PLANS to harvest tin deposits from the seabed off the North Cornish coast were subject to a confidentiality agreement until The Cornishman published a story about the proposals, it has been revealed.
Freedom of Information documents detailing e-mail communications between Falmouth-based Marine Minerals Limited and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) have been seen by this newspaper, which show that the plans were subject to commercial and confidence limitations until the middle of August last year.
John Sewell, commercial manager for Marine Minerals Limited (MML), said commercial confidentiality was "entirely normal" in the early stages of the business planning process and insisted the company had been discussing its plans openly for well over a year before the story appeared in The Cornishman.
The documents were obtained by the North Coast Protection Association, which formed last October to provide information about the MML proposals.
Marie Boyce from the group said the documents showed the public should question what they were being told about the seabed mining project.
"The consultation process for the tin-mining proposal has been poor to date, leaving out many organisations, businesses, individuals and parish councils who are likely to be affected," she said.
One e-mail from Marine Minerals Limited (MML) to the MMO dated August 23, 2012, stated: "The project is no longer subject to 'commercial and confidence' limitations ... as you know the balloon went up last week on 16th August when the article was published in The Cornishman.
"On the 17th August the Crown Estate, MMO and MML accepted that we could no longer hold the line on confidentiality and that everything would have to go onto their public website with regard to License 1."
The e-mail continued that an unnamed MML employee was "trying [to] hold off the same journalist for a couple of weeks whilst we get prepared for the onslaught of attention".
Ongoing negotiations between the Crown Estate, which owns most of the UK's seabed, and Marine Minerals Limited (MML), were cited as the reason for the secrecy in a separate e-mail from the MMO.
Mr Sewell said: "There has been absolutely no effort to hide information from the public. We are looking to develop a pioneering project in Cornwall and are in the preliminary stages of investigating the viability of recovering Cornish tin from the seabed in an environmentally, socially and economically viable way."
He added that commercial confidentiality had been used to protect data regarding the location and quantities of tin deposits that were the intellectual property of the company from previous studies.