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Anglian Water fined £1.2m for sewage spills as judge said it ‘dragged its feet’





Anglian Water has been fined more than £1.2million for a series of pollution incidents across three counties, including failing to tackle problems with a sewer in Cambridgeshire that has burst six times.

The company was fined £350,000 after repeated sewage spills close to the Bourn Water Recycling Centre, which it owns and operates. In the most recent incident, it overflowed into a tributary of the Bourn Brook.

Since 2004 the sewer, which is only 1.5km long, has burst six times and a court heard that Anglian Water had been too slow in putting in place potential mitigation measures.

A public bridleway in a pool of sewage. The sewage from the broken pipe has seeped up through the ground. PictureL Environment Agency (60044934)
A public bridleway in a pool of sewage. The sewage from the broken pipe has seeped up through the ground. PictureL Environment Agency (60044934)

Jeremy Hay, senior environment officer, for the Environment Agency said: “Anglian Water should have done more to prevent this sewer from bursting in the first place.

“Sewage pollution can be devastating to human health, local biodiversity and our environment. Companies must invest in their infrastructure to avoid pollution such as this.”

The company has also been served with further fines totalling £871,000 after a catalogue of system and maintenance failures caused separate incidents of pollution across Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire between May and September 2019.

Environment Agency officers were called to Bourn Brook at Caldecote in September 2019 after sewage pumped out of the sewer.

A member of the public notified the water company on September 10 that sewage was overflowing onto a bridleway and into a ditch which was a tributary of the Bourn Brook.

A digger located above the location of the burst pipe in Bourn, ready to dig down. Picture: Environment Agency (60044936)
A digger located above the location of the burst pipe in Bourn, ready to dig down. Picture: Environment Agency (60044936)

The water company reported the incident to the Environment Agency. Officers visited the scene and took samples, finding that it had begun to enter the nearby brook.

Officers found ammonia and low oxygen levels in the water, posing a potential risk to wildlife at the site. Anglian Water efforts to stop the spill were insufficient and 4km of the watercourse was affected for at least five days.

Anglian Water only located air valves, designed to reduce stress on the sewer, after the incident took place. These valves had been in place for at least 25 years.

The company appeared at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court on October 12, charged with causing poisonous, noxious, or polluting matter to enter inland freshwaters without an environmental permit.

In sentencing, district judge Ken Sheraton found that there had been “no effective surveys” of the pipe in question, or the two air valves would have been noticed.

The water company pleaded guilty to the offence and were fined £350,000 and told to pay £28,025.66 in costs as well as a victim surcharge of £181.

Sewage that has poured off the bridleway into the tributary of the Bourn Brook. Picture: Environment Agency (60044938)
Sewage that has poured off the bridleway into the tributary of the Bourn Brook. Picture: Environment Agency (60044938)

Meanwhile, the failings for which it was fined £871,000 included reporting delays, faulty screening and a general breakdown in planning and maintenance, all of which caused damaging blockages and pollution. It was also ordered to pay £37,605.13 in costs by Loughborough magistrates in September.

District judge Nick Watson, said it had “dragged its feet” in addressing infrastructure improvements.

He said that this appeared to be: “…an endemic part of the culture of the organisation at the time of the offences”.

He added: “Water companies have a huge responsibility to proactively manage the resources they have been given a responsibility for. Profit must not be at the cost of the environment.”

Incidents included the discharge of poorly-treated sewage into the River Lark near Ely in Cambridgeshire in May 2019 from the Isleham Sewage Treatment Works.

An unchecked build-up of ‘unflushables’ such as cotton buds and sanitary pads caused a blockage, resulting in discharge of settled sludge into the treated sewage.

The site was originally fitted with a screen to prevent blockages in the process but this was removed in 2018. The court heard that increased cleaning had not taken place and no steps taken to reduce the risk of blockages caused by the removal of the screen.

It led to reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in the water needed by fish and invertebrates, the court was told.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “We take our duty of care to the environment incredibly seriously and deeply regret any negative impact when things go wrong.

“We work tirelessly to protect and enhance the environment, so it is particularly distressing when incidents like this occur.

“We are investing £800million to help protect and improve the environment and are determined to achieve our zero pollutions goal.”



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