The Environment Agency (EA) has given United Utilities, the UK’s 3rd largest water company, six months to install the necessary infrastructure to prevent sewage litter from being discharged unlawfully into the River Kent in Cumbria from an overflow at its Kendal Wastewater Treatment Works.
A screen to prevent items such as wet wipes and sanitary towels from entering the highly protected Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designated river is one of the conditions of the water company’s permit for the Kendal treatment works. The screen installed by the water company falls below the required standard set out in its permit. The fact that United Utilities are in breach of its permit was only disclosed by the EA in response to inquiries made by Fish Legal acting for the Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association.
United Utilities is currently subject to an ongoing criminal investigation into potential widespread breaches of its wastewater treatment works permits. As a result, the EA has refused to confirm how many separate pollution incidents linked to the Kendal works are under investigation.
The EA has now served notice on the utility to install a compliant screen. United Utilities, which reported profits of nearly £440 million in 2022, has estimated that the work will be completed by October 2023.
Ian Carradus, President of Kent (Westmoreland) Angling Association said:
“In February this year, I filmed a section of the river Kent showing hundreds of sanitary towels and condoms hanging from tree branches downstream of Kendal treatment works. This river is so precious to our club members and the local community, and it is heartbreaking to see it being treated in this way. It feels to us as though United Utilities do not see protecting the river as a priority and the Environment Agency are far too soft on water companies when it comes to forcing them to stop polluting.”
Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal, said:
“This is not the first time that the Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association and Fish Legal has stepped in to question the lawfulness of sewage discharges from Kendal Wastewater Treatment Works. We brought a successful judicial review with the angling club in 2019 when Cumbria County Council failed to look at the environmental impacts of a ‘temporary’ sewage overfall at the works before granting it planning permission. United Utilities defended that claim but lost against the angling club in court.”
“While in Westminster there are promises of urgent action to end river pollution, on the ground water companies are allowed a much more leisurely timetable to clean up their act. It is not good enough. Where pollution is identified and permit breaches are identified work to fix the problem needs to be done immediately.”