What is the EIR
The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) came into force on 1 January 2005, replacing the Environmental Information Regulations 1992.
What is environmental information?
The definition of environmental information is very broad and includes information on:
- 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
- factors affecting the environment e.g. substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases
- measures (including administrative measures) and activities affecting or designed to protect the environment e.g. policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements
- reports on the implementation of environmental legislation
- cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of environmental measures and activities
- 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.
Who does the EIR apply to?
The regulations apply to us, the range of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Act 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.
Relationship with FOIs
Relationship between the EIR and the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) 2000
Requests for environmental information will be exempted from being dealt with under the FOI (Section 39). The effect of this exemption is to ensure that a request for environmental information is dealt with in accordance with the regulations.
Differences in the request handling process between the EIR and the FOI
Whilst the general guidance for dealing with FOI requests may be extended to cover EIR requests, there are a number of differences between them.
||Environmental information only
||All information held by us
|Range of bodies covered
Public private partnerships
Private companies with environmental functions
|Format for requests
Request can be in any form (although it will often help
clarify the information sought if it is put in writing)
Request must be in writing
Includes information held on behalf of others
|Time to respond
20 working days (can be extended to 40 days if deemed necessary)
20 working days (can be extended as appropriate if deemed necessary i.e. to allow time to apply public interest test)
|Time to request further information from the applicant
||20 working days
|Public interest test
Yes - must take place within set timescales for response
Yes - may require extension of timescales for response
Requests with costs in excess of 'appropriate limit' refused
No - requests cannot be refused on grounds of cost alone
At our discretion
|Yes - can make a reasonable charge.
Must publish a schedule of charges
|Yes - can charge for requests above appropriate limit
|Rules for disclosure
||No absolute exceptions. All are subject to the public interest test
||Some absolute exemptions prevent disclosure.
Only non-absolute exemptions are subject to the public interest test
|Complaints/appeals procedure for non-compliance
||Yes - three stage appeals procedure as per FOI
40 day time limit for internal review by the public authority
Yes - three stage appeals procedure
Internal review by the public authority
Appeal to the information commissioner
Appeal to the Information Tribunal
|Transfer of request
||Must inform applicant and gain permission prior to transfer
||Requests can be transferred where appropriate
|Able to neither confirm nor deny whether we hold the information
||Yes - where request is refused on the grounds of international relations, defence, national security or public safety
||Yes - can be used for any exemption where public authority deems it appropriate
We 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The request is too general
Where the request is not specific enough. There is, however, a requirement for us to provide assistance in narrowing down the request.
- 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.
- 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.
- Disclosure would affect the course of justice
Where disclosure would hinder a fair trial or prejudice the ability of us to conduct an enquiry. However, this would not apply following a trial.
- Intellectual property rights
Disclosure would reveal the intellectual property rights of an organisation.
- Confidentiality of proceedings
Where the law requires confidentiality.
- Commercial or industrial confidentiality
This applies to information where to disclose it would be actionable and subject to a legal breach of confidence.
- The interests of the Council
This occurs when there is no legal obligation on us to disclose or there is no consent from third parties to disclose.
- 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.
- Personal data
Information where the Data Protection Act covers disclosure.
If we refuse 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.
We will also inform you that you have a right to appeal the decision, initially to us then, if you 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.