Pollution news: unlimited fines and the latest water company performance report

Making polluters pay’ with meaningful financial penalties may have moved a step closer to reality last week. 

On 12 July, the Environment Secretary announced that the current limit of £250,000 on variable monetary penalties that the Environment Agency and Natural England can impose directly on operators will be lifted, and unlimited civil fines may be levied. (However, the most serious cases of pollution will still be subject to criminal prosecution). 

According to the government’s announcement about its plans:

… future environmental fines and penalties from water companies will be re-invested into the government’s new Water Restoration Fund. This fund will deliver on-the-ground improvements to water quality, and support local groups and community-led schemes which help to protect our waterways. River catchment groups – bringing together local NGOs, councils, government agencies and farmers and working together in catchments across the country – will benefit from this funding.”

Also last week, the Environment Agency released its annual performance report for England’s water and sewerage companies, including a strongly-expressed foreword from the Agency’s new chair, Alan Lovell, and details of enforcement and sanctions against water companies in 2022.

Is there any prospect of the government’s new unlimited-fines legislation being applied to the still-underperforming water companies? 

Many water quality campaigners will be eagerly awaiting the answer to this question (but at least one ENDS reporter already has doubts).

CSO Jonny comp