The Tribunal, in Black v Information Commissioner (EA/2011/0064), has considered the definition of environmental information in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the EIRs”). The heart of the definition is “information on 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”. 

It is of course important that public bodies spot when requested information falls within this definition, because any such request must be considered under the EIRs instead of the Freedom of Information 2000 (“FOIA”). It is fairly common for the requester and the public body to assume that a request has been made under FOIA, but to realise subsequently that the information should have been considered under the EIRs. The definition of environmental information is broad and sometimes surprises people by capturing information which does not appear to be environmental. For example, Robin Hopkins recently discussed on this blog how the “landscape” element of the definition has been interpreted broadly so as to include a monument. The Tribunal’s decision in Black is relatively unusual in that the appellant argued that all of the requested information fell within the EIRs, but the Tribunal rejected this submission. 

The appellant sought information on internal fixtures, such as fireplaces and chimney pieces, in English Heritage properties.  He relied on the Advocate General’s opinion in the case of Stichting Natuur en Milieu (Case C-266/09) to argue that buildings and structures were part of the landscape, which was not limited to the natural environmental. The appellant also argued that the EIRs had failed to properly implement the Directive. The Tribunal found that the opinion in Stichting Natuur en Milieu did not support the appellant’s submission and concluded that “On a plain reading of both the Directive and the EIR (which are identical in any event) the Tribunal finds that information relating to the internal fixtures of a building does not constitute “environmental information” within the definition, whether as landscape or otherwise”.   

Rachel Kamm