The High Court has ruled that a decision by Cumbria County Council to allow United Utilities to continue using a temporary sewage outfall at Kendal Wastewater Treatment Works for another 12 months was unlawful.
In a judgement handed down last week, the council was found not to have properly considered the environmental impact of the decision on the River Kent and its highly protected species.
Cumbria County Council conceded before the case went to Court that it had not followed the correct legal process when granting planning permission for the temporary outfall in October 2018. However, United Utilities decided to step into the council’s shoes and defend the claim brought on behalf of the Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association by the environmental organisation Fish Legal, arguing that the council’s permission was indeed valid.
United Utilities’ works, which deals with sewage and trade effluent from the population of 15,500 people in Kendal, was badly damaged during Storm Desmond in December 2015 and the permanent outfall was washed away. Three years later, the company has yet to reinstate the original outfall, relying in the meantime on a temporary solution put in place in the immediate aftermath of the flooding.
Kent Angling Association, which has 150 members, was concerned that the impact of the temporary outfall on water quality needs to be properly considered to avoid harm to protected species found in the River Kent. These include white-clawed crayfish, bullhead, freshwater pearl mussels and Atlantic salmon.
Chris Preston, treasurer of the Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association said: “The old sewage outfall was in a part of the river that was fast flowing meaning anything nasty could be carried away. The temporary outfall discharges into slow flowing water upstream of a weir. It must be having an effect on this part of the river and its wildlife and it is incumbent on the Council to properly consider its environmental impacts.”
He added: “Ultimately, we want United Utilities to invest in reinstating the old outfall. Until then, this well-resourced company and Cumbria County Council need to take their environmental responsibilities seriously and look properly at what the temporary outfall is doing to this particular stretch of the river.”
The River Kent has a long history as a salmon and sea trout fishing river and as a haven for endangered wildlife but it is under threat from pollution. United Utilities need to draw-up viable alternatives for discharging from the Kendal works as a matter of urgency, not rely on the assumption that a poorly-sited outfall can continue indefinitely.
Fish Legal has only been able to help its member angling club challenge the Council and the water company in court because of the collective support of our whole membership.
- Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association was founded in 1848. The club holds fishing rights downstream of the temporary outfall from Kendal Waste Water Treatment Works.
- The River Kent is designated as a Special Area of Conservation under European law. The river at Kendal is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
- Members of the Kent (Westmorland) Angling Association challenged the planning permission for the temporary outfall on two grounds. Firstly, that an appropriate assessment in accordance with the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 was not carried out before the permission was granted and secondly that the development was not screened by Cumbria County Council for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017.
- United Utilities reported an underlying operating profit of £684.8m for the year ending 31 March 2019.
- A copy of the judgement can be viewed here.