Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Professor Robert Lee Lifts Lid on Benefits of Commercially Available Environmental Data

An article*, written by environmental lawyer Professor Robert Lee, has found that recent legal rulings have ‘transformed processes of risk governance in land transfer and related forms of transaction to the point which the restriction of information to commercial providers of information is…contrary to the public good’.

In Smartsource v Information Commissioner, the Upper Tribunal ruled that privatised water utility companies are not subject to requirements of the relevant regulations allowing access to information on the environment. This ruling has raised serious questions about the obligation Private companies have to provide public access to environmental information.

Professor Lee notes within the paper that ‘it is the combination of different datasets that imbues data with meaning therefore it is in public interest to have access to comprehensive environmental information’. However, the information received from Public companies is not always completely accurate. When Professor Lee visited Landmark Information Group’s offices in Exeter, he discovered that the flow of data between Private and Public companies is symbiotic, with experts at Landmark checking the accuracy of data and ensuring a regular flow back to public agencies.

The benefit of sourcing data from a commercial company is highlighted within the report. Commercial providers rely on special systems to ensure the integrity of their data – they quality check and clean up the data, highlighting any errors to the public providers. Crucially, Landmark carries out a geometric check to verify data. Any anomalies are quickly flagged and are then corrected manually by Landmark if necessary.

Although there are arguments for the public having access to data, many consumers have difficulty in interpreting the raw data that are received from public companies. It is here that commercial companies such as Landmark really come into their own, by virtue of the fact that they distil the information into user-friendly reports which are much easier to digest. By purchasing a report such as Landmark’s Envirosearch Report, users have a single report containing all relevant data and can quickly and easily establish any potential risk.

As Professor Lee notes in closing, ‘the free flow of information supports market forces in generating environmental improvement and negating environmental risk…environmental information should be treated as a public good’.

*Environmental Law & Management, published by LawText Publishing Limited,