Public Access to Environmental Information Held by Private Companies


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Keywords: Environmental Information Regulations, environmental information, public access, private companies

Abstract: The pervading thought in England and Wales has been that private utility companies such as water-only companies (WOCs) and water and sewage companies (WASCs) were public authorities under the 2004 Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) and so were subject to the regime. However, on 23 November 2010, on appeal, the Upper Tribunal delivered a judgment in the case of Smart source Drainage


Public access to environmental information is a vital aspect of the notion of public par-ticipation in environmental matters, and the latter is mainly an offshoot of democratic norms. While the publics right to elect a body of individuals to represent them in the business of governance is an important aspect of democracy and public participation, against views that this level of public participation is largely satisfactory,1 democrats like Rousseau, who seem to hold the more pervading view, have refused to see this as an accurate picture of democracy. He argued that democracy could only exist on a face-to-face basis where state power is decentralised and ordinary citizens are given more space to influence government actions and participate more directly in the business of governance.2 This form of participatory democracy, as opposed to the representative form of democracy, is at the root of the rapid rise of the participatory doctrine in the environmental law field.3 This participatory concept which seeks to ensure that 'the governed should engage in their own governance is, quite literally, gaining ground and rapidly expanding in both law and practice'.4

However, the rise of public participation in environmental matters hardly stems from 'government philanthropy', as the institutional culture of government usually tends towards secrecy and not disclosure.5 Rather, the meteoric rise of public participation, both generally and in an environmental context, has been largely fuelled by certain factors which include: (1) the human population growth and the consequential increase in pressure on natural resources;6 (2) the increase in awareness of the implications of a damaged environment for human well-being;7 (3) the growth in both human and political rights;8 and (4) the weakening legitimacy of the state9 and the negative social and economic impact of government policies.10

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