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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

High Court judgment on Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Pollution, water, Weekly stories
Autumn above Kingsweston, North Bristol

Today (15 September) the High Court has rejected claims that the government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan is unlawful, following claims brought forward by the Marine Conservation Society and WildFish.

Today’s judgment has confirmed that the government has gone further than existing law by introducing targets to reduce the number of spills which exceed those required by law. These targets prioritise action in particularly important and sensitive areas - including around bathing waters, chalk streams and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

The Plan complements the government’s long-term strategy to transform our water environment through the Plan for Water, driving forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement.

In response to today’s judgment, a Defra spokesperson said:

We are pleased with today’s judgment. Our plan sets strict targets for water companies to address storm overflows, and the Court has highlighted that it goes further than existing legislation.

We are clear that the volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable, and water companies need to clean up their act.

That is why we are driving forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement.

Claimants had argued that the plan approves and endorses the unlawful use of storm overflows by water companies, however, in his judgement, Justice Holgate was clear that this was "plainly" a "misreading" of the Plan and rejected these arguments outright, saying they were "without merit". He highlighted that the government’s Plan goes substantially further than the existing legislation and found that the Secretary of State was entitled to exercise her discretion is setting targets and deciding which areas to prioritise in order to protect the environment, with due consideration to affordability for billpayers.

The High Court also considered arguments by claimants that the government is unlawfully allowing storm overflow discharges outside of "exceptional circumstances". This interpretation of the law was rejected by the court as a “misunderstanding” of the law and the relevant case law. The court also found that, by applying a strict numerical limit on the number of overflows that can be discharged, the government’s Plan goes further than the law requires.  

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  1. Comment by Richard posted on

    This does not even address those locations where houses and estates dump their sewage directly into the dykes and rivers. Yorkshire water found our house was not connected to the mains sewer, and never had been, so refunded my sewerage charges but only for 6 of the 25 years I was paying it.
    Does not give a hoot about fixing the issue. Older houses typically have a shared surface water / sewerage pipe, if this is not properly connected to sewerage system then you are unwittingly dumping into rivers and streams. How many hundred thousand properties does this cover? I know I am not the only one.

  2. Comment by Cathy posted on

    The environmental problem of sewage/water pollution starts at the planning stage when Local Authorities are forced to identify land to hand over to private developers to build quotas of houses by a certain date every 5 years. This is usually green field land as this is cheapest and easiest to build on. Plan inspectors do not check that building is aligned to necessary improvement and increased capacity for waste water treatment and water supply, which is increasingly provided by ever richer, ever more unaccountable large companies who are too expensive for the Environment Agency to prosecute. Combined sewer system capacity is overloaded and there is excessive water abstraction. LAs pay private companies to pay lip service to sustainability appraisal but there is no political will to protect the environment or think about soil type, flood zone, biodiversity in any real sense. There may be a lucrative trade in biodiversity credits and in future also nutrient credits. BNG gain can appear on paper while rivers, lakes, sea and land are dead as there is no external scrutiny of LAs.

  3. Comment by John W. Baxter posted on

    It is about time that water companies were dragged kicking and screaming to the point they seriously employ more frontline staff instead of reducing them, they are compelled to increase treatment capacity of waste water, stop blaming Victorian infrastructure for their current problems, and look at their current strategies to manage the disgraceful performance of waste water management……stop using the solution to pollution is dilution practise and start using the solution to pollution is effective management and responsible community protection.