CITY of Newcastle says it would take 75 hours and cost $6500 to search for information detailing how much it has spent on its new headquarters and provide details about contract variations and items it approved to go inside the building.
That means it would take a council staffer two weeks of full-time work to search for information requested in three freedom of information applications submitted by the Newcastle Herald last month.
The first application requested the design specification approved by council for all furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) in the building, and a full list of items.
The second application asked for the overall cost of the contracts being managed by project management firm APP Corporation and fit-out contractor Graphite Projects, as detailed in nine monthly reports. Also sought was how many variations had been approved by council during construction, a description of each requested change and the cost. After lumping the requests into one application, council denied it.
"I have decided under sections ... of the GIPA Act to refuse to deal with your applications because dealing with the applications would require an unreasonable and substantial diversion of City of Newcastle's resources," council's legal officer wrote.
He said staff would have to search 15 locations to find the documents, including 11 folders, emails and the "APP Project" server. The information requested was "estimated at 430-1000 pages".
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"Each search for information sought is estimated to take 15 minutes," he said. "Fifteen minutes for 15 locations totals 3.75 hours required to locate all potentially relevant information for each individual piece of information sought by the applications. City of Newcastle estimates the number of searches required to gather the requested documents/information is at least 20, so a total search time of 75 hours."
Speaking generally about major construction projects, University of Newcastle's Dr Marcus Jefferies, from the School or Architecture and Built Environment, said the type of information requested by the NewcastleHerald "should be known and readily available".
Dr Jefferies said regardless of the contract type, costing and design specification documents for FF&E would be stored electronically making access to the data "quick" and "efficient".
"All ongoing costs, as part of the progress payment process, are obviously recorded for cost planning purposes to help successfully manage the budget," he said. "Project costs - be them total or running costs - should be easily and quickly accessible as part of ongoing cost management, auditing requirements and project probity."
The legal officer told the NewcastleHerald because all three requests related to the administration building, council was able to group them as one application to assess if the amount of time it would take to respond exceeded the threshold to categorise them as "unreasonable" and a "substantial diversion of resources".
"City of Newcastle estimates there are at least 75 documents affected by the request," he said.
"This includes at least five files to be searched relevant to the FF&E schedule, approximately 40 documents relevant to contract variations, at least 30 documents to be searched for the overall cost."
He said council had already spent more than 20 hours processing three previous freedom of information requests submitted by the Newcastle Herald stretching back to February on the leased new premises.
One was refused and another refused outside of council providing limited information that was already publicly available. Both decisions have been appealed to the information watchdog and reviews are underway.
Council provided partial information in relation to the third, but an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commission found its refusal to release most of the withheld information was not justified.
The applications were lodged amidst significant debate about the cost of the move since councillors approved the change of address in late 2017.
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