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Case update 15 September 2023

High Court upholds Government’s shoddy plan to tackle sewage dumping as lawful

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We are disappointed that the High Court has today ruled in the Government’s favour on the rump of our challenge to its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, which allows water companies to continue to dump sewage until 2050 and beyond.

Before the hearing started, the Government conceded as a result of our legal action that it would consult on extending its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan to tackle sewage dumping to cover coastal waters, not just rivers – and agreed to pay our legal costs. The hearing was in relation to the remainder of the challenge and, in particular, whether the plan adequately met the Government’s obligation under section 141A of the Water Industry Act 1991 to “reduce adverse impacts on the environment”.

The sewage scandal is destroying natural habitats in our rivers, making swimmers and surfers sick and hitting coastal communities hard – as more and more beaches are being closed off due to serious pollution incidents. This is the grim legacy of privatised water companies failing to invest in key infrastructure and instead lining the pockets of their shareholders.

Today’s ruling is particularly hard to stomach when, only earlier this week, the Office for Environmental Protection said it is looking into potential law-breaking by Ministers and water industry regulators over untreated sewage discharges.

It’s vital that this outrageous and dire situation we’re in is at the forefront of public debate. And this is why we have been supporting this legal challenge brought by the co-claimants Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

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This legal challenge has been about using the law – where Government policy is failing – to protect our rivers, seas and waterways for generations to come.

Given the nature of the Court’s findings we are unlikely to appeal the decision. 

We are grateful for the support we have received in bringing this legal challenge and we will keep you updated on our next steps. 

Meanwhile we await a decision from the Supreme Court on the question of whether water companies have immunity from civil action for the consequences of sewage dumping. And we will continue to hold the Government and water companies to account to fix the mess they have created.