Essex oyster firm and Environmental groups lose high court challenge over sewage discharge plan

Campaigners lost their legal challenge over sewage discharge

Campaigners unhappy about a Government plan to reduce sewage discharges have lost a High Court fight with environment ministers.

The legal action had been taken over the "Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan". They challenged the lawfulness of the plan, published a year ago, which aims to eliminate sewage dumping by 2050.

Richard Haward's Oysters, a business based in Mersea Island, and swimmer Hugo Tagholm, a former chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, had joined WildFish and the the Marine Conservation Society in the legal move.

Lawyers representing campaigners had argued that the plan "inadvertently and unintentionally" did not address a "significant proportion of the issue".

The ruling did not look at the "merits of thre policies in the plan" Credit: PA Images

But a judge has ruled against campaigners. Mr Justice Holgate, who heard arguments at a High Court hearing in London in July, dismissed the challenge on Friday.

He said the "spillage of large quantities of sewage" in "various locations throughout the country" had "become the subject of widespread public concern".

But he said he had only been asked to decide whether or not ministers had acted unlawfully, and added: "It is not for the court to assess the merits of the policies in the plan."

He said he agreed with a description, by lawyers representing ministers, of the plan as a statement of "general political will".

Reacting to the judgement, Guy Linley-Adams, in-house solicitor for WildFish said despite disappointment over the ruling, the case had achieved a great deal.

He said it helped clarify the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations 1994. The law restricts the circumstances in which untreated sewage can be released into rivers via storm overflows.

Under the law Wildfish say water companies are required "to use best techniques, not involving excessive cost, to prevent untreated sewage being released, unless there is exceptional weather."

WildFish say exceptional weather does not include normal or usual rainfall dry weather conditions, although we have seen many water company sewage pipes discharging untreated sewage into rivers in dry conditions over recent years.

Mr Linley-Adams said the ruling: "...clarified that much of the storm sewage pollution that is plaguing English and Welsh rivers must be brought to an end under pre-existing statutory and regulatory obligations, and not on the wildly over-generous timetable set down by the Government in its 2022 Plan.

"The costs of now properly complying with the 1994 law – putting an end to existing unlawful discharges – must be not paid for by extra increases to consumers’ water bills.

"Those costs must be paid for by the companies themselves and OFWAT must ensure that occurs. The judgment has also clarified that the Environment Agency must also secure compliance with the 1994 Regulations, which means it needs urgently to review the permits it has given to water companies, to bring them into line with the law”.

You can read Mr Justice Holgate's full judgement here:

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