Yorkshire Water pays record £1m civil sanction after pollution incident

Yorkshire Water has paid a record £1m to environmental and wildlife charities after polluting a Harrogate watercourse, following an investigation by the Environment Agency.

The company breached its environmental permit with an unauthorised sewage discharge from Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow, which polluted Hookstone Beck.

It submitted an Enforcement Undertaking to the Environment Agency proposing a charitable donation totalling £1m which is the largest ever accepted by the Agency.

It has paid £500,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and £500,000 to Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.

It has also completed a significant £1.85m sewer network upgrade in the area as part of the enforcement terms.

An Enforcement Undertaking is a voluntary offer made by companies or individuals to make amends for their offending, and usually includes a payment to an environmental charity to carry out environmental improvements in the local area.

Hookstone Road combined sewer overflow has an environmental permit which allows a discharge into the beck when the storm sewage facility is full due to rainfall or snow melt.

On 31 August 2016 the Environment Agency received a report of pollution in Hookstone Beck. Investigating officers traced it to the overflow at Hookstone Road, which had blocked and not alerted Yorkshire Water due to faulty telemetry equipment.

The investigation found almost 1,500 fish had been killed and water quality affected for 2.5km downstream. A series of further blockages and discharges took place in the following months.

Claire Barrow, Environment Agency area environment manager in Yorkshire, said: “We always consider enforcement options on a case by case basis and Enforcement Undertakings allow companies to put right what went wrong and contribute to environmental improvements and outcomes.

“This significant £1m civil sanction will be invested back into the local area to enhance the environment for people and wildlife.

“The Environment Agency investigation also led to significant improvements to the sewer network in this area to prevent repeat incidents and ensure future compliance with environmental requirements.”

Water Minister Robbie Moore said: “This record penalty paid by Yorkshire Water demonstrates that those who damage our natural environment will be held to account.

“Our Plan for Water is all about delivering more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement right across the water sector – and this penalty for Yorkshire Water demonstrates that we will take robust action when required.

“Our plan includes scrapping the cap on civil penalties by introducing unlimited fines and significantly broadening their scope to target a much wider range of offences – from breaches of storm overflow permits to the reckless disposal of hazardous waste.”

A Yorkshire Water spokesman responded: “We acted quickly to stop the pollution but understand incidents of this kind are distressing.

“When things go wrong, we understand we have a responsibility to make it right and to prevent these things from happening at all.”

The company noted it was “committed to protecting the environment” and had halved the number of pollution incidents over the last five years.

Its spokesman added: “Unfortunately, it has taken seven years to reach an agreement with the Environment Agency to donate funds to local wildlife charities that will directly benefit Yorkshire.

“But we are pleased to have finally provided funds to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust.”