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Prosecuting water companies does not improve environment, says NRW boss

22 Nov 2023 3 minute read
Raw sewage. Effluent discharge pipe.

Prosecuting water companies does not improve the environment, the CEO of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has told MPs.

NRW has not made any prosecutions anywhere in Wales over illegal sewage dumping for the last five years, according to a recent BBC report, despite data showing that Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water) has been doing so for years.

Professor Peter Hammond, an environmental investigator from the group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, told the Welsh Affairs Committee that data from one sewage treatment plant in Cardigan seemed to show that every spill there for the last six years has been illegal.

When asked by MPs why NRW is not prosecuting water companies for illegal sewage dumping, the regulator’s CEO, Clare Pillman, said: “I think that going to court is in a way, the point at which regulation has failed.

“Likely it has a demonstration effect but what we are looking for is for compliance.

“At the point at which you’re prosecuting for the failure, you are not getting environmental betterment. Whereas what we’re trying to do all the time is push for environmental improvement.

“At the point at which you’re in court, yes, a fine can be imposed and that can work, but a recent case in North Wales; yes, it went through court; yes, there was a fine levied; did it solve the environmental problem? No.”

Transparent

Professor Hammond said Welsh Water is more transparent with its data than other water companies in England which have refused to give him any data on untreated sewage spills for the last two years because they are subject to an Environment Agency investigation.

He told MPs: “Severn Trent, United Utilities and South West Water just refuse to give data. And it’s in a sense unfair on Dwr Cymru.

“They’re providing the data so any illegality is being exposed, these other companies are getting away with it.”

He added that water companies should also measure the volume of sewage discharged and not just the duration of time or overall number, as some water companies have been known to tank sewage from one site to another that is already discharging in order to reduce the number of reported spills.

Challenging

Peter Perry, CEO of Welsh Water, said: “Of course, it’s challenging when our performance is scrutinised at this level, but that’s not unusual for us, that’s what our board does to us, and the fact that it’s coming into the public domain is something we would welcome.

“We’ve got nothing to hide and we’re very open to making sure that people that pay our charges in Wales: politicians, activist groups; we’re accountable to them.”

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “Prosecution is retrospective – it will not reverse the damage to the environment, wildlife, people and local businesses that results from sewage discharges.

“We need to see a proactive approach, which requires a properly funded regulator and, where necessary, (an) independent assessor, that has the capacity to monitor and fully enforce the law.

“The threat and impact of prosecution should be strong enough to act as a deterrent. However, repeated disregard for the law shows us that this is not happening.”

Severn Trent, United Utilities and South West Water have been contacted for comment.


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James Wilson
James Wilson
3 months ago

Prosecution might well be an indication that regulation has failed, because it clearly has. The lack of prosecution in Wales despite repeated incidences of Dwr Cymru holding their hands up not only after the fact, but after it has been exposed by external parties, might also be described as a failure of regulation. What’s the point in holding the principle of polluter pays up as a way of embellishing environmental credentials by the Regulator and Government if actually the polluter never pays?? What about business, people, society downstream of pollution whose activities are adversely impacted by the persistent and long… Read more »

Frank
Frank
3 months ago

No company should be prosecuted and fined excessive amounts of money as it will only lead to the cost being added to customer bills next year to claw back the loss. That added cost will certainly not be removed from bills when the loss is recouped. It will stay there forever. However, the top executives who authorise sewage spillage should be fined and made to pay out of their salaries which should make them think twice about dumping filthy sewage into rivers and the sea in the future.

hdavies15
hdavies15
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank

.. and the dozy bird sitting at the helm at NRW should be terminated without any lavish severance payments because she has obviously failed to punish the culprits and also failed with any attempts at persuasion. Out of her depth and I don’t care if she’s in the dirty water that Dwr Cymru and other corporate polluters keep discharging. She can count on her chums in the corporate bubble to chuck her a life line with a new job with cracking salary and benefits.

Frank
Frank
3 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Yes, you’re right. Her chums will find her a better job and more cash for being a complete failure. That’s how their system works these days. One couldn’t make it up!!! Just look at David Cameron. As prime minister he ran away from his responsibilities, qualifies for a huge annual allowance as a former PM, got himself a lordship and then sails back into the cabinet. Come the revolution…

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
3 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

“Dozy bird”?
I don’t necessarily disagree with the gist of your comment, but would appreciate less gender specific insults, since doziness is not a particular trait of women. We also do not have wings or cloacas.

hdavies15
hdavies15
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

She’s not a dozy bloke for sure. Had she been a bloke then she would have attracted a different gender specific insult. People like that should be insulted at every opportunity. They take as much as they can filch out of the system and all too often their defects are left unchallenged or unpunished. Oddly enough there was also another case recently where a nasty old bird hiding behind a cloak of religious “decency” was heavily implicated in the horrendous injustice inflicted on droves of sub postmasters by the Post Office. She too has been well looked after by the… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
3 months ago

In trying to justify NRW’s failure to prosecute water companies for not complying with environmental regulations NRW CEO Clare Pullman remarked “Likely it has a demonstration effect but what we are looking for is for compliance”…….er the problem is (and it’s evidenced by the shocking amount of sewage being poured into Welsh rivers) that companies aren’t complying! And that NRW appears to be either unwilling or incapable of doing anything about this. And it’s for this reason, along with a number of other documented instances of the degradation of Wales’ environment that has happened on NRW’s watch, that many people… Read more »

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
3 months ago

I dare say prosecution over a specific incident does not help the environment in that instance, but it focuses the mind on avoiding future spills.
How else is NRW going to enforce compliance? Because companies whose funding is governed by OFWAT are going to make savings where they can. If they know non-compliance will only ever result in a strongly worded letter, they know they don’t need to prioritise spending on avoiding spills in problem areas surely.

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