Northumbrian Water admits illegally dumping raw sewage into stream

27 October 2021, 20:21

Northumbrian Water has admitted illegally dumping raw sewage in a stream in 2017.
Northumbrian Water has admitted illegally dumping raw sewage in a stream in 2017. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A major water company which serves 2.7 million people in the north east of England has admitted allowing raw sewage to be illegally discharged into a stream.

Northumbrian Water's defence barrister appeared at Newcastle Crown Court by videolink to admit two breaches of environmental legislation, namely that it caused an unauthorised water discharge activity.

It follows effluent - which is liquid waste or sewage discharged into seas or rivers - spewing out of a manhole and into Coundon Burn, Bishop Auckland in County Durham, in March 2017.

The firm, which serves 2.7 million people in the north east, will be sentenced on January 6, Judge Sarah Mallett said.

The prosecution, brought by the Environment Agency, and the defence discussed culpability over three hours.

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Both parties agreed the harm caused was "category three", the court heard.

The Environment Agency classifies a category three incident as one causing "minor or minimal impact or effect on the environment, people and/or property".

No more details about the breaches were given.

Environment Agency figures show that water companies discharged raw sewage more than 400,000 times into England’s waterways for a period of 3.1 million hours in 2020.

Last week, MPs voted to remove the Lords amendment to the Environment Bill which aimed to clean up rivers by placing a new duty on water companies to reduce sewage discharges when drains are overwhelmed.

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It was put forward by crossbench peer the Duke of Wellington and would have forced companies and the Government to "take all reasonable steps" to avoid using sewer overflows.

MPs voted 268 to 204, majority 64, to disagree with the proposals. Only 22 Conservative MPs rebelled and supported the measures.

But in a Government U-turn this week, Environment Secretary George Eustice pledged to introduce tougher action against water companies.

Mr Eustice promised to bolster measures in the Environment Bill by making companies pay legal duty.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the bill will now "be further strengthened with an amendment that will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows".

Campaign groups Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage have both called for action to tackle sewage being dumped into waterways and at coastal spots.