Environmental Law News Update

February 27, 2017

In this latest Environmental News Update, Christopher Badger comments on the European Commission’s final warning to the UK on air pollution, the recent prosecution of a water company fined over £200,000 for sewage pollution, and the publication of a ‘Manifesto for a Greener UK’ by a coalition of NGO’s.


European Commission issues final warning to UK on air pollution

The UK has been given a final legal warning over its continuing failure to meet EU air quality limits. In a reasoned opinion dated 15 January 2017, the European Commission has threatened the UK with court action concerning illegally high levels of nitrogen dioxide.

The UK is not the only member state to be threatened – Germany, France, Spain and Italy were also cited in the opinion. Most emissions result from road traffic.

The opinion identifies 16 air quality zones where there have been persistent breaches of nitrogen dioxide limits, including London, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow. It states that “much more effort” is necessary to meet the obligations of EU rules and safeguard public health.

The European Commission press release can be found here


South West Water ordered to pay over £200,000 for sewage pollution in Cornwall

South West Water have been fined £185,000 for two offences (£175,000 on the first, £10,000 on the second) plus costs following the illegal discharge of untreated sewage to the river Fal in Cornwall. 730,000 litres of sewage escaped over a period of nine hours, in an estuary that is home to mussel and oyster bed shellfisheries, a site of special scientific interest and a special area of conservation. The principal offence was categorised a negligent cat 3 for the purposes of the Sentencing Guideline.

South West Water were fined £50,000 in February for another pollution incident at its Calenick sewage pumping station, £300,000 in December for polluting a stream in Devon and £214,000 in October 2015 for discharging sewage into a tributary of the Tamar estuary.

The financial statements for South West Water show a turnover of £506 million for the year ending 31 March 2016 and profit for the year after tax of £160 million (after non-underlying items).

South West Water operates a significant number of wastewater treatment works, which can individually service a comparatively very small number of people. Consequently, the scale of the infrastructure operated by South West Water is extensive and can pose a risk of pollution incidents occurring if problems do develop.

Further news on the case can be found here


NGO coalition calls for new environment law post Brexit

Greener UK, made up of 13 NGOs including the National Trust, ClientEarth, WWF, Greenpeace and the RSPB, has published ‘A Manifesto For A Greener UK’ identifying what it considers to be 8 key action points for a greener UK. The action points include:

  • fully transposing and maintaining existing EU environmental laws and principles through the Repeal Bill together with ensuring that necessary governance arrangements are in place for robust implementation and enforcement in the future; and
  • creating an “ambitious” new Environment Act that sets measurable milestones for environmental restoration and standards.

As may be anticipated in a manifesto, the publication doesn’t address any detail on its proposals. In particular it doesn’t seek to tackle the suggestion by Andrea Leadsome, DEFRA Secretary, back in October that there was some doubt that approximately a third of EU environmental law may not be able to be easily transposed into domestic legislation. Nor does the manifesto give any detail on the current environmental priorities for the EU and the extent to which any of those priorities are mirrored by current UK legislation or policy.

The manifesto can be found here


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