Friday, April 04, 2008

Waste companies must open files to public

Friends of the Earth
Press release 31 March 08
An important decision under freedom of information laws will now allow members of the public to directly request environmental information from waste companies.

Following a formal complaint by Friends of the Earth, the Information Commissioner has ruled that a private waste management company is required to make environmental information public because it is classed the same as a public authority under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

Phil Michaels, Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth's Rights & Justice Centre said:

"The Information Commissioner has made a very important decision that private waste companies can be subject to environmental information legislation. In the past, waste companies have tried to wriggle out of releasing information to the public. Now it is clear that the public is legally entitled to know how their waste is treated by these companies. People all over the country can now get hold of information they may need to challenge controversial proposals, like plans to build new incinerators."

In March 2006, Lewes District Friends of the Earth wrote to South Downs Waste Services Ltd requesting information about the environmental assessments of its proposal for an incinerator in Newhaven. South Downs Waste Services Ltd is part of the Veolia family of companies, one of the largest waste management companies in the UK. The company replied stating that the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 did not apply to it as it was not a public authority and that it was not required to release the information.

Lawyers in the Friends of Earth's Rights & Justice Centre wrote to the Information Commissioner on behalf of the group complaining that the company had misunderstood the legislation and that it was, in fact, a public authority for the purposes of the Regulations. In his Decision Notice the Information Commissioner found that the company was a public authority because it was under the control of East Sussex County Council and Brighton and Hove City Council as a result of its contract with those councils.
Read the decision notice (pdf)

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