Government urged to end secrecy and name the RAF Coltishall bidders

Information on who put in offers to buy former RAF Coltishall and how the government decided on its preferred bidder are being withheld by site owners the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The MoJ has failed to meet two deadlines in response to EDP requests for details of the sale, asked under the terms of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

And in the latest reply to several EDP enquiries about the application's progress, the ministry only says it will respond 'in due course.'

On November 24 last year the EDP officially asked the MoJ for information on who had put in bids for the fighter station, which closed in 2006.

We also wanted to know what information the ministry gave prospective bidders and what its criteria were for making a decision.

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The former Battle of Britain station went on the market last year amid widespread local concern that a cash-strapped government might sell it to the highest bidder, at the expense of environmental and community interests, and vital jobs.

At the time the MoJ said there had been considerable interest in the site and added: 'Selling this site will contribute savings to reduce the budget deficit.'

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An official reply to our FOI request promised a response by December 21 last year. But that date only brought a letter of apology from the MoJ stating that some of the information might be exempt under a section of the Act covering commercial interests, giving the ministry power to extend the time limit while they weighed up the balance of public interest in disclosing the information. They hoped to respond by January 21.

When that date also passed, the EDP made several attempts to contact the MoJ official dealing with the request and eventually, on February 3, received another apologetic email stating: 'We are still considering the information you have requested and hope to provide you with a response in due course'.

As reported last month, engineering firm TAG Aviation (Stansted) emerged as the preferred bidder with its proposal to use the base as a centre for recycling jet airliners, creating 300 new jobs. The firm's bid was broadly welcomed by local leaders.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has pledged to write to the ministry and ask what was happening with the EDP's request.

He said his instinct was always to err on the side of openness and he was a supporter of the Freedom of Information Act although commercial confidentiality had to be considered.

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