Environmental Information Regulations
On 1st January 2005 the Environmental Regulations came into force allowing individuals to request environmental information from public authorities such as the Bangor University. The full text of the regulations can be found here. The University recognises its corporate responsibility under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR). Gwenan Hine, Head of Governance and Compliance, is responsible for ensuring that the University keeps within the requirements of the Regulations.
Unlike a Freedom of Information request, an EIR request does not need to be made in writing. It could be made over the telephone or even face-to-face. Requestors do not need to mention that they are making the request under these Regulations for the rules relating to them to apply and they can state their preference as to the format in which they would like the information to be provided to them.
Inevitably there is information for which there would be adverse consequences should it be released, for example the nesting location of a rare bird species. To prevent such an event happening, the Regulations contain a number of exceptions which would allow the University to withhold that information.
1) What is environmental information?
The information covered by the EIR is:
a) Information on the state of the environment and factors affecting the environment, for example, instances of flooding, habitat loss, species extinction, greenhouse gases, radioactive waste, noise, building developments etc.
b) Information on measures such as policies, legislation (including reports on the implementation of environmental legislation), environmental agreements etc and also economic analysis/cost benefit of such measures.
c) Information on the state of human health and safety, the food chain, cultural/built structures and the conditions of human life, where they are effected by environmental factors such as acid rain, air pollution etc.
2) How does it affect University staff?
i) The EIR require the University to offer advice and assistance to anyone wanting to make a request for information. This means that you need to know what the general points of the Regulations are and how to give advice when asked. The type of assistance you may be asked to provide could include:
explaining the procedure for making a request for information (see 2 ii below), or offering further advice and assistance.
ii) Members of the public are allowed under the Regulations to ask about any of the information detailed in Section 1 above.
The requests can be made verbally or in writing (although this can include faxes, e-mails and text messages) to any employee of the University. If the request comes through to you, the University procedure is that it is routed through to the Compliance and Records Manager that deals with EIR requests (see Section 5 below). Be aware that we are not allowed to ask the person making the request why they want the information. Regardless of whether the request itself was made verbally, the University must respond in writing.
Requests do not have to refer to the Environmental Information Regulations at all.
The University must respond as soon as possible and at the latest within 20 working days, except in circumstances where the information requested is particularly complex or wide ranging. In such cases, the time limit can be extended by a further 20 working days, as long as the University notifies the requestor within the initial 20 working days and states when it believes the response will be made in full. Under the terms of the EIR, the University cannot make a charge for:
- access to any public register or list of environmental information, or
- to examine the information (at a place chosen by Bangor University).
However, the University reserves the right to charge an appropriate fee for dealing with a specific request for environmental information in accordance with the Regulations.
3) What are the exemptions?
There are no absolute exemptions within the EIR; all exemptions are subject to the public interest test. The exceptions to the duty to disclose Environmental Information include:
- The information is not held by the University
- The request is manifestly unreasonable
- The request is too general (and the University would seek further clarification from the requestor)
- The request is for unfinished documents or data (the University would clarify when the information would be available)
- The request is for internal communication
The Regulations also require the University to consider whether or not it is in the public interest to release information. If it is in the public interest to release the information then the University will do so. Also, if a decision is made that the public interest in withholding the information is stronger than the public interest in disclosing the information, consideration should also be given to the effect on the following interests:
- Confidentiality of proceedings
- International relations / public security / defence
- The course of justice and right to fair trial
- Commercial confidentiality
- Intellectual property rights
- Personal / voluntary data
- Environmental protection
The University must be sure that release of the information in this case would have an adverse effect on one of the above interests. The University must also make it clear how it believes the release of the information would adversely affect that interest.
4) What about complaints?
Under the EIR the University has a duty to have an internal review procedure. The requester must be provided with a refusal notice which will include details of:
i) The University’s review/complaints procedure. In this case the complaint would be dealt with via the University’s complaints procedures in the first instance.
ii) The requester’s right to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is the regulatory authority for the EIR and has powers of enforcement.
The Information Commissioner
For further information on the EIR, or to discuss a request received please contact the Compliance and Records Manager responsible for EIR requests:
Head of Governance and Compliance
Compliance and Records Manager
Governance and Compliance Office
Gwynedd LL57 2DG
Tel: (01248) 38 8530