Friday, 09 April 2010 13:21

Fish Legal appalled by water companies avoiding proper regulation of sewage discharges


Fish Legal, the legal arm of the Angling Trust, has reacted with dismay to the news that six water companies have won their appeal against the decision of Environment Agency (EA) to provide proper regulation for the thousands of unregulated Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) in England and Wales.

Fish Legal Fishing NewsOver twenty years ago, in 1989, at the time of water privatisation, the water companies were granted temporary consents for many thousands of discharges carrying storm sewage into English and Welsh rivers. This followed the discovery, immediately pre-privatisation, that vast numbers of these discharges had no legal consent.

At the time, it was quite clear that the granting of temporary consents was a quick fix designed to enable the Government of the day to sell the companies into private hands with no potential criminal liabilities. Under pressure from Fish Legal, the EA eventually decided, in April 2009, to impose a set of standard conditions on all those discharges in order to bring them into proper regulation.

However, the companies – which include United Utilities Water PLC, Severn Trent Water Ltd, Anglian Water Services Ltd, Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, Thames Water Utilities Ltd and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water – appealed the decision by the EA.

They argued at the appeal hearing that the new discharge consents were unlawful and would require expensive works to be carried out, putting them in a position where they might be prosecuted if there were any future breaches.

The arguments between the companies and the EA centred on a set of conditions which would make it an offence, for instance, to cause a deterioration in the quality of water in rivers and lakes. Such conditions have now been omitted, leaving a consent which permits the lawful use of the CSOs except in the narrowest of circumstances.

Fish Legal – which had been invited to take part as an interested party at the hearing in support of the EA – argued that it had investigated pollutions in England caused by discharging CSOs and that the very basic terms of deemed consents had meant that the Agency had been unable to regulate or enforce despite the scale of the damage caused to the environment.

However, the Inspector has now decided in favour of the water companies, and has re-written the conditions to addresses the companies’ concerns. In the view of Fish Legal, the new wording allows the companies to pollute without fear of enforcement except in the most limited of circumstances.
Justin Neal, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal, commented:

“After several years of campaigning, the Fish Legal team were jubilant that the Agency had decided to do something about the thousands of deemed consents in England and Wales. Our view is that reasonable conditions in carefully worded consents could provide a solution. However, the water companies seem to see this as an issue where the environment takes second place. The consents resulting from the appeal make little difference to the present situation and it may be that we will be facing devastating pollutions in the future where the Agency will not be able to enforce.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said:

“Anglers are fed up with fishing in rivers where the trees are festooned with sanitary products and invertebrates and fish are killed or weakened by sewage pollution. This decision delays the restoration of rivers to good condition for the benefit of all wildlife and fisheries unacceptably. The appeal by the water companies is an outrageous dodge of their responsibilities to take care of our rivers and an unacceptable failure to honour the spirit of these consents, which were only intended as a temporary measure. We will continue to fight for clean waters.”

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