Water company fined £2m for polluting beaches

20th December 2016

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Charlotte D'Arcy

A record fine has been handed to Southern Water after sewage pollution from its pumping station caused the closure of Kent beaches during the Queen's diamond jubilee bank holiday in 2012.

In late May and early June 2012, technical failures at the firm’s wastewater pumping station in Margate resulted in untreated and partially-screened sewage being discharged onto the beach and into the sea on numerous occasions.

The pollution was so serious that Thanet District Council closed several beaches in the area for nine days, including the bank holiday weekend. The Environment Agency said clean-up and compensation costs amounted to more than £420,000.

Similar incidents occurred between May and September 2014, resulting in more beach closures.

Julie Foley, Environment Agency area manager, said: ‘The failures to contain sewage resulted in a risk to public health, polluted a considerable length of coastline, including numerous beaches, and resulted in a negative impact on Thanet, which is an area heavily reliant on the local tourism economy.’

Director of Southern Water Simon Oates said that the firm ‘apologised unreservedly’ for the pollution. ‘Since 2012 we have invested £4m in the site and have a further £6m investment plan. We’re working hard with partners such as the Environment Agency and Thanet District Council to ensure that the areas bathing water is cleaner than ever,’ he said.

The fine is double the highest previously levied. In January, Thames Water was forced to pay £1m for repeatedly polluting the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire between July 2012 and April 2013. Fines have risen since tougher sentencing guidelines were introduced in 2014, according to reports from both the agency and government monitoring body the Sentencing Council.

Southern was found to be below target in the agency’s latest annual assessment of water companies’ performance. However, it had improved since 2011, when it scored particularly poorly on both serious and minor sewage pollution for four consecutive years.


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