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.
It is the largest-ever fine imposed for environmental offences in the region. The prosecution followed an Environment Agency investigation in 2018 into discharges at Jaywick Water Recycling Centre near Clacton-on-Sea. Anglian Water had decommissioned a piece of equipment at the site which led to the conditions for untreated sewage to be released into the North Sea.
Anglian Water failed to act on available data that would have alerted it to the issues, and there was also a lack of an alarm system to inform the water company of how often the discharges were occurring.
Since 2010, water companies have been responsible for self-monitoring water recycling sites. Environment Agency officers carry out audits and inspections of waste water treatment works. Data experts analyse hundreds of thousands of discharges to identify illegal activity, which is used as evidence to hold water companies to account.
An investigation in 2018 found that the discharges into the North Sea, recorded over a month between June and July, were the equivalent of more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools, or 7,500,000 litres.
The Jaywick Water Recycling Centre does have an Environment Agency permit, which only allows discharges into the sea during storm conditions. However, sentencing Anglian Water, district judge Andrew King said “more could and should have been done” to prevent this pollution.
He added that it should not have taken Environment Agency officers to spot what was happening during a routine inspection, and they simply “heard, looked and saw” what Anglian Water operatives, who were present on site every day, should have seen. The fact that “Anglian Water finds itself in court so frequently” was reflected in the level of the fine, as was “a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately” to previous penalties.
Defra water minister Rebecca Pow said: “I am clear that water companies must not profit from environmental damage. This latest result follows on the heels of a £2.1m fine handed to South West Water. In both cases, the fines will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits and not passed on to customer bills.
“Going forward, all fines will be paid into our Water Restoration Fund to support projects that will help improve our natural environment and our water quality.”
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