Anglian Water fined £2.65m after sewage discharged into North Sea

After pleading guilty, Anglian Water has been issued a fine of £2.65m after allowing untreated sewage to overflow into the North Sea.

The prosecution, brought forward by the Environment Agency, revealed numerous failures by the water company to manage and monitor effluent at the Jaywick Water Recycling Centre in Essex, England.

These discharges occurred when Anglian Water decommissioned a piece of equipment at the site. The company failed to act on available data that would have alerted it to the issue and there was also a lack of an alarm system to inform the Anglian Water of how often these discharges were occurring, says the Environment Agency.

In the largest fine imposed for environmental offences in the region, Anglian Water was ordered to pay prosecution costs and a victim surcharge, resulting in a total financial penalty of £2,666,690.09.

During sentencing, district judge King said “more could and should have been done” to prevent this pollution. He added that it should not have taken Environment Agency Officers to spot what was happening during a routine inspection, and said the agency simply: “heard, looked and saw” what Anglian Water operatives, who were present on site every day, should have seen. 

King told the court the fact that “Anglian Water finds itself in court so frequently” must be reflected in the level of the fine and referred to “a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately” to previous penalties. 

Since 2010, water companies have been responsible for self-monitoring water recycling sites with the Environment Agency guidance to inspect sites every eight years. 

An investigation by the Environment Agency in 2018 found that the discharges into the North Sea, as recorded over a month between June and July in 2018, was the equivalent of more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools or 7,500,000 litres.

The Jaywick Water Recycling Centre has an Environment Agency permit, which only allows discharges into the sea during storm conditions. The blockage was cleared by Anglian Water in August 2018.

Environment Agency chair Alan Lovell says: “The Environment Agency’s officers were instrumental in highlighting the scale of Anglian Water’s discharges into the North Sea – equivalent to three Olympic swimming pools of waste water in a month – and ensuring the water company has been made to pay for its pollution.

“The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties.”

Water minister Rebecca Pow says: “I am clear that water companies must not profit from environmental damage. This latest result follows on the heels of a £2.1m fine handed to South West Water – in both cases, the fines will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits and not passed on to customer bills. Going forward all fines will be paid into our Water Restoration Fund to support projects that will help improve our natural environment and our water quality.”

Jeremy Hay, senior environment officer at the Environment Agency, says: “This prosecution highlights the volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is unacceptable and that the Environment Agency is taking action to make sure polluters are held to account.

“We welcome the sentence, which sends out the message that we will not hesitate to prosecute companies which endanger communities and disregard the environment and the law. Polluters should always be held to account, and, as much as our resources allow, we will always investigate significant pollution incidents and bring those responsible before the courts.”

The number of serious water pollution incidents caused by the water and sewerage companies has been reduced dramatically, says the Environment Agency, from over 500 in the early 1990s down to just 62 in 2021.

In 2022, 72 per cent of beaches and inland waters in the UK met the ‘Excellent’ standard, the highest since new stringent standards were introduced in 2015.  

Anglian Water has since taken several actions to address issues found at the site. These included ensuring equipment is in working order, implementing a regular cleaning regime, and increasing the storm flow separation weir height to reduce the possibility of premature overflows.

Last month, the UK government announced a new £1.6 billion plan to reduce the unacceptable levels of pollution in waterways.

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One response to “Anglian Water fined £2.65m after sewage discharged into North Sea”

  1. Dave Weilder says:

    It is disheartening to hear that Anglian Water has been fined £2.65m for the discharge of untreated sewage into the North Sea. Such incidents can have serious consequences for the marine environment, as well as for human health. It is important for companies to take their responsibility for environmental protection seriously, and to take measures to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

    I hope that this incident serves as a reminder of the importance of investing in and maintaining adequate wastewater treatment infrastructure, as well as implementing measures to prevent overflows and spills. It is crucial that we work together to protect our oceans and the marine life that inhabits them, and this requires a concerted effort from both industry and individuals. Let us hope that this serves as a wake-up call and motivates companies to take stronger action to protect the environment.

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.