In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for Prince Charles’ other private business interests, the Duchy of Cornwall was yesterday ordered to hand information concerning the environmental impact of the Port Navas oyster farm in Cornwall to local campaigner Michael Bruton, who claims that the farm is causing damage to the natural habitat.
The farm, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall Oyster Farm Ltd, cultivates non-native Pacific oysters in a conservation area near Falmouth.
In a written decision, John Angel, principal judge of the First-Tier Tribunal on information rights, a court that deals with legal battles relating to freedom of information, overturned a ruling by the Information Commissioner in October last year that the Duchy was not a public body subject to the regulations.
“The Tribunal finds that the Duchy of Cornwall is a public authority under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004,” he said.
The Duchy now has 28 days in which to disclose the information or give reasons why it believes it is exempt from the legislation.
A spokeswoman said: “The Duchy is reviewing the tribunal’s reasons for reaching its conclusion with a view to establishing whether to appeal the decision.”
The EIR are part of the freedom of information regime in the UK which implements a European directive requiring public authorities to disclose environmental information unless an exception applies. The Duchy of Cornwall maintained that it was not a public authority under EIR and therefore did not have to respond.
But the tribunal ruled that it was a public authority, a ruling which could open its private dealings up to increased public scrutiny.
The Duchy of Cornwall is the estate given to the heir to the throne, comprising of about 53,628 hectares of land in 23 counties, mostly in the south west of England and including the whole of the Isles of Scilly. It also has extensive financial investments.
It was created in 1337 by Edward III for his son and heir, Prince Edward the Black Prince, who became the first Duke of Cornwall. Its website says its primary function is “to provide an income from its assets for the Prince of Wales”.
Official accounts show that last year the Prince increased his takings from the estate by 4 per cent to £17.8m.
In 2009 Mr Bruton lost a High Court challenge over the legality of the Duchy granting a licence to Duchy of Cornwall Oyster Farm Ltd. Mr Bruton’s lawyers argued that non-native oyster cultivation posed a serious threat to the local habitat and the Duchy should have ensured an “appropriate assessment” was carried out under the EU habitats directive.