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£155,000 paid to environmental charities after sewage pollutes watercourses

A photo showing the July 2016 pollution incident in Whaley Bridge.
A photo showing the July 2016 pollution incident in Whaley Bridge.

United Utilities has paid out £155,000 to environmental charities after admitting causing sewage to pollute two watercourses.

The donations to the Wild Trout Trust, the Ramblers Association and the Healthy Rivers Trust were made following separate pollution incidents in the summer of 2016 which impacted the River Goyt between Whaley Bridge and New Mills, and a stretch of Swineshaw Brook in Tameside.

The pollution affected a stretch of the River Goyt between Whaley Bridge and New Mills.

The pollution affected a stretch of the River Goyt between Whaley Bridge and New Mills.

Under a new kind of restorative enforcement sanction known as Enforcement Undertakings (EUs), polluters can make an offer to the Environment Agency to pay for or carry out environmental improvements as an alternative to any other enforcement action.

Mike Higgins, an Environment Officer with the Environment Agency, said: “Enforcement Undertakings allow polluters to positively address and restore the harm caused to the environment and prevent repeat incidents.

"They offer quicker and more directly beneficial resolution than a court prosecution and help offenders who are prepared to take responsibility for their actions to voluntarily make things right. We will continue to seek prosecutions against those who cause severe pollution or who act deliberately or recklessly.”

A blockage in a sewage detention tank in Whaley Bridge in July 2016 caused sewage to overflow to the River Goyt, resulting in discoloration to the river downstream to New Mills, and sewage fungus being deposited on the river bed for a distance of at least one kilometre.

Although no fish were found to have been killed, the Environment Agency said there was a short-term but significant impact on invertebrate life and the river habitat, in which fish such as trout and bullhead normally thrive.

Another blockage in a sewer in Millbrook, Tameside, in August 2016 caused an overflow through a dislodged hatch cover, resulting in a similar impact on a shorter stretch of Swineshaw Brook, which runs to the River Tame.

The EU offers by United Utilities were accepted by the Environment Agency in October 2017 and completed last month.

The company made a total of £155,000 in donations to the three charities, which will be used to fund environmental improvements and research in the affected catchments and to restore endangered footpaths.

It also spent a further £10,000 removing rubbish from Swineshaw Brook and paid the Environment Agency’s incident response and investigation costs in full.

In response to both incidents, United Utilities was said to have acted quickly to stop the pollution and resolve the cause.

As part of the EUs, the company also committed to improving its infrastructure and asset maintenance schedules in order to reduce the likelihood of similar incidents.