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Case update 15 June 2023

Government to consult on expanding its plan to reduce sewage dumping in wake of legal challenge

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Faced with a legal challenge supported by Good Law Project, the Government has announced a consultation on expanding its plan for water companies to cut sewage dumping. This is an early and significant win in our campaign to protect our rivers and beaches for future generations – even before we’ve reached the courtroom.


Last year, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a plan to tackle the issue of 14,500 storm overflows currently spewing a deluge of sewage into rivers and seas. 

This plan is completely inadequate, as it excludes coastal areas and gives water companies until 2050 to put a stop to sewage dumping. It also excludes 600 overflows, which could allow sewage dumping on to our beaches and into coastal waters on an industrial scale – even after 2050.

We are supporting Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and Hugo Tagholm to challenge this plan in court next month. But we are delighted that DEFRA has responded directly to some of the concerns raised in this case and will now consult on expanding its plan to cover all coastal and estuarine waters.

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It will also consider whether to develop a new test to properly measure the ecological impact of storm overflows in coastal and estuarine waters – both of which were highlighted by the Claimants as being major issues with the plan.

As a result of DEFRA’s consultation, the legal challenge will now focus on three legal grounds aimed at forcing the Government to take tougher action against water companies over sewage dumping.

One of these grounds argues for the revival of the Public Trust Doctrine. This legal principle from English common law places a duty on the state to safeguard vital natural resources and hold them in trust for the benefit of both current and future generations.

We will be in the High Court on 5 and 6 July. 

Success in this case could set a landmark precedent, which would allow campaigners to use the Public Trust Doctrine in this case and many others to compel those in power to protect the natural environment we all share.

If you would like to support our case against the Government over sewage dumping, you can do so here.