Yorkshire Water landed with £1.6million fine and £22,000 legal bill after admitting polluting Bradford Beck

Yorkshire Water has been fined £1.6million for a sewage pollution incident in Bradford Beck.

The company's legal costs are over £22,000 after it was prosecuted by the Environment Agency.

Yorkshire Water appeared at Leeds Magistrates’ Court for sentence on Monday July, and pleaded guilty to unauthorised sewage discharges into Bradford Beck and breaches of its environmental permit.

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The court heard its George Street detention tank in Bradford was full for up to eight months during 2018, leading to 25 unauthorised sewage spills into Bradford Beck.

Bradford Beck upstream of the faulty detention tankBradford Beck upstream of the faulty detention tank
Bradford Beck upstream of the faulty detention tank

The city centre tank collects and stores a mixture of rainfall and sewage from the sewer network during times of heavy rainfall. Once storm conditions have passed the tank operates its pumps to return the mixture back into the sewers. If it’s a prolonged event and the tank fills to capacity, it is designed to overflow into the watercourse. When operating correctly the tank should be empty in dry weather.

Over two days in August 2018, the Environment Agency received four reports of sewage pollution in Bradford Beck. An officer attended and an investigation, combined with additional information from the community, led to a request for further data from Yorkshire Water. The investigation revealed one or both of the two pumps that emptied the tank were at various times not working between August 2017 and September 2018. The Environment Agency concluded the tank was full between January and August 2018, with spikes in the data showing the tank spilled 25 times.

Yorkshire Water was aware the storm pumps were out of action and of the fact the tank was full. It failed to fix the pumps as soon as practical, to provide a stand-by pump, to maintain its pumps and to maintain the overflow.

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The poorer water quality downstream of the George Street tankThe poorer water quality downstream of the George Street tank
The poorer water quality downstream of the George Street tank

Information from the community suggested an impact on the wildlife, including invertebrates and fish in the immediate time after the August 2018 unauthorised discharge.

District Judge Kitson confirmed that Yorkshire Water knew from August 2017 that there were significant problems with the George Street detention tank and that it was 100 per cent full from January 2018. He was satisfied Yorkshire Water knew the pumps were not in operation and had no means of pumping sewage back into the network. The judge concluded that the company would have known a discharge into the tank would cause an unlawful discharge into the Beck. District Judge Kitson found that Yorkshire Water were reckless in this offending due to the fact they were taking some steps but not with sufficient urgency.

Yorkshire Water in mitigation stated that chief executive, Nicola Shaw, was present in court because the company took its environmental responsibilities seriously. The company was remorseful and indicated remedial steps were taken to address the issues. It recognised it had failed to get a grip of the problem, but it had had co-operated with the investigation.

The Environment Agency's Yorkshire environment manager Ben Hocking said: "We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously. Water companies are aware that their activities have the potential to cause serious environmental impacts and they have a legal duty to avoid pollution. The regulations are clear.

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"Yorkshire Water was aware the tank was full and likely to illegally discharge into the beck and failed to take action to prevent it from happening. They undermined the permitting regulations, which are in place to protect the environment.

"Our officers carried out a thorough investigation, with the support of the community, to put the facts before the court as part of our continuing commitment to hold water companies to account."

A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: “We take our commitment to the environment seriously and apologise for the issues at Bradford Beck in 2018. Our pollution performance has significantly improved since 2018, and we’re investing over £790m over the next few years to improve Yorkshire’s watercourses.

“We continue to evolve and strengthen our processes and communication on these matters as a responsible organisation should, and we’ve taken the learning from this incident and embedded this into our processes. This incident should not have occurred, and we’ve thoroughly reviewed the incident and made changes in how we operate across all our assets to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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“We’re committed to improving the health of Bradford Beck and since this incident we have worked closely with Friends of Bradford Beck to reduce pollution, including sources not related to Yorkshire Water assets, entering the beck via pollution reporting technology. Through this work we have identified several misconnections and action has been taken by those property owners following our investigations to stop pollution entering the watercourse.”