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Request for Duchy of Cornwall estate details turned down

Request for Duchy of Cornwall estate details turned down

Friday, December 14, 2012, Western Morning NewsFollow

A veil of secrecy covering the Duchy of Cornwall estate will not be lifted for another two years after a court ruling in London, a Westcountry campaigner has claimed.

Mike Bruton, former head of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRA) in Cornwall, won a landmark case last year forcing Prince Charles to release information about an oyster farm he owns in Falmouth.

The estate, which owns large swathes of the region, was judged to be a public authority and forced to disclose data under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR).

However, the Duchy appealed against this ruling, by the First-Tier Tribunal on information rights, and asked for the case to be delayed until after a related hearing was heard at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Yesterday, an appeal against this stay by Mr Bruton was dismissed by the Upper Tier Tribunal.

It agreed with the Duchy that the result of a related case brought by anglers against a group of water companies, who are also exempt from disclosure, could have a bearing on the Falmouth case.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Bruton said he was "disappointed" but hopeful that the ECJ decision, expected in around 18 months, would work in his favour.

"The EIR was put there to give people the right to ask questions and get answers about what people are doing to the environment," he added.

"The Duchy of Cornwall estate, which stretches from Bath to the Isles of Scilly is now safe from examination by the general public for the next two years.

"One of England's biggest landowners can now do as it wishes without answering to the public – the law which applies to almost everyone else does not apply to them."

Mr Bruton first submitted a request in 2008 under the EIR, which came into force in 2005, along with the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, to provide a statutory right of access to environmental information held by public authorities.

He claims the Port Navas oyster farm, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall Oyster Farm Ltd, is causing damage to a designated special area of conservation, by its cultivation of non-native Pacific oysters.

His "David versus Goliath" battle represents the last chance for information campaigners to force the prince to reveal details of his affairs after attempts under the FoI to secure the release of letters to Ministers were dashed.