Southern Water is in court this week for sentencing in relation to the Environment Agency’s prosecution of the company on 51 sewage pollution charges which took place between 2010 and 2015.
The case is said to be the biggest ever brought by the Environment Agency after sewage was released across the south coast from 16 Wastewater treatment works and 1 sewer overflow.
Southern Water entered guilty pleas to all the offences during a previous hearing last year.
Prosecution was brought under the Water Resources Act and the Environmental Permitting Regulations after the company discharged huge volumes of raw sewage into the water because it was cheaper than treating it, the hearing at Canterbury Crown Court was told.
Southern Water has pleaded guilty to all counts of knowingly permitting entry to coastal waters of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter and/or waste matter and/or sewage effluent – untreated sewage – otherwise than as authorised by an environmental permit.
The Environment Agency is currently investigating the release of sewage from Southern Water’s Foreness pumping station on 16/17 June and 27 June this year. The first release resulted in advice against bathing at 11 Thanet beaches which was in force for seven days.
A Southern Water statement says: “The new management team, appointed in 2017, investigated and recognised these events and consequently in March 2020 Southern Water pleaded guilty to all charges.
“The charges relate to unpermitted discharges from 17 of our sites on the North Kent and Solent coasts. This hearing is for the Judge to decide on the level of fine the company will pay as a sentence.”
The hearing started today (July 6) and is expected to finish on Friday (July 9).
In 2019 Southern Water agreed to pay £126million in penalties and rebate payments to customers following serious failures in the operation of its sewage treatment sites and for deliberately misreporting its performance during 2010-2017.
In the course of a large-scale investigation into the water company, Ofwat found that Southern Water failed to operate a number of wastewater treatments works properly, including not making the necessary investment which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.
Ofwat also found that Southern Water staff manipulated the wastewater sampling process which resulted in misreporting information about the performance of a number of sewage treatment sites. This meant the company avoided penalties under Ofwat’s incentive regime.
The £126m package meant Southern Water paid a rebate of £123m to customers through their bills and a fine of £3m.
The rebate included £91m in penalties Southern Water had avoided and a further £32m of payments as recognition of their serious failures.
Following the incident Southern Water appointed a new Chief Executive and made substantial changes to the company’s management team. The company introduced and committed to new governance arrangements to support accurate monitoring and reporting, and a programme to change the company’s culture. Investment was made into the failing treatment sites with £100m invested in IT systems and processes and £26m invested in wastewater assets.