Environmental Information Regulations

The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 came into force on 1st of January 2005 and replaced the Environmental Information Regulations 1992.

What is environmental information?

The definition of Environmental Information is very wide and includes written, electronic, visual or audio information on:

  1. The state of the elements of the environment, e.g. air, atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms.
  2. Factors affecting the environment e.g. substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases.
  3. Measures (including administrative measures) and activities affecting or designed to protect the environment e.g. policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements.
  4. Reports on the implementation of environmental legislation.
  5. Cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of environmental measures and activities
  6. The state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures in as much as they are affected by the state of the environment, or factors, measures or activities affecting the environment.

Relationship between the Regulations and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000

Requests for environmental information will be exempted from being dealt with under the FOIA (Section 39). The effect of this exemption is to ensure that a request for Environmental Information is dealt with in accordance with the Regulations.

Who do the Regulations apply to?

The regulations apply to Stevenage Borough Council, the range of public bodies covered by the FOIA and also public utilities, certain public private partnerships and private companies with obvious environmental functions such as those in the water, waste, transport and energy sectors.

Differences in the request handling process between the EIR and the FOI

Whilst the general guidance for dealing with FOIA requests may be extended to cover EIR requests, there are a number of differences between the Act and Regulations. The following are the main differences to take account of:

  • EIR requests do not need to be in writing, FOIA requests do. When receiving verbal requests for environmental information, however, it would be prudent to confirm in writing what the applicants are asking for.
  • Under FOIA, the Council is not deemed to hold information if it is holding the information solely on behalf of someone else. However, under EIR, the Council is deemed to hold environmental information that is in its possession, even where it is holding that information on someone else's behalf.
  • Under EIR, the time limit for complying with a request, like the FOIA, is 20 working days. However, unlike the FOIA, this can be extended to 40 working days where the request is complex or voluminous.
  • Under FOIA, the fees that can be charged for dealing with a request are prescribed by the draft Fees Regulations (still to be finalised). If complying with a FOIA request would exceed the specified limit (£450), a public authority can refuse the request.
  • Under EIR, all requests under the Regulations must be complied with, regardless of the cost. The Draft Code of Practice, currently the subject of a consultation exercise, suggests that the charge must not exceed the cost of producing the information unless the public authority is entitled to levy a market-based charge for the information (i.e. a 'reasonable' charge). Guidance under the 1992 Regulations also suggests that the staff costs in searching, retrieving, collating and supplying the information may be included (please see our EIR Schedule of charges), however an authority cannot charge an applicant to inspect the information in-situ. Also public registers and lists such as the Register of Radioactive Substances, Contaminated Land Register etc are already available free of charge.

Applicants should be aware that the information disclosed under the EIR may be subject to copyright protection. If an applicant wishes to use any such information in a way that would infringe copyright, for example by making multiple copies or issuing copies to the public, the applicant would require a licence from the copyright holder. The Office of Public Sector Information has issued guidance which is available on their website or by telephone on 01603 621000

EIR exceptions

The Council may refuse to disclose information where an exception (see below) applies and the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in its disclosure.

  1. Information is not held when the request is received
    Although we cannot provide information we do not possess, we are obliged (Reg. 9) to provide advice and assistance.
  2. The request is unreasonable
    When the amount of data sought is so large as to be unreasonable - it should be remembered that copies do not have to be provided summaries will suffice.
  3. The request is too general
    Where the request is not specific enough. There is, however, a requirement for the County to provide assistance in narrowing down the request.
  4. Information intended for future publication
    In this case it would be reasonable to provide the applicant with an estimate of when the data will be published.
  5. Request involves the disclosure of internal communications
    This exception is here to prevent the disclosure of internal drafts of a paper or notes from a brainstorming session.
  6. Disclosure would affect the course of justice
    Where disclosure would hinder a fair trial or prejudice the ability of the Council to conduct an enquiry. However, this would not apply following a trial.
  7. Intellectual property rights
    Disclosure would reveal the intellectual property rights of an organisation.
  8. Confidentiality of proceedings
    Where the law requires confidentiality.
  9. Commercial or industrial confidentiality
    This applies to information where to disclose it would be actionable and subject to a legal breach of confidence.
  10. The interests of the Council
    This occurs when there is no legal obligation on the Council to disclose or there is no consent from third parties to disclose.
  11. Environmental protection
    Where to disclose information could lead to the damage of a 'cultural site' or the environment. An example could be information on where there is a rare breed of bird nesting.
  12. Personal data
    Information where the Data Protection Act covers disclosure.

If the Council refuses to disclose all or part of the information requested, it must be stated, in writing, what exception the information falls under and to justify the 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 Stevenage Borough Council itself then, If they remain dissatisfied, to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Please note: Exceptions 8, 9, 10 and 11 do not apply when the requested information applies to emissions.

Key points

  • The definition of environmental information is broad
  • Any verbal or written request for environmental information is an EIR request.
  • All requests must be dealt within 20 working days, unless the request is complex voluminous then it can be extended to 40 working days.
  • All of the exceptions are subject to the public interest test.

Information requests

If you wish to make a request for information under the Environmental Information Act, please make your application in writing, preferably using the form available for download via the links on the right. If you email your request please ensure you include your name and address and state clearly the information you require so that we can identify and locate it.

Stevenage Borough council can charge a reasonable amount for supplying information.

 

Download

Environmental Information Regulations Request

EIR Schedule of Charges

Freedom of Information Request

Data Protection Subject Access Request

Related pages

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Publication Scheme

Data Protection Act (DPA)

Useful links

Information Commissioner's Office

Data Protection Act

Crown Copyright Information

Contact details

Legal Services
Stevenage Borough Council,
Daneshill House
Danestrete
Stevenage
Herts
SG1 1HN

01438 242242
foi@stevenage.gov.uk

The Information Commissioner Office (ICO) 
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

01625 545700