03.07.23

Legal challenge from WildFish to be heard in the High Court

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Sewage pollution.

“We have one simple ask of the Government: enforce the existing law to stop water companies dumping raw sewage into our rivers”. 

On 4 July, the legal challenge brought by WildFish, which seeks to have the Government’s sewage plan rejected as unlawful and re-written, will be heard in the High Court.

WildFish wants the Government to: 

1. Enforce the law (in existence since 1994) and stop water companies from dumping raw sewage in rivers. 

2. Get rid of the current plan for sewage pollution (known as the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan) which effectively allows water companies to continue to break the law for a further 27 years until 2050 and develop a plan that is in line with the existing law. 

3. Ensure water companies foot the bill for any increased sewage capacity required by the law, not their customers. 

Since 1994, the law in England and Wales has required privatised water companies to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, unless there is a risk of sewer flooding due to exceptional rainfall. The law also imposes a duty (not just a power) on the Secretary of State and OFWAT to enforce that requirement. 

In reality, what the water companies, the Secretary of State and OFWAT have jointly delivered has fallen far short of the legal requirements.

Almost all of the huge number of raw sewage discharges that we see today – and are now regularly reported – are contrary to the existing law. Despite this: 

  • Water companies consistently (at every periodic review period and as the law requires them to do) reassure OFWAT that they have sufficient funds and can comply with all their regulatory requirements. OFWAT has always accepted those assurances.
  • Most permits issued by the Environment Agency allow raw sewage to be discharged if there is any rainfall or snowmelt rather than only in exceptional weather. Consequently, this ‘permit loophole’ has been exploited to the fullest possible extent, with the Government’s and OFWAT’s active approval. 
  • The Secretary of State and OFWAT have jointly avoided enforcing the ‘exceptional rainfall’ law, turning a deliberately blind eye to water companies’ ‘sweating their assets’ and discharging raw sewage to the rivers, when the law says they should not.

Nick Measham, chief executive at WildFish, said: “it is time for the Government to end its ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach to environmental regulation once and for all and make the water companies do what they have promised to do, and have been required to do by law, for nearly 30 years.

This must be at their own expense. Our wild fish, our rivers and all of us have had enough.

“If we win this case, it will fall to the Secretary of State, OFWAT and the Environment Agency jointly to ensure the water companies now deliver what the law has required them to do for years”. 


 

The Royal Courts of Justice daily cause list can be found here.

 
Comments
  • Angela Smart
    4th July 2023

    This is long overdue and exactly what should be done. Great to hear that you are fight for our basic right to have clean water

  • user1_immy
    4th July 2023

    Thank you for your support.

  • Joanna Stephens
    4th July 2023

    Congratulations thank goodness you are now doing something about this incredibly important case. Hopefully the news ( particularly the BBC) will publicise this as a priority on their news bulletins. I live in hope !!

  • user1_immy
    4th July 2023

    Thank you for your support – we can fight these battles for rivers and wild fish because of it.

  • Nicholas Southward
    4th July 2023

    Our politicians spend far too much time enacting new laws and regulations rather than in enforcing those that exist. In this instance, let’s hope that the High Court finds in favour of WildFish leading to effective control of this pollutant which does so much damage to our rivers.

  • Howard Tovey
    4th July 2023

    Great news and long overdue, l hope the case is successful.

  • Marie-Louise
    4th July 2023

    The law exists and should be enforced. Well done Wildfish!

  • Marie-Louise
    4th July 2023

    The law exists and should be enforced. Well done!

  • russell
    7th July 2023

    Great work – is there an update from the High Court session?

  • user1_immy
    7th July 2023

    Hi – we’re posting an update later this morning. Thanks for your support.

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