UK Government told by EU to solve historic sewage problems in Sunderland

24 January 2019

The European Commission has today called on the UK Government to resolve the ongoing water treatment problems in the Sunderland area.

Five years ago, the European Court of Justice found the UK guilty of breaching the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. As a result, the British Government was given until December 2017 to fix the issue. 

Data collected since the work was completed indicates that the initial problem has not been fixed and raw sewage is still being found on Whitburn beach by local residents.

Today’s statement from the European Commission indicates their intention to reopen the case and potentially start new legal proceedings against the UK Government.

Local campaigner, Mr Latimer, has been following the situation on Whitburn beach for many years and was instrumental in supporting the Commission in gaining evidence.

Throughout the years Mr Latimer continued to campaign on this issue and remained convinced that the proposed solution was inadequate.

North East Labour MEP Jude Kirton-Darling, who has supported Mr Latimer in advancing his petition in the European Parliament, commented:

"Today's announcement from the European Commission is excellent news. This is a long-running case throughout many frustrating years of campaigning by Mr Latimer. Over time, water quality in the North East has massively improved thanks to EU Environmental Protection Legislation. We have to be vigilant to make sure we don't slip back.

"I pay tribute to Mr Latimer and all other campaigners for their dogged determination to go against, at some points, very vested interest – all because they care for their local community. The EU Commission's call for action is the positive result of very hard work and perseverance. "

Full statement from the European Commission:

"Urban waste water treatment: Commission urges the UNITED KINGDOM to comply in full with a judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU : http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-19-462_en.htm

The European Commission calls on the United Kingdom to fully comply with a 2012 ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU (case No C-301/10). The Court found that the UK had breached its obligations under EU law on adequate collection and treatment systems for urban waste water (Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, Council Directive 91/271/EEC) by failing to control excessive storm water overflows from the collecting system and treatment plants serving London and Whitburn in Sunderland. Despite significant progress in London with the upgrading of three treatment plants and construction of the Lee Tunnel, storm water overflows along the River Thames are not under control yet. Upgrades to the Whitburn collecting system have been completed, but spills have still not been sufficiently reduced. As six years have passed since the ruling, the Commission is sending a last reminder before referring the case back to Court and requesting for financial sanctions. The UK has two months to reply."

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