April 13, 2024

Public does not have the right to swim in the sea, says company that dumped sewage in bathhouse

South West Water claims it has no legal obligation to keep rivers and seawater clean of sewage in its defense against a Devon swimmer who is taking the water company to court.

Jo Bateman, who tries to swim every day off the coast of Exmouth, is taking legal action against South West Water, claiming its frequent discharges of sewage into the sea have taken away her legal right to a public “amenity”.

However, in its defense of Mrs Bateman’s claim, seen by Ithe water company claims that no one has the legal right to swim in the sea.

Despite owning the sewerage network in Devon and Cornwall, South West Water also claimed it has no legal responsibility to keep the counties’ rivers and sea clean and free of sewage. Water companies are, however, subject to regulation enforced by the Government and Environment Agency (EA).

The company said Bateman’s claim has “no legal basis” and requested that the case be dismissed and instead go to mediation.

Mrs. Bateman said I: “There is no chance I would go to mediation just to hear your PR jokes about how well you are doing improving the sewer system. I want to see them in court and that’s what I will do.”

On Thursday, figures from the EA showed that South West Water was one of the UK’s biggest polluters and was responsible for three of the 10 worst pollution spots across England in 2023.

This week, I revealed that the EA had been investigating all South West Water sewage overflows since December.

Water companies are only allowed to discharge sewage into rivers or the sea if adverse weather conditions cause storm overflows. Doing so in moderate weather conditions may be considered illegal.

In its defense against Ms Bateman’s claim that she lost an amenity to which she was entitled, South West Water states: “The law does not recognize such rights, nor does it impose a duty on South West Water.”

For wild swimming – outside of the bathing season – there is no legal obligation to achieve a certain water quality standard, the company said.

It adds that even during the peak summer holiday season, South West Water and other companies are under no obligation to meet certain water quality standards.

The defense states: “Even during the bathing season, there is no absolute right to swim every day.”

South West Water said it was the government and EA’s responsibility to ensure clean water, not the water companies that manage the country’s rivers and coastline.

Neither the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs nor the EA have commented on South West Water’s allegations.

While rejecting Ms Bateman’s claims, South West Water acknowledged its “understandable concern for the environment”, adding “it is a concern shared by many of South West Water’s customers and by South West Water itself”.

The company said it is investing record amounts to reduce permitted storm use across the region, including £38m earmarked for Exmouth by 2030.

Mrs Bateman, who is claiming compensation of £379.50, took action in the Small Claims Court, alleging that illegal sewage spills had affected her physical and mental well-being.

She detailed 54 instances where she believes the water company illegally dumped sewage into the sea during 2023. Ms Bateman is claiming that the company’s pollution of the Exmouth coast led to what is legally known as a loss of amenity, meaning that she must prove that she was injured.

Ms Bateman added: “Their defense consists of 16 pages of nonsense. They said things like: I don’t have the legal right to swim in the sea, which, of course, is bullshit.

“It is widely documented that you have the right to enter what are described as navigable and tidal waters, which of course includes Exmouth beach and the River Exe.”

Who owns the UK seas?

Exmouth beach and seaside town in Devon (Photo: Thomas Faull/E+/Getty Images)

When it comes to who owns the UK’s beaches and seas, it may come as no surprise to many that King Charles III has a large presence.

The Crown Estate, the monarch’s land and property company, controls about 45 percent of the coast – the part of the coast or beach that is wet due to varying tides and waves under normal conditions – in England, Wales and in the North. Ireland.

The remaining beaches are in different hands, from the National Trust and the Ministry of Defense, to local authorities and private individuals.

As for the sea itself, we turn again to the King. The Crown Estate owns the territorial seabed out to 12 nautical miles and, for example, if you wish to harvest some seaweed for any form of monetary or other reward, you will need a license from the Crown.

Many clean water advocates dispute South West Water’s claims.

The Outdoor Swimming Society believes there is a right to swim in navigable and tidal waters. The Exmouth coast is navigable and tidal.

It states that “there is a public right of navigation” on all rivers and coasts that can be navigated by any boat without an engine and, therefore, “a right to swim”.

Kate Rew, co-founder of the society, added: “As human beings, we have the same right to clean water and clean air.”

Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimmingsaid: “Everyone has the legal right to swim in the sea or tidal waters.”

Geoff Crawford, co-founder of End Sewage Convoys and Poollution Exmouth, criticized South West Water’s response to Ms Bateman’s claim.

“I believe that the company has a legal and moral obligation not to pollute, to minimize pollution and the use of emergency overflows and to treat sewage as it is contractually obliged to do, not to discharge, overflow and dump it into our rivers , seas and wildlife sanctuaries.

“They seem to have and even speak with complete disregard for anything other than maximum profit.”

However, a lawyer familiar with swimming rights suggests the law is not as clear as activists suggest.

Nathan Willmott, partner at law firm Ashurst, said: “The legal regime governing water companies has been held by the courts to override certain common law rights that water users would have against water companies for allowing the discharge of sewage. in the water and doing so is not safe to swim.”

But he suggested that if South West Water were found guilty of breaching regulations on when sewage can be spilled into the sea, then its immunity from prosecution might not apply.

South West Water declined to comment on an ongoing legal case.

Water regulator Ofwat has been contacted for comment.

The law on suing water companies for sewage spills

The law determining whether an individual can take legal action against sewage discharges appears to provide immunity to water companies if they comply with Environment Agency (EA) regulations on spills.

David Green, senior partner at law firm Edwin Coe, refers to a 2022 Court of Appeal decision in The Manchester Ship Canal Company v United Utilities Water.

In 2022, a Court of Appeal decision found that claims against water companies, which may have existed under common law, had been superseded by the Water Industry Act 1991. This meant that if sewage discharges were due to inadequate infrastructure, so companies were not legally responsible.

The ruling agreed that United Utilities’ regular discharges of untreated sewage into the Manchester Ship Canal would, at common law, give rise to legitimate compensation claims. It was also undisputed that the discharge of untreated sewage was a breach of EA regulations.

Mr Greene agrees with South West Water’s assertion that “the regulatory regime is ultimately enforceable by government”.

However, Mr Greene added that the Court of Appeal ruling left open the possibility that common law claims could be valid for discharges caused not by “policy” or “capital expenditure” decisions, but rather by “operational” or “current expenses” issues.

“Whatever the conceptual viability of this distinction, obtaining evidence that points to an ‘operational’ decision leading to discharge is likely to be a challenge,” Mr. Greene added.

Nathan Willmott, partner at law firm Ashurst, shared Greene’s assessment.

He added: “Although certain common law claims may persist – for example, where the reason for sewage releases is ‘operational’ rather than infrastructure-based – there is little incentive on the part of water companies to prevent these unsafe sewage releases. treaty on rivers as there is little or no risk of civil action being taken against them.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *