The Welsh Government has refused to release a letter at the centre of a row over an attempted multi-million-pound land deal by Cardiff council.
WalesOnline requested a copy of the letter – which has been the focus of a saga spanning nine months – under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The Welsh Government yesterday rejected the request – which was first submitted in May – and revealed First Minister Carwyn Jones personally had a hand in the decision.
The decision notice states that the “relationship between the Welsh Government and Cardiff council would be prejudiced if the correspondence were to be released”.
The controversy dates back to last November when Councillor Russell Goodway was questioned about the council’s attempt to buy land at Callaghan Square.
At the time, the cabinet member for economy said he was sent the letter by the Welsh Government advising a “third party” wanted to purchase the site to “land bank” it.
The Labour-run council’s deal never went ahead and the Welsh Government subsequently bought the site, but councillors continued to call on him to produce the letter.
Six months later, Coun Goodway said his only copy had been shredded. A trio of Labour councillors – two of whom are now cabinet members – later demanded council leader Heather Joyce intervene to “take appropriate action”.
In yesterday’s rejection letter, the Welsh Government said the letter was exempt from disclose under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act.
It said the First Minister, as a “qualified person”, had agreed to engage Section 36(2)(b)(ii) – “inhibiting the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation”.
The rejection letter says it was believed disclosure of the letter would mean future discussions with stakeholders would be “less candid” and likely lead to “less rigorous and in-depth exploration of options”.
South Wales Central AM and Liberal Democrat economy spokeswoman Eluned Parrott said it was “absolutely scandalous” that the letter will not be released.
“Producing the letter would confirm Coun Goodway’s version of events. You would have thought his Labour colleagues in the Welsh Government would be keen to help him do this,” she said.
“Cardiff residents and the Welsh public have a right to know what this letter said.
“They have a right to understand why the Welsh Government and Cardiff council were corresponding over a land deal that both parties had an interest in.”
Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, added: “For the best part of six months I have been trying to get information on a range of subjects, including enterprise zones, and I have been obstructed at every opportunity.
“Only last week I was left no option but to appeal to the information commissioner after a new wave of legitimate questions were blocked and I shall be doing the same again following this rejection.”