Pollution incident leads to £100,000 fine for construction company

22 Jul 2016

Businesses need to be aware that if their business activities cause water pollution, they could face hefty fines.

An example of this is the recent case involving the construction company Miller Homes Limited, which was building a housing development in Huddersfield in late 2013.

Miller Homes contracted civil engineering firm, Flannery Civil Engineering Limited, to construct four storage lagoons to hold water and reduce the risk of flooding downstream from the site. Straw bales were used to filter silt from the lowest lagoon. The problem arose following heavy rain in November 2013 when the lowest lagoon filled with water and Flannery removed the straw bales to allow it to drain, with the result that silt water ran into a tributary of Grimescar Dyke.

The Environment Agency (EA) became aware of the incident following a report from a member of the public and following an investigation, prosecuted Miller Homes. The basis of the prosecution was that the polluted water should have been more effectively managed on the construction site and that neither Miller Homes nor its contractor had permission (either a permit or consent) to discharge run-off water from the site.

Following a guilty plea, Miller Homes’ legal representatives told the court in mitigation that following the incident, immediate improvements were made to the lagoon system. Also, the company had invested in achieving an accreditation for environmental standards and didn’t know anything about the problem until the EA turned up on its site (the board of directors were described as being “apoplectic” about this).

Leeds Crown Court fined Miller Homes £100,000 and ordered it to pay £2,901.03 costs.

Flannery was also prosecuted and was fined £9,000 by Kirklees Magistrates Court for its involvement.

The key message is for businesses to stay on the right side of the law, by understanding their environmental obligations, regularly assessing risks and having in place robust controls and procedures. Also, to minimise the damage in the event of an incident (to the environment, company finances and reputation), businesses should consider having in place a pollution incident response plan which is regularly reviewed.

The Environment Agency has recently produced practical guidance on pollution prevention for businesses – it can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/pollution-prevention-for-businesses