These Regulations replace the previous Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 1992. They create a self standing system of giving public access to environmental information held by a range of bodies including the Council. They are similar in structure to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 in that in general if someone requests environmental information which the Council holds, then unless an "exception" applies (these are similar to FOI exemptions) they are entitled to be given the information within 20 working days. As with FOI, a fee may be charged and the enforcement machinery is identical. There is also a duty to advise and assist applicants, as is the case with FOI.
Technically all information covered by the Environmental Information Regulations is exempt from FOI requests, but in practice this simply means that the request must be processed under the Regulations rather than under the Act. The distinction only has practical significance in relation to operational timescales and the discretionary fee charging system.
Fees and charging
View the Environmental Information Regulations Schedule of fees
What is 'environmental information'?
"Environmental Information" is defined as meaning any information, whether in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on:
a) the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements;
b) factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment referred to in (a);
c) measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in (a) and (b) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements;
d) reports on the implementation of environmental legislation;
e) costs-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities referred to in (c); and
f) the state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are or may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment referred to in (a) or, through those elements, by any of the matters referred to in (b) and (c).
It can be seen that this is a very wide definition that much information held by the Council will fall into the above categories, from habitat studies through biodiversity action plans down to air quality monitoring on the streets or in offices.
Requests for environmental information
The rules on making a request under the EIRs are slightly different from those on making a request under FOI. For EIR purposes, a request does not necessarily have to be in a permanent form and so unrecorded telephone calls or face to face verbal requests will be sufficient to count as a request under the Regulations.
As with FOI, if a request is too general it is permissible (and mandatory under EIR) to seek further particulars from the applicant.
Responding to requests
A request for environmental information must be responded to as soon as possible and no later than 20 working days after receipt of the request. It is possible to extend the period by a further 20 working days if the volume and complexity of the information requested makes it impractical to provide it (or refuse to do so) within the original period; however, the applicant must be advised of this fact (with reasons) within the original 20 working day period.
Making a request under the EIR regulations
Any individual or organisation can make a request for information the Council holds, and will be entitled to receive it, provided no exceptions apply.
Requestors should use the same procedures as for FOI. However it would be helpful if they made it clear that they wish their request to be dealt with under EIR.