Headlines: July 23rd, 2004

The Government is planning changes to the Environmental Information Regulations that would give people a right to request details of any environmental information held by a public authority. The proposed amendment to the regulations would allow access to information on a range of environmental issues by strengthening the existing rules.The amended regulations will mean information can be withheld only in cases where the public interest for refusal of access clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure. There will also be exceptions for information which has been supplied voluntarily and for personal information covered by the Data Protection Act.

The changes will give enforcement powers to the Information Commissioner and introduce a 20 working day deadline for responding to requests for information. The new rules will apply not just to information held by public authorities but also to any held by organisations under an author ity’s control, such as waste contractors. The changes will come into effect from the beginning of 2005.

Announcing the changes the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said one of the keys to the strategy on sustainable development was to make access to environmental information available to everyone so they could play an active role in decision-making.