High Court rules on private companies’ discharge rights

21st July 2022

Two points have been considered in the appeal of The Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd v United Utilities Water Ltd, which concerned a claim by the Manchester Ship Canal Company (MSC) against United Utilities Water (UU) in relation to discharges made into the canal.

The appeal considered two points from earlier separate cases: a 2018 case that decided discharges made into the canal by UU did not entitle MSC to private law action in trespass or nuisance, and a 2010 case that determined the effect of MSC’s alleged termination of contractual licences which allowed UU to use five licensed outfalls to discharge into the canal.

Regarding the 2018 case, the judge upheld the decision against the availability of private law action, stating that it could not be distinguished from Marcic v Thames Water Utilities Ltd, and that to hold UU liable for trespass or nuisance for unauthorised discharges into the canal would be “inconsistent with the statutory scheme” applicable to them.

In both cases, discharges were a result of the capacity of an inherited infrastructure being exceeded after heavy rainfall, and not something the undertakers could be held responsible for by way of a tort claim. The judge dismissed the 2018 appeal.

In relation to the 2010 case, in which the previous judge had held that UU had a continued statutory right to drain through the outfalls even if MSC terminated the agreements, the appeal was allowed. The judge stated that to accept “that the licences were valid, but the termination provisions were not, the practical effect would be … to convert what was a precarious grant into a permanent deprivation of property. That seems to me to be a very striking consequence”.

The judge was “not aware that it has previously been held (or even suggested) that the ultra vires doctrine can have the effect of turning a limited and determinable contractual right into a permanent one, and as far as

I can see without any compensation being payable.” The 2010 appeal was allowed.

Image credit | Shutterstock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

EU agrees new environmental crime rules

Environmental crimes could result in prison sentences of up to 10 years and company fines of 5% of turnover under a proposed EU law agreed by the European parliament and council.

21st November 2023

Read more

From government compromises on retained EU law, to disposable vapes, Neil Howe provides an update on the ever-evolving world of environmental legislation

3rd August 2023

Read more

Litigation is becoming a key tool for delivering climate justice and action, with the number of court cases more than doubling worldwide in just five years, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has found.

27th July 2023

Read more

This legislative update has been provided by Cedrec Information Systems Ltd, available at cedrec.com. In Partnership with Barbour EHS.

1st June 2023

Read more

In Sunbeam Fishing Ltd v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the owner and operator of a sandeel fishing vessel argued that the secretary of state’s decision was unlawful in both substance and timing, and sought to ensure the same illegalities would not affect the UK fleet’s ability to catch sandeel in 2023.

31st May 2023

Read more

Anglian Water has been fined £2.65m after pleading guilty at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court to allowing millions of litres of untreated sewage to overflow into the North Sea.

31st May 2023

Read more

In February, the House of Lords began a consultation on the impact of environmental regulations on development.

31st May 2023

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close