would be a significant task. Given the subject of the request and the negotiations that are still ongoing regarding the site, it is likely that it would be necessary to spend a significant amount of time considering exemptions which might be applicable to the information caught by the request, particularly in relation to any commercial sensitive information contained within the requested documentation. This is likely to include redacting exempt information from emails in which there is very limited public interest but which are caught by your request.

When requests for email correspondence are received the FOI Case Management team may use a search tool called Discovery Accelerator. This allows us to conduct company wide email searches using keywords, dates and email addresses. The more specific a requester can be as to what they are looking for, the more we can narrow the search and therefore stand a better chance of a more relevant or focused result. A search will then return an amount of ‘hits’ which potentially contain information relating to the search terms used. Each ‘hit’ is a single email, although that email will often consist of a chain of emails containing the search term at least once.

Due to the broad nature of your request we would have to do a company wide search of over 29,000 accounts using the search terms ‘Waterloo Roundabout Feasibility Study’ in order to try and capture any relevant emails. There would likely be many more emails caught by the request and broadening the search criteria to include the keywords of just ‘Waterloo Roundabout’ would likely produce many more hits. Any results would certainly include duplicates, as well as emails sent from third parties in which TfL were copied into so would not be caught by the request. However, we would still need to manually review all of the emails identified by the search in order to extract and collate the relevant emails.

In addition, by their nature, emails contain a significant amount of personal data such as phone numbers and email addresses and so, whilst this process of redaction does not feature as part of our considerations on whether any possible cost limit in processing your request might apply, the burden created by non-specific requests for emails is significant and this should be borne in mind before submitting requests of this nature.

To help make it easier to process your request, and to limit the time and resources we might use in considering any exemptions, if you have specific questions regarding the Feasibility Study or the overall project we would be happy to consider these. You may also wish to refine your request by either removing your request for correspondence of providing specific keywords that you would like us to search for as well as timeframe, as this will help us to focus our search.

You have also requested correspondence with Braeburn Estates, and others, relating to the York Road entrance to Waterloo Station (FOI-3555-1920). As described above, again we would have to do a company wide search using the search terms ‘York Road’ and ‘Waterloo’ in order to try and capture any relevant emails and any emails would have to be manually reviewed in order to determine whether they were captured by the request.

To help narrow the scope of this request so that we can more easily locate, retrieve and extract the information you are seeking you may wish to refine it by just requesting our correspondence with Braeburn Estates. Again, providing specific keywords that you would like us to search for will help us to focus our search.

We do not hold and TfL or London Underground memos on this matter as we were not procuring or delivering the ongoing works. Please note that the ticket hall was reopened on Friday 13 March.

With regard to your request for information relating to the Lambeth Green Proposal put forward regarding Lambeth Bridge (FOI-3554-1920), this has been closed as we have not received the clarification asked for in my email dated 20 February 2020. Any further correspondence we receive from you in relation to this your request will be treated as a new request.

In making any future request I would ask that you consider carefully what information is of most importance to you, and to take into account the guidance and advice provided by the ICO such as the “dos and don’ts” published on its website here:

You will note that the table halfway down that page includes the following advice to FOI applicants:

Do….“Give the authority ample opportunity to address any previous requests you have made before submitting new ones”;
Don’t… “Submit frivolous or trivial requests; remember that processing any information request involves some cost to the public purse”;
Don’t… “Disrupt a public authority by the sheer volume of information requested. Whether you are acting alone or in concert with others, this is a clear misuse of the Act and an abuse of your ‘right to know’”, and;
Don’t…”Deliberately ‘fish’ for information by submitting very broad or random requests in the hope it will catch something noteworthy or otherwise useful.”

We would therefore encourage you to prioritise any future requests around the information that is of most importance to you to ensure that you are able to make the best use of our resources under the FOI Act.

Please note that we will not be taking further action until we receive a revised request.

In the meantime, if you have any queries or would like to discuss your request, please feel free to contact me.

Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.

Yours sincerely

Gemma Jacob
Senior FOI Case Officer
FOI Case Management Team
General Counsel
Transport for London

[email protected]

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