Northumbrian Water fined for County Durham pollution

26th November 2021


Northumbrian Water has been fined over £500k for polluting a watercourse, in a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency.

The water company received the fine at Durham Crown Court, having changed its plea and admitted causing or knowingly permitting a water discharge activity on 22 May 2017. The incident followed the discovery of raw untreated sewage flowing from a burst manhole cover in Heads Hope Dene into a nearby stream, between Hutton Henry and Castle Eden in east Durham.

Northumbrian Water’s engineers made the discovery themselves, as they had been aware of problems caused by blockages of a combined sewer in the rural location due to tree root damage and were at the scene preparing for amelioration work.

The company self-reported the incident to the Agency, and it is believed the pollution took place over two to three days – but it was impossible to quantify how much sewage had entered the watercourse.

Water samples indicated raw sewage had entered the stream, and later surveys found the ecology and habitat of the watercourse was damaged for 2km, with river sample results indicating a detrimental impact on water quality for 4km.

The water company began work to clear the blockage that day, as well as remedial work to make improvements. A longer-term solution to reroute the sewer out of the Dene is currently underway.

Judge James Adkin said the company was aware of serious tree root ingress following checks in April 2017, and although there was little time for immediate significant work, it made only “a makeshift response to an active pollution threat”. Chicken wire and bales had been used near the manhole to hold back sewage debris, which he described as being “totally inadequate” when the pollution incident took place.

Agency regional environment manager Rachael Caldwell said water companies had a legal duty to avoid pollution and “must act quickly to reduce any damage that happens as a result of their activities”.

Northumbrian Water was fined £540,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £142,000, as well as a £170 victim surcharge.

Image credit | Alamy


Transform articles

Costs limit application for individual in ‘Save the Northern Meadows’ group granted

In R. (on the application of Lewis) v Welsh Ministers, following a costs order against the claimant, the claimant applied for a costs limit in accordance with the Aarhus Convention 2001 and the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) 1998/3132.

26th May 2022

Read more

Multinational drinks giant Diageo has been fined more than £1.2m by the Scottish government for breaches relating to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), despite having an appeal partially up-held.

26th May 2022

Read more

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has today published its first monitoring report on the UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, warning that progress so far has been “slow”.

12th May 2022

Read more

US companies registered with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) could be forced to report the climate-related impacts of their business under plans announced by the regulator this week.

24th March 2022

Read more

In R. (on the application of Finch) v Surrey County Council, the appellant appealed against the dismissal of her judicial review claim. She sought review of the council planning authority’s decision to grant permission to expand an oil well site and drill four new oil wells.

24th March 2022

Read more

Yorkshire Water has agreed to pay £300,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust following a sewage discharge incident in Leeds in 2018.

24th March 2022

Read more

Nearly 10,400 companies worldwide – worth $105trn (£80.4trn) in market capitalisation – will be asked to disclose environmental data by more than 680 financial institutions this year through CDP.

14th March 2022

Read more

In R. (on the application of RSPB) v Natural England, the RSPB and a nature conservation scientist appealed a Natural England decision to grant a licence to “take and disturb” hen harriers for scientific, research or educational purposes under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

27th January 2022

Read more

Thames Water Utilities Limited has been fined £4m for discharging half a million litres of sewage into Seacourt Stream and Hinksey Stream in Oxford over two days in July 2016.

27th January 2022

Read more

Media enquires

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

Find an expert