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Latest 29 March 2022

Water company attempts to shut down legal challenges against sewage dumping


Today, a vitally important case will be heard in the Court of Appeal, which could determine whether or not water companies can be held to account for dumping raw sewage into our waters. 

Profit-hungry water companies dump tonnes of raw sewage into our waterways every year. Human waste was released into rivers and seas for an unbelievable 3.1 million hours in 2020 through storm overflow pipes, which are only supposed to be used to relieve pressure on the sewage system during extreme weather. 

It’s already very difficult for people to challenge water companies for this disgusting practice. And years of inaction by the Environment Agency and water regulator Ofwat, which have been chronically underfunded by the Government, mean there is little to deter water companies from dumping sewage. Now, a massive company called United Utilities, which operates water and sewage systems in the North West, is trying to make it even harder for people to hold water companies to account. They’ve asked the Court to close the door on certain types of legal challenges against water companies that dump untreated sewage in our waterways. 

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This case is about the Manchester Ship Canal. But the ramifications of this case could go much further. If United Utilities win, it will mean any water company can dump sewage into waterways in England and Wales without fear of being sued in the civil courts by  landowners, angling clubs, swimming clubs, and other groups with an interest in the land.

The water companies don’t care that they are polluting our waterways, making them deadly to wildlife and unsafe for people to swim and canoe in. They just want to continue dumping sewage without the risk of being sued.

This case has been fought back and forth between United Utilities and the operators of the Manchester Ship Canal for years. But until now, no one has stepped in to represent the interests of the public. This is why Good Law Project, alongside four other concerned organisations, are intervening. We think it is essential that we protect one of the only means available to us to hold profit-obsessed water companies to account.

The hearing is happening from Tuesday 29 March to Thursday 31 March, and our expert written submissions will be considered by the Court. We will let you know as soon as the judgment is handed down.

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This is a joint written intervention. The organisations intervening are:

  • Good Law Project
  • Environmental Law Foundation
  • London Waterkeeper
  • Stonyhurst College
  • Kent Environment and Community Network

You can read our intervening witness statement here. This sets out the scale of sewage discharges into water bodies, the impact on users and communities, and the gaps in enforcement and monitoring.

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