The Environment Agency has accepted an Enforcement Undertaking which will see Northumbrian Water pay £375,000 to charities in the North East after it breached environmental permitting regulations.
The offer also includes actions for Northumbrian Water to improve its operations and infrastructure.
It follows a sewage pollution incident involving West Wylam pumping station, investigated by the Environment Agency on 18 February 2015.
A blockage upstream of the pumping station resulted in raw sewage overflowing into Park Burn, a tributary of the River Tyne, breaching its permit.
Investigations showed significant water quality impact at Park Burn, with sewage odour and litter visible, and ammonia and suspended solid levels above accepted levels. Surveys indicated there had been no significant impact on the invertebrate population in the burn, and there was no impact on the Tyne, due to the river size and flow of the river.
Northumbrian Water carried out an immediate clean-up of the polluted area after it was reported to them.
Wide range of measures
The Environment Agency is making better use of the wide range of measures that are available to bring sites back into compliance as quickly as possible. Along with prosecutions, it uses enforcement notices, stop notices and civil sanctions to either improve performance or stop sites from operating.
The Environment Agency’s use of civil sanctions is in line with recent legislation extending their availability for more offences.
Civil sanctions such as these can be a proportionate and cost-effective way for businesses to make amends for less serious environmental offences. The company must offer to restore or remediate the harm caused by the incident, and demonstrate they will change their behaviour and ensure future compliance with legislation.
Fiona Morris, Environment Manager with the Environment Agency in the North East, said:
We will always take forward prosecutions in the most serious cases and while we did initially consider prosecution, the company submitted an EU which we subsequently accepted.
We felt it to be a more proportionate response that would benefit the environment – achieving more than if the company had been convicted and fined.
We work hard to protect people and the environment, and a clear regulatory framework with agreed standards and targets has helped to drive major environmental improvements over the last few decades.
We’re continuing to improve our approach to ensure that we remain a fair and proportionate regulator.
The actions offered in the accepted EU, require Northumbrian Water to:
- Make donations to Tyne Rivers Trust (£134,500), Northumberland Rivers Trust (£59,500), Wear Rivers Trust (£48,500), Tees Rivers Trust (£58,500).
- Make a donation of £74,000 to Groundwork towards the Land of Oak and Iron Project.
- Make improvements to site operations and infrastructure, including updated sewerage records, an updated process for asset planning and management and refurbishment of West Wylam pumping station, as well as an accelerated programme of planned upgrades to sewer infrastructure in the area.
- Further inspections and surveys of the impacted area.
- Pay Environment Agency costs.
Failure to comply with an EU may result in the offender being prosecuted for the original offence.
See the full list of the most recent enforcement undertakings