'Shocking and wholly unacceptable' - Environment Agency responds after Southern Water given record fine for untreated sewage discharges

"Water companies should not be letting this happen and those that do will be punished by the full force of the law."

Friday, 9th July 2021, 4:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 1:56 pm

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow issued this strong warning after Southern Water was handed a £90m fine today (July 9) for untreated sewage discharges.

Ms Pow said: “The findings in this case were shocking and wholly unacceptable.

“This fine, the largest ever imposed on a water company, is absolutely appropriate and welcomed. It will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits, rather than customer bills.

Southern Water admitted pumping 16bn-21bn litres of untreated sewage into delicate ecosystems, including at Chichester Harbour (pictured), over a six-year period from 2010

“I have spoken directly to the industry about taking their environmental responsibilities seriously, protecting rivers, lakes, streams and the wildlife that rely on them. Some companies are making welcome strides, but we still need to see significant improvements from others.”

Southern admitted pumping 16bn-21bn litres of untreated sewage into delicate ecosystems, including at Chichester Harbour, over a six-year period from 2010.

The company, which has 168 previous convictions and cautions, admitted 51 charges relating to discharges of untreated sewage.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “With nature in crisis, no one should profit from undermining environmental laws.

"This sentence shows fines for environmental offences are starting to reach the same level as the highest fines for crimes in financial services and that is good.

"There is growing scrutiny of the environmental performance of companies all over the world, this sends an important message to global investors that England expects businesses to perform to the highest standards.

“Like all water companies, Southern Water has a responsibility to operate in accordance with permit conditions and protect against serious pollution.

"In its deliberate, widespread and repeated offending, it has failed the environment, customers and the system of environmental laws the public puts its trust in. Polluters must pay, the Environment Agency will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that they do.”

The Environment Agency has worked closely with Ofwat, the economic regulator, which imposed a £126 million penalty on SWS in 2019 as a result of the company’s regulatory failings over the same period.

Today’s sentencing is part of the criminal investigation into permit breaches and environmental harm.

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), said: “The scale of this fine should send a very clear message that harm to the environment will not be tolerated - but it would have a far greater impact if the money was reinvested in the region where the damage was caused.

“We recognise that Southern Water has already taken steps to ensure these past offences and failures are never repeated and we hope this marks a turning point for the company so it can repair customers’ fractured trust.”