The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (the Regulations) supersede previous Environmental Information Regulations and came into force on 1 January 2005. They give a public right of access to environmental information.
Whilst the regulations are devoted specifically to environmental information, they have a very close link, and are similar in purpose, to the more general Freedom of Information Act 2004. The key differences are:
- (a) The Regulations are European law; the Freedom of Information Act is United Kingdom legislation. As such, the Regulations could take precedence over Freedom of Information if necessary
- (b) Requests for Environmental Information do not have to be in writing; Freedom of Information requests are meant to be in writing although at Barking and Dagenham we will take a flexible approach where requests are very straightforward
- (c) Whilst Environmental Information requests should be dealt with in 20 working days (the same as for Freedom of Information requests), up to 40 working days are allowed if the request is complex or the volume of information is high
- (d) All exemptions under the Regulations are subject to a public interest test (see below); in the case of Freedom of Information, some of the exemptions are absolute
- (e) There is a specific requirement to progressively make environmental information available electronically
So, what is environmental information?
- The state of elements of the environment, for example water, air, land, wildlife and so on
- The state of human health and safety, food chains, cultural sites and built structures
- Substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste that may affect the state of the elements of the environment and interaction between them
- Measures, including administrative measures, policies, legislation, plans, programmes and environmental agreement(s), and activities that affect/may affect, or protect, the state of the elements of the environment and their interaction by them
- Emission discharges and other releases into the environment
- Cost benefit and other economic analysis used in environmental decision-making
Like Freedom of Information, the information requested can be in any recorded format: written, visual, audio, electronic and so on.
There are some exemptions, all of which are subject to a public interest test. This means that where environmental information falls into an exempted category we will have to judge whether the public interest involved in releasing the information in question overrides the public interest in withholding it.
The exemptions are where the release of the information would adversely affect any of the following:
- International relations, defence, national security, or public safety
- The course of justice
- Intellectual property rights (of any party)
- Legal confidentiality of any public authority
- Confidentiality of commercial and industrial information necessary to protect a legitimate economic interest (granted by law)
- The interests of the person who voluntarily, and without legal obligation, supplied the information to the council
- The protection of the environment to which the information relates
We may refuse to disclose environmental information if:
- It does not hold the information (in which case we will try to advise who does or might hold it)
- The request is manifestly unreasonable
- The request is too general (although we will try to assist the person or organisation making the request to be more specific where possible)
- The request relates to material still in the course of completion - unfinished documents or incomplete data (in this case an estimated date for completion will be given)
- The request is for the disclosure of internal communications
Like Freedom of Information, any complaints or appeals about the way that we have handled a request for environmental information will be dealt with through our Corporate Complaints Procedure, with a further right of appeal to the Information Commissioner. Freedom of Information and environmental information are covered by the same Information Commissioner.