• Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Witney MP MP backs £250million fines for illegal sewage spills


Oct 7, 2022

Plans announced by the new Environment Secretary to raise fines for water companies from £250,000 to up to £250 million have been welcomed by an Oxfordshire MP.

At present, the Environment Agency (EA) can pursue both criminal and civil prosecutions.

While fines handed out by the courts through criminal prosecutions are unlimited, it can be a lengthy and costly process.

Using civil sanctions – Variable Monetary Penalties (VMPs) – which can be imposed directly by the EA rather than the courts can offer a quicker method of enforcement.

The current limit for VMPs for individual breaches of the rules is £250,000 but the proposal is to raise the cap to £250million.

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Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena said: "Bigger financial penalties will act as a greater deterrent and push water companies to do more, and faster, when it comes to investing in infrastructure and improving the quality of our water."

Witney MP Robert Courts agreed that increasing the financial penalties which the Environment Agency can hand out without going through the courts "will ensure quick and strong action can be taken against water companies that illegally pollute our environment".

He said: "The Environment Agency must take advantage of these new powers to hold water companies to account and make sure the polluter pays for the environmental harm they cause."

However, Ash Smith, chair of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) said their initial research indicates that Variable Monetary Penalties have never been used against Thames Water and, WASP believes, have never been used against the water industry at all.

He said the mechanisms for the water companies to push back against fines "are well tested and their lawyers well funded by bill payers' money".

"Of course, keeping offences out of court also protects the senior executives from the threat of jail that was suggested by the outgoing Chair of the Environment Agency and others," he said.

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"Mr Jayawardena is new to the job and is firing out some big statements but nothing we have seen is doing anything to affect the ability of the water companies to keep on polluting illegally for profit.

"On the positive side, the people of Oxfordshire and the rest of the country can see the product of their growing awareness and disgust starting to influence the way politicians behave and it has been the media that has made this possible.

"Pushing back on propaganda is a vital step in helping people to make informed decisions."

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