UK water firms to face fines up to £250m for dumping sewage

Environment Agency’s maximum penalty for each individual breach of the rules will rise from £250,000

A jetty beneath which raw sewage had reportedly been discharged after heavy rain on August 17 in Seaford, England. Getty
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As part of new plans to clean up UK seas and rivers, water companies that dump sewage will face fines of up to £250 million ($282m), the new environment secretary has vowed.

If water firms do not do more to prevent effluent flowing into open water, he will institute an increase in civil fines — up to 1,000-fold — Ranil Jayawardena told company chiefs.

“On my first day in office I met water company bosses to give them their report card. I’ll be polite: could do better," he told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Monday.

“I asked them to write to me with their plans to accelerate investment in infrastructure. They did and now they must deliver.

“Privatisation has put in £170 billion of investment into our water infrastructure already, and the private sector will now put in another £56 billion more.

“And, if they don’t deliver, I can confirm to you today that we will take forward plans to lift the Environment Agency’s maximum civil fine for each individual breach of the rules from up to just £250,000, to up to £250 million.”

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The plan involves launching a formal consultation on lifting the current £250,000 cap for Environment Agency fines for water firms that breach environmental rules.

There has been growing public outrage in recent years at the volume of raw or partially treated sewage pumped into the UK’s rivers and coastal waters.

Water firms are being criticised for not investing money back into the UK’s outdated water infrastructure, with mounting pressure on ministers to intervene.

Under Boris Johnson’s leadership, the Conservative government outlined plans to crack down on spills by requiring utility companies to invest £56 billion over 25 years to combat the impact of storm overflows.

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At Labour’s conference last week, shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said water bosses would face prison sentences for the worst pollution incidents under a Labour government.

He said his party would introduce a legally binding target to end 90 per cent of sewage discharges by 2030 and stronger sanctions and fines for bosses and companies who fail to do so.

Labour also attacked Prime Minister Liz Truss’s record while she was environment secretary, blaming her for £24 million of funding cuts for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent sewage dumping.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 8:49 PM