The Environmental Information Regulations 2004
The Environmental Information Regulations are part of a broader statutory access to information regime. The 2004 Regulations replace the previous 1992 (amended 1998) Regulations. The Regulations establish a general right for individuals to access information. They do not grant permission to use information beyond the individuals own private use.
Is there any official guidance?
Yes. Both Defra and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) are producing operational guidance. This guidance is very generic due to the large number of different organisations and sectors subject to the Regulations. This means that much of the detail remains open to interpretation.
An open information network established by the Country Agencies, with strong support from NBN, have drafted more specific advice for the natural heritage sector. This advice was developed in consultation with Defra and ICO, both of whom recognise its value. The aim is to provide practical advice to help wildlife data holders rationalise decisions over access to information in line with the 2004 Regulations. The NBN Data Exchange Principles have been used as the basis for some of this advice.
Guidance note 1 - Applying the Environmental harm exception (PDF 70KB). This information will help you meet the objectives of data exchange principle 2: Making biodiversity data available should reduce the risk of damage to the environment. If it is likely to have the opposite effect, availability may need to be controlled. (NBN data exchange principle 2.)
Guidance note 2 - Applying the volunteered information exception (PDF 85KB)
The ICO has published the following guidance: EIR regulation 12(5)(f) – voluntary supply of information.
How do they differ from the previous Regulations?
The 2004 Regulations build upon rather than replace the requirements under the previous regime. The definitions of public authority and environmental information have been expanded under the new Regulations. They now require bodies to actively disseminate the information they hold and provide assistance to applicants. The application of exceptions to release can no longer be absolute and each is subject to a public interest test. The time within which to respond to requests has been shortened to 20 working days (this can be expanded to 40 working days where the request is complex). Bodies must publish a schedule of charges if they are to be applied. Bodies should establish an appeals process to review decisions if challenged.
Who do they apply to?
The definition of public authority has been expanded under the new Regulations and therefore more organisations now have obligations. Beyond the usual suspects the definition now includes bodies that perform functions of public administration and bodies that fall under the control of a public authority. This may include bodies that operate under public/private partnerships for example.
What is environmental information?
The definition of environmental information has been expanded under the new Regulations. This includes information on the state of the environment, such as air, water, soil, land, flora and fauna. However, the definition now also includes related information, measures and activities such as policies, plans, agreements, reports, cost benefit and economic analyses and built structures. Environmental information potentially covers all information that relates in any way to the environment. In many cases it may be helpful to focus more upon obligations under EIR than on the less stringent requirements of the broader Freedom of Information Act.
EIR Decision tree