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Anglian Water fined £2.65m after sewage failings

09 May 2023

ANGLIAN WATER pleaded guilty and was hit with a fine of £2.65 million after allowing untreated sewage to overflow into the North Sea following a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency.

A catalogue of failures by the company to manage and monitor effluent at the Jaywick Water Recycling Centre in Essex led to sewage being discharged into the sea.

These discharges occurred because Anglian Water decommissioned a piece of equipment, which led to the conditions for untreated sewage to be released into the North Sea. It failed to act on available data that would have alerted it to the issue. There was also a lack of an alarm system to inform the water company of how often these discharges were occurring.

Anglian Water was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £16,520.09 and a victim surcharge of £170 at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court (27 April 2023). Resulting in a total financial penalty of £2,666,690.09.

It is the largest ever fine imposed for environmental offences in the region.

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, was the equivalent of more than 3 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.

Sentencing Anglian Water, District Judge 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 said they simply ‘heard, looked and saw’ what Anglian Water operatives, who were present on site every day, should have seen.

He told the court the fact that ‘Anglian Water finds itself in court so frequently’ must be reflected in the level of the fine. And referred to ‘a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately’ to previous penalties.

Environment Agency chair Alan Lovell said, "The Environment Agency’s officers were instrumental in highlighting the scale of Anglian Water’s discharges into the North Sea – equivalent to 3 Olympic swimming pools of waste water in a month – and ensuring the water company has been made to pay for its pollution.

"The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties."

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 £2.1 million 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."

The court heard how Anglian Water could have done more to prevent these discharges. Data was available to indicate storm flows were occurring in dry weather which should have prompted an investigation by Anglian Water.

Anglian Water has since taken several actions to address issues found at the site. These included ensuring equipment was in working order, implementing a regular cleaning regime, and increasing the storm flow separation weir height to reduce the possibility of premature overflows.