Royal Courts of Justice


Anglers launch legal action over Environment Agency’s failure to curb Yorkshire Water sewage spills

24th March 2023

The Government and Environment Agency are facing legal action for failing to stop pollution in the Costa Beck, formerly one of the best trout and grayling rivers in Yorkshire.

On behalf of Pickering Fishery Association, Fish Legal have applied to the High Court for judicial review of recently updated, long-term plans for the river that still do not tackle sewage discharges, despite the regulator having linked them to the degraded state of the river’s ecology for many years.

The sewer storm overflow from Yorkshire Water’s Pickering sewage treatment works discharged into Costa Beck over 250 times in 2020 and over 400 times in 2019. Evidence has been presented as part of the case that spill numbers could be significantly reduced if Yorkshire Water merely maintained and operated its treatment works in line with industry standards.

The final round of the Environment Agency’s river basin management plans, begun in 2009, was signed off in December 2022 by Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Having witnessed fish populations and the ecology of Costa Beck get progressively worse over nearly two decades, Fish Legal and Pickering Fishery Association are arguing that old, demonstrably inadequate permits held by the water company should by now have been properly reviewed and updated as part of that planning process and enforcement action taken regarding the numerous breaches.

Andrew Kelton, Solicitor at Fish Legal said:

“20 years ago, the Government set a target that by 2027 the Costa Beck should achieve ‘good ecological status’.  Yet, fish populations in the river were categorised as ‘poor’ in 2009 and have remained at bare survival levels ever since.  In successive planning cycles, the Environment Agency has tinkered around the edges but has failed to grasp the nettle of continuing industry pollution, especially by the water company.” 

He added: “We believe that despite repeated pleas by local anglers – who themselves have dedicated years of their time and energy into investigating and trying to halt the fishery’s decline – the Agency has not met its legal obligations to reverse the decline of Costa Beck.  We have had no option but to turn to the courts to force the Environment Agency, via DEFRA, to do its job.”

Martin Smith, from the Pickering Fishery Association said:

“Costa Beck is a small, spring-fed stream with a delicate ecology that cannot possibly flourish with frequent raw sewage spills combined with other sources of pollution.  The Environment Agency has had 20 years to develop a plan of action to help the river, yet even now its updated plan proposes little real action.  This legal case will bring out into the open where it has all gone wrong.”

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