Temporary Consents Under Attack

Fish Legal, the legal arm of the Angling Trust, has today written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs attacking the decision of six of the large water plcs to appeal against revised discharge consents sought by the Environment Agency to put an end to privatisation era temporary consents.

Almost twenty years ago, in 1989, at the time of water privatisation, the water companies were granted temporary consents for many thousands of discharges carrying storm sewage into English and Welsh rivers. This followed the discovery, immediately pre-privatisation, that vast numbers of these discharges had no legal consent.

At the time, it was quite clear that the granting of temporary consent was a quick fix designed to enable the Government of the day to sell the water companies into private hands with no potential criminal liabilities.

Last year, Fish Legal made requests under EU freedom of information laws to the Environment Agency which revealed that between 3,000 and 4,000 of these temporary consents granted almost twenty years ago still existed. These temporary consents were without any properly enforceable conditions, meaning they were as good as useless in controlling pollution.

The request made to the Agency followed a series of cases of damage to fisheries caused by sewage discharges emanating from pipes that still enjoyed these temporary consents. Under pressure from Fish Legal, the Environment Agency decided, in April of this year, to impose a set of standard conditions on all those discharges in order to bring them into proper regulation.

It is, therefore, with utter dismay that Fish Legal has learnt that Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water, Welsh Water/Dwr Cymru, Thames Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities (formerly North West Water) have appealed against the revised discharge consents that the Agency sought to attach to those discharges.

Guy Linley-Adams, Head of Legal at Fish Legal, commented

“Although many years too late, the approach taken by the Environment Agency has been entirely reasonable in attempting to deal with this long-standing hangover from privatisation. That these water companies have seen fit to appeal against a set of conditions which are hardly onerous and which any reasonable person would consider the bare minimum that should apply to pipes potentially discharging raw sewage into our rivers, is shameless. Fish Legal’s view is that twenty years is far too long to have left these sewage discharges effectively unregulated.”

Fish Legal has written to the Secretary of State in support of the Environment Agency’s revised discharge consents and now calls upon all six of the water companies concerned to withdraw their appeals immediately..

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said:

“This is a test of the water companies’ commitment to avoiding pollution of English and Welsh rivers. If these water companies press ahead with these appeals, then they can expect widespread hostility from anglers into whose waters these companies seem to feel they should be able to discharge raw sewage without condition or penalty.”