CIWEM’s Alastair Chisholm reacts to the EA’s record £90m fine for Southern Water

CIWEM's head of policy Alastair Chisholm has reacted to the news announced today that Southern Water has been handed a record £90 million fine by the Environment Agency (EA) after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage polluting rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.

"The record fine for Southern Water is at the same time welcome and hugely concerning. Welcome because it demonstrates that England’s environmental regulator is able to successfully prosecute persistent and systematic environmental offenders; unfortunately something that will be essential if the ongoing decline in our environment’s health is to be reversed and recovered from."

"Concerning because it exposes the extent to which large corporations – which should be at the heart of delivering a healthier, more resilient water environment, and whose customers strongly express this ambition – have been willing to deliberately pollute sensitive habitats on a massive scale and mislead the regulator about their performance.

"No organisation should be allowed to flout their environmental obligations. Central to this is having a regulator appropriately resourced to effectively monitor and bring charges against those who do."

Southern Water plead guilty to a total of 6,971 unpermitted sewage discharges in the case, the largest criminal investigation in the EA’s 25-year history.

On the verdict EA chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “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.”

Look out for Alastair's article 'Stormwater overflows need a systemic solution' in the July/August issue of The Environment which explores this issue further.

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