Environmental Information

The Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) 2004 came into force on 1 January 2005 and gave members of the public the right to access environmental information held by public authorities.  Unlike the Freedom of Information Act 2000, a request can be made by letter, e-mail, telephone or in person.  The regulations apply to most public authorities, but they can also apply to any organisation or person carrying out a public administration function, and any organisation or person under the control of a public authority who has environmental responsibilities. 

This can include some private companies or public private partnerships, for example companies involved in energy, water, waste and transport.

What information is covered by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs)?

Environmental information is any information in written, visual, aural, electronic, or any other material form about:

  • The state of the elements of the environment (such as air, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites, biological diversity) and the interactions between them.  

  • Factors such as substances, energy, radiation, noise, or waste affecting or likely to affect any of the elements mentioned above. For example: building development, loss of habitat, flooding, noise, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment.

  • The state of human health and safety, conditions of human life, the food chain, cultural sites and built structures in as much as they are, or may be, affected by any of the elements or interaction between the elements.

  • Measures, such as plans, policies, programmes, activities and agreements, that affect, or are likely to affect/intend to protect, the elements or interaction between the elements.

  • Cost benefit and other economic analysis used in environmental decision making.

If the council receives an EIR request for information on any of the areas mentioned above, it is legally obliged to provide it, subject to exceptions, normally within 20 working days. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, for example, if the information is likely to prejudice national security, and if this is the case, the council must explain why the exception applies.

How do the EIRs work with other access to information legislation?

As a general rule: environmental information is accessed under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, personal information about the applicant falls under the Data Protection Act 1998, and all other information falls under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

What information must the council disclose?

If the information is held and is not covered by any of the exceptions you will have the right to be supplied with that information. Certain documents that the council holds will have a 'retention period' attached to them. This means that they have to be kept for a certain length of time before the council can dispose of them. If a document has already been disposed of according to the retention rules it may not be possible to provide the information. The council only has to provide existing recorded information.

What are exemptions under the EIRs?

It is worth remembering that under the EIRs 'exemptions' are 'exceptions'. The exceptions are not there as an excuse to refuse access. The exceptions are there to protect information that should not be released, for example the location of rare birds' nesting sites. This may mean that the council is not able to disclose the information you require. There are no absolute exceptions - all of the exceptions under EIRs are subject to the public interest test.

What is the Public Interest Test?

The EIRs require that the council must consider whether or not it is in the public interest to release that information. If it is in the public interest to release the information then we will do so. If a decision is taken to withhold information, we must tell you which exception we are using and all arguments behind the decision.

Why is a request for environmental information not dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act 2000?

From 1 January 2005, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) any individual, organisation or company can make a request for information to Cumbria County Council and will have the right to be informed in writing as to whether the council holds the requested information and to have that information supplied within 20 working days. Section 39 of FOIA makes environmental information exempt under the Act, and provides that it should be dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs) instead.

An Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) request does not need to be made in writing. It could be made over the telephone or even face to face.  You do not need to mention that you are making the request under EIRs for the rules to apply but it would help us deal more efficiently with your request if you would complete the online request form

If you are experiencing difficulties with using the online form please use either of the following alternative formats:

You can state your preference as to the format in which you would like the information to be provided to you, for example, email, letter, CD.

If we cannot provide the information to you for any reason, or we do not have the information you request, we will let you know as soon as possible.

If you have any problems using the online form please contact the Information Governance Team on 01228 221234 or information.governance@cumbria.gov.uk