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Council told to disclose legal advice over night flights

Thanet Council has been ordered to make public legal advice it received over controversial night flights from Manston Airport. The council caused controversy when it entered into an agreement in 2005 with the airport’s operators Planestation that permitted additional scheduled flights to take place beyond 11pm.

At the time, many residents in the area were dismayed, saying they faced noise disruption. There were claims that the change was one that should have required planning permission. Council chiefs had initially refused to disclose the advice of its lawyers, relating to a variation in the terms of what is known as a Section 106 agreement.

It rejected a request made under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the advice was legally privileged information and there was no public interest in releasing it. But now an information tribunal has officially ruled that the council was wrong.

A panel that considered a formal appeal said councillors had already referred to the legal advice during the course of a public council meeting when the issue of the impact of night flights had been raised. As a result, the full contents of the lawyers’ advice, which addressed the issue of whether the change in policy needed planning permission should be released, the panel concluded. In a statement, the council insisted it had not deliberately sought to suppress the information. The statement said:

“Thanet District Council is committed to providing as much information as possible to the public. However, the council took legal advice in this case and we were advised not to release any information which would jeopardise the future of a passenger service at Kent International Airport.”

kentonline 2nd Aug 2006

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