A weekly newspaper has won a Freedom of Information battle with a council which put a ‘gagging order’ on a local campaigner – banning him from revealing the results of an information request.
The Buxton Advertiser fought on behalf of a local man who has been campaigning to bring back into use empty High Peak Borough Council offices, which have been up for sale for 18 months.
Under the FoI Act, he successfully obtained details of the costs of keeping the offices shut – but in a move likened to George Orwell’s 1984, he was then told by the council that he could not pass on the information to a third party.
Following pressure from the paper, however, the council confirmed last week it would now allow the campaigner to reveal the information.
Advertiser editor John Phillips said: “This is by definition in the public domain. It is unthinkable in a modern democracy that one citizen can be given information by a public authority and yet be banned from passing it on to another.
“It’s like a gagging order, and smacks of Orwell’s 1984.
“I don’t know whether the old offices should be sold or re-used – that’s not my job.
“But I believe it is wrong of the council to give the impression that it is dampening down debate on the issue by failing to answer perfectly reasonable questions.”
The Johnston Press-owned Advertiser has also been pressing the council to reveal the number of developers who have expressed an interest in the site, after a deadline last month for bids to be made.