Housebuilder fined £480,000 for failure to implement measures to prevent multiple pollution incidents
In what could be seen as a clear message to large companies that cause pollution to the environment that Magistrates Courts are willing to utilise its powers to issue large fines (where deemed appropriate) a major housebuilder on 3rd May 2023 have been fined just under half a million pounds by Cwmbran Magistrates Court.
Taylor Wimpey which has a turnover of £4.3 billion had pleaded guilty to a charge brought against it by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) relating to breaches of the Environmental Permitting Regulations for allowing illegal discharges of silt to enter the river Lwyd when there was no permit in place authorising such discharge.
The illegal discharges occurred at the company’s Edlogan Wharf site near Pontypool between the period of January and October 2021.
Taylor Wimpey had previously had a temporary discharge permit allowing it to discharge into a watercourse provided that certain conditions were met but this had expired in March 2018. NRW officers had met with the company in February 2021 to discuss a permit application and mitigation measures that would need to be implemented in order to minimise the risk of pollution by silt.
However despite NRW stating that the housebuilder had been warned and put on notice of the risks the court heard that there then followed a further six confirmed pollution incidents in respect of silting of the river Lwyd and five unconfirmed incidents.
On October 29th 2021 an NRW inspector observed silty water spilling from an overflow basin on the building site into the water course. Tests carried out by NRW officers revealed that the sample contained 7 times the permitted level of silt at the point of the discharge and more than twice the permitted level further downstream. A total of 717 metres of the river was affected.
It had been reported that local residents had been ‘distressed’ at the colour of the river turning brown.
In mitigation, Taylor Wimpey said that the site had expected to be ‘” challenging” due to its location but there were “unforeseen levels of silt water runoff”. The court was also told in mitigation that on 28th October 2021 there had been exceptional rainfall “even by South Wales standards” and this had had the effect of causing an overflow basin spill into the river. Taylor Wimpey also made clear that it took its environmental responsibilities seriously and had spent £1.2 million on silt management at the site.
However District Judge Toms said that the housebuilder had "recklessly failed to put in place mitigations" to prevent the runoff of surface water from the site adding that the runoff was “not a one-off incident”. However the District Judge gave the company credit for an early guilty plea and mitigating factors.
The company was fined £480,000 and ordered to pay £181 surcharge and £8,591.40 in costs, bringing the total fines to £488,772.40.
Susan Lenthall of NRW commented after the hearing: -
“The construction industry has a duty of care to the communities in which they operate, to ensure the correct controls and safeguards are in place in order to prevent incidents such as these occurring.
In this case, Taylor Wimpey was made fully aware by NRW officers of the requirements that were needed to install effective silt mitigation methods, that permits were required for discharging treated surface water to a watercourse and that any discharge of contaminated water was an offence under Environmental Permitting Regulations.
I hope this fine will send out a clear message that environmental legislation is to be taken seriously. We will not hesitate to take appropriate action against those who disregard regulations and jeopardise the natural environment we all know and love.”
A Taylor Wimpey spokesperson said after the hearing: “Despite our diligent efforts to prevent and remedy surface water issues, including proactive steps based on specialist advice from environmental experts, Taylor Wimpey recognises that these efforts were not sufficient to mitigate the impact of heavy rainfall and adverse weather conditions impacting the site. Whilst there is no evidence of actual harm having been caused, Taylor Wimpey expresses genuine regret for the potential environmental problems this issue could have caused"
Silt water can cause damage to the environment and animals, especially fish, because it clogs their gills, and reduces light penetration. It can also contain chemicals, like fuel and oil.