Environmental Information Regulations
On January 1st 2005 new Environmental Information Regulations, EIR, came into force. These replaced the previous regulations which had been in place since 1992, giving members of the public the right to access environmental information held by public authorities.
The Environmental Information Regulations apply essentially to the same public authorities that are covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 FOI:
- Central Government and governmental departments
- Local authorities including Mendip District Council
- Health and education authorities
- Police forces and prison services
- Advisory groups, commissions and agencies.
However, unlike the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Information Regulations also include:
- Any body or person carrying out a function of public administration
- Any body or person under the control of a public authority who has responsibility in relation to the environment. This includes some private companies and public private partnerships, for example companies involved in energy, water, waste and transport.
What is environmental information?
The new regulations have broadened the definition of environmental information. Environmental information covers information on the state of the environment such as:
- air, water, soil, land, flora and fauna (including human beings), diversity, and genetically modified organisms
- information on emissions and discharges, noise, energy, radiation, waste and other substances
- measures and activities such as policies, plans and agreements
- reports, cost benefit and economic analyses
- the state of human health and safety, contamination of the food chain
- cultural sites and built structures (as they may be affected by environmental factors)
Do public authorities always have to give me the information I request?
Although the EIR creates a strong presumption in favour of openness, Regulation 12 does provide public authorities with some grounds for refusing to disclose environmental information. The exceptions are not mandatory and a public authority may choose to release the information anyway. All the exceptions in the EIR are subject to the public interest test.
The public interest test means that even though information may be covered by an exception, public authorities must disclose unless the public interest positively favours the exception in the particular case.
What sort of information is covered by the exceptions?
These include denying disclosure because:
- the request is manifestly unreasonable
- the information is unfinished or in the course of being completed
- the release of the information would adversely affect intellectual property rights or interests of the supplier of the information
There are also exceptions relating to defence, internal relations and national security and the administration of justice. It is for public authorities to identify any relevant exceptions and to justify their use of them.
How do I make a request?
- requests can be made verbally or in writing (hard copy/electronic). Larger public authorities may have a designated enquiry line or email, email or postal address
- a request can be made to any employee of a public authority but it may be dealt with more efficiently if you are able to direct requests to the appropriate person/section
- if a verbal request is made we recommend that you note who you spoke to, the date, and the information you requested. You may wish to follow up a verbal request with a letter or e-mail confirming the terms of your request
What if the information is refused or an authority says it does not hold the information?
Under the EIR public authorities have a duty to have an internal review procedure. The requester must be provided with a refusal notice which will include details of:
- their review/complaints procedure in case you wish to appeal against their decision
- your right of appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)
- the Information Commissioners enforcement powers
- your right and the public authority's right to appeal to the information tribunal following the Commissioner's decision