Scilly Council Ordered To Release Secret Airport Documents

airport runway 2015Scilly’s Council cannot legally withhold a report given to councillors at a meeting where they voted to hand back the St Mary’s Airport lease to the Duchy.

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.

7 Responses to Scilly Council Ordered To Release Secret Airport Documents

  1. Fred Up March 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Well done to the journalists who perused this; more of the same please!
    The islanders need these flagrant abuses of power brought to their attention if not heaven knows what this council will try to do next.

  2. Adam Morton, St.Martins March 2, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Well no surprise there. I just hope it was worth it , whatever caused the decision must have been pretty convincing! This council really does struggle with its basic function ie to be seen to act in the public’s interest whist spending our money.They are so backward they couldn’t see this coming.Really, why must they hide everything and cause a public outcry & inquest on every occasion? It’s one thing making mistakes but deliberate misinformation and withholding public information can only cause suspicion and highlight the very situation they were hoping to hide. Everything the chairman said, appears to be very questionable and she must have known it could be verified unless she was just showing complete contempt in fobbing us off with this rubbish. Question is, who is pulling the strings?

  3. Madana March 2, 2016 at 8:04 am

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when we learn to de—–!

    I’m losing track of all the new lows.

  4. treasuretrove March 2, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Thank you and well done Scilly Today. The Council leaders should be ashamed of their conduct.

  5. Just me March 1, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Well done all at radio Scilly

  6. Enquirer March 1, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    It is about time that the public had clear and honest information about the viability of the Airport. When the improvements to the runways and the Terminal were made I understand that there was a significant overspend, typical of this Councils very poor management of major projects that they run. We have never heard if this shortfall has been covered by further grant aid or if it will have to meet the bill itself (for Council read Council Tax Payers). As per usual the Council staff who ran up this overspend, as they also did for the Porthcressa Regeneration Scheme, have never had to account for or answer for their incompetence in doing so, but carry on drawing their salaries unaffected.

    Also appertaining to the Airport, after it’s opening there were Public Open Days, where the public could look around and fill in comment sheets as to the suitability of the re modelling. Has the Council ever published the comments made by the public at that time? I would suggest not, as they would wish to bury this information as they do most other information which does not suit them.

  7. Pete March 1, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    Every resident on the islands should congratulate Scilly today, for this exposure.