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Council consultation begins on new environmental information charges

Eden District Council is commencing a three month public consultation on proposals to introduce charges for responding to requests made for environmental information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The Regulations include information about the state of the air, water, land, natural sites and living organisms, emissions or discharges and policies, economic analyses and health and safety relating to them.

The proposals for charging, which were approved by the Council’s Resources Portfolio Holder, Councillor Paula Breen, on 21 September 2017, would see the introduction of the following:

•    £25 per hour for staff time for locating, retrieving and extracting environmental information;
•    A charge of 10p per A4 sheet for photocopying and printing;
•    The costs of any postage.

The Council’s new charging regime for environmental information, if introduced, would take effect from 1 April 2018.

Councillor Paula Breen said, “The new charging regime is being proposed to off-set some of the costs incurred by the Council in responding to requests for information. These can sometimes be quite significant, particularly when a request involves searching through records going back a number of years. However, whilst the legislation allows public authorities to recover their ‘reasonable’ costs only, we cannot make any profit from charges.”

The figures of £25 per hour for staff time and 10p for printing and photocopying are widely used by other public authorities across the country and have been deemed by the Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK's independent body set up to uphold information rights) to be reasonable.

Under the new arrangement, the Council would acknowledge a request for environmental information, advise the requester of the estimated time and charge required to respond to their request and explain how payment could be made. The requester would then have the option of whether to proceed with the request or not. The amount stated in each case would be fixed, even if the work were to take more time than estimated.

The majority of requests for (general) information received by the Council are processed through the Freedom of Information Act 2000, rather than the Environmental Information Regulations. Requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (for non-environmental information) will be unaffected by the proposed new charges for environmental information.

There is also a legal duty on the Council to maintain and make available its public registers of environmental information, free of charge, such as the Public Register of Contaminated Land and personal inspections of the Local Land Charges Register.

The consultation for environmental information charges begins on Friday, 20 October 2017 and ends on Friday, 19 January 2018. A survey is provided for members of the public, businesses and organisations, to submit their responses, available online at: www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EIRChargingProposals, or by requesting a hard copy of the questionnaire at the Town Hall, Penrith, or by telephone: 01768 817817.  

Responses to the consultation will be considered by the Council’s Deputy Chief Executive, Matthew Neal, and any substantive objections will also be considered by the Resources Portfolio Holder, Councillor Paula Breen. The Deputy Chief Executive has delegated authority to put in place the new charging regime.

Further details about the proposed new charges for requests for environmental information can be obtained by contacting the Council’s Information Governance Manager on Telephone: 01768 212295, or by email: info.governance@eden.gov.uk

ENDS