On 1 January 2005 new Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) came into force, replacing the former regulations which were in place since 1992, giving members of the public the right to access environmental information held by public authorities and those bodies carrying out a public function.
Environmental information covers information on the state of the environment such as:
air, water, soil, land, flora and fauna (including human beings), diversity, genetically modified organisms
information on emissions and discharges, noise, energy, radiation, waste and other such substances
laws, policies, contracts and analyses relating to such environments
the state of the human health and safety, contamination of the food chain
cultural sites and built structures (as they may be affected by environmental factors)
The main points of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 are:
- A request can be verbal or written
- A request must usually be answered within 20 working days of receipt of the request, however this time period can be extended to 40 working days if the request is complex and voluminous.
- If a public authority receives a request which they believe is too general, the authority will contact the applicant as soon as possible to try to determine specifically what information it is that they would like.
- When making a request for information, an applicant may state a preference as to the form/format in which they would like the information to be provided e.g. hardcopy/electronic etc.
- Public authorities may charge a reasonable fee for disclosing information, however an authority cannot charge an applicant to inspect the information at the council offices
- Inevitably there is information for which there would be adverse consequences should it be released, for example the nesting location of a rare bird species. To prevent such an event happening, the EIRs contain a number of exceptions which would allow public authorities to withhold that information.
- If a public authority refuses to disclose all/part of the information requested, that authority must state, in writing, what exception the information falls under and justify their decision that the exception should be applied. The authority will also inform the applicant that they have a right to appeal the decision, initially to the authority itself then, if they remain dissatisfied, to the Information Commissioner's Office.
Further information and an Information Request Form are available on this site.