Legal challenge against government’s sewage plan dismissed by High Court

THE HIGH Court has dismissed the Marine Conservation Society’s case against the UK government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan.

Together with co-claimants, Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm, the Marine Conservation Society sought to compel the government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters.

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEO said, “While we didn’t get the result we wanted today, we will not be disheartened. By challenging the government on its failure to address the impact of untreated sewage discharges into our coastal waters and estuaries, we’ve been able to make great progress, pushing for our ocean to be protected.

“As long as raw sewage continues to pour into our seas, affecting wildlife, habitats and all life that depends on it, we will keep doing everything possible to stop it.”

As a result of the case, supported and funded by the Good Law Project, the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched a public consultation, seeking views on expanding the Plan to cover English coastal and estuarine waters, something crucially missing from the Plan when it was initially published.

Analysis from the Marine Conservation Society found that there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into protected seas for a total of 263,654 hours.

Legal Director of Good Law Project, Emma Dearnaley, said: “The sewage scandal is destroying natural habitats in our rivers, making swimmers and surfers sick and hitting coastal communities hard. The government’s plan to tackle sewage dumping is not fit for purpose and allows water companies to continue pouring sewage in our rivers and seas until 2050 and beyond.

“We have been proud to support the claimants in this case, which saw important earlier success and forced Ministers to look into expanding its plan to cover coastal waters, not just rivers. But it is disappointing that the High Court has sided with the government on the remaining legal grounds.

“This legal challenge has been about using the law – where government policy is failing – to protect our rivers, seas and waterways for generations to come. We will continue to do all we can to help turn the tide on the sewage crisis.

A Defra spokesperson said, “We are pleased with today’s judgment. Our plan sets strict targets for water companies to address storm overflows, and the Court has highlighted that it goes further than existing legislation. We are clear that the volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable, and water companies need to clean up their act. That is why we are driving forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement.”


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