Scilly Council Ordered To Release Secret Airport Documents
The ruling by the Information Commissioner, a Government department connected to the Ministry of Justice, means that islanders should be able to see what information and recommendations councillors were offered.
ScillyToday first complained to Information Commissioner’s Office after the Council refused access to the report issued last September.
We wanted to see the contents after locals voiced concern over the level of transparency and misinformation surrounding the highly controversial airport decision.
There’s been a great deal of confusion over why the Council are giving up the lease.
Council officers claimed recently that airport costs have been reduced and income levels are rising.
And it was only last winter when the authority completed a £4.5m airport and runway remodelling and encouraged the public to view the works during an open day.
Islanders had their first chance to try and get answers about the airport during a public meeting in November, fronted by Chief Executive Theo Leijser.
But Council Chairman Amanda Martin’s comments at the meeting seemed to add to the confusion.
In response to islanders’ questions, she stated that the airport wasn’t viable due to the ‘profit cap’ imposed by the Duchy Of Cornwall who own the site.
Cllr Martin told attendees that if the Council makes any money over a set threshold, they have to “hand it over to the Duchy” and the cap was “sufficiently low to make it not reasonable.”
Many attendees went home with the impression that the Duchy was to blame.
However when ScillyToday asked for a response from the Duchy of Cornwall, they firmly rejected her statement.
The Duchy said that the Council only paid a peppercorn rent that becomes a higher ‘profit rent’ if the facility makes a surplus, after all costs have been accounted for.
And they said that only comes into effect after money has been put into reserves to cover future investments.
The Duchy also confirmed that the Council has never had to pay this higher rent in the thirty years that the lease has been in operation.
When councillors voted to end the authority’s operation of St Mary’s airport, a report was presented as a confidential document and discussed with the press and public excluded.
After they voted to hand back the lease, ScillyToday formally requested a copy of the report.
We argued that the airport is so significant to islanders that the document should be released because the information it contains is a matter of public interest.
But the Council refused two requests made under Freedom of Information legislation.
So we asked the Information Commissioner to review the case and he’s ruled in ScillyToday’s favour.
He’s said that ScillyToday must be given the officers’ report, which the Council has tried to keep out of the public domain.
The Council’s legal staff put up three arguments for keeping it confidential.
They claimed that it was commercially sensitive, that it formed part of research work and that they’d release it at some point in the future.
The Information Commissioner threw out all three reasons for maintaining secrecy.
In his ruling on the 9th February, Senior Case Officer Christopher Williams said the Council needs to pass on the paperwork within 35 days or they’ll be in contempt of court.
We have emailed the Council to ask what arrangements they’ve put in place but so far they haven’t replied.