Yorkshire Water fined £1.6m over sewage pollution

Water company contracts for polluting a watercourse in Bradford with unauthorized sewage discharges in 2018

Yorkshire Water has been fined £1.6m for polluting a Bradford watercourse and breaching environmental law following a successful prosecution brought by the Environment Agency.

Yorkshire Water appeared at Leeds Magistrates’ Court for sentencing yesterday, where it pleaded guilty to unauthorized sewage discharges into Bradford Beck, which took place in 2018, and breaches its environmental permit, amid claims the pollution caused harm to local wildlife.

On top of the £1.6m fine, the firm was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170 and over £22,000 in costs. Yorkshire Water said it had made changes to its processes as a result of the incident “to ensure it doesn’t happen again”.

It is just the latest in a string of multi-million pound fines handed out to water companies over sewage pollution complaints, with the sector facing increasing scrutiny for its poor overall performance.

Last week, the Environmental Agency released its annual performance assessment of water companies, in which it concluded the sector had reached a “new low”.

It revealed that performance across the country had worsened, despite increased enforcement action against water firms found to be breaching environmental law.

Of the nine water companies examined as part of the report, six of them failed to achieve higher than a two-star rating. Yorkshire Water had been highlighted in the report as a company that needed ‘significant improvement’ after its rating dropped from a four-star in 2020 to a two-star in 2021.

The Environment Agency called on the government and courts to impose bigger fines and consider custodial sentences for seniors, arguing that fines that frequently amount to less than the CEO’s salary was an insufficient deterrent.

Following its sentencing yesterday, Yorkshire Water said in a statement that it takes its commitment to the environment very seriously and is planning to invest £790m over the next few years to improve its watercourses.

“We’ve taken the learning from this incident and embedded this into our processes,” the firm said in a statement. “This incident should not have occurred, and we’ve thoroughly reviewed the incident and made changes in how we operate across all our assets to ensure it doesn’t again.”

During legal proceedings, the court heard that Yorkshire Water’s George Street detention tank in Bradford was full for up to eight months during 2018, leading to 25 unauthorized sewage spills into Bradford Beck.

Findings from an investigation revealed that Yorkshire Water had faulty pumps on its tank emptying system between August 2017 and September 2018, which caused it to overflow into the river following storms.

According to reports, Yorkshire Water was aware of the storm pumps were out of action and of the fact the tank was full, the court heard. It was also revealed that Yorkshire Water failed to fix the pumps as soon as practical, to provide a stand-by pump, or to maintain its pumps and to maintain the overflow.

The court also heard information from the local community which highlighted adverse impacts on the wildlife, including invertebrates and fish, in the immediate aftermath of the unauthorized discharge in August 2018.

“Yorkshire Water was aware of the tank was full and likely to illegally discharge into the beck and failed to take action to prevent it from happening,” said Ben Hocking, environment manager for the Environment Agency in Yorkshire. “They generald the permitting regulations, which are in place to protect the environment.”

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