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An Oxfordshire bakery has just been hit with a record fine for environmental negligence

Environmental Negligence Judged More Harshly Than Ever

Jun 2019

An Oxfordshire bakery has just been hit with a record fine for environmental negligence, despite the fact that no actual environmental harm was caused.

A fine of £180,000, comprising a £140,000 penalty for offences under the Water Industry Act 1991 and legal costs of £40,000, was handed out to the Lady Bakery based in Banbury.  This is the largest fine, to date, ever levied at a trade effluent prosecution, but could be a sign of the level of fines to expect in the future.

The bakery pleaded guilty to seven offences brought to light by Thames Water.  Its culpability related to uncontrolled trade waste discharges into surface water sewer systems, as well as into foul systems.  This opened up the possibility of this waste entering rivers and streams and contaminating those watercourses significantly.

This judgement comes at a time when concern for the planet has never been higher and perhaps reflects the mood of society.  It coincides with environmental protest at an HS2 site in Hillingdon, London, where protesters say the aquifer serving 3.2m people in London could be contaminated.

In Northumberland, groundwater contamination fears have halted plans to extend a quarry, whilst the 2019 Construction News Awards feature finalist, Robertson, whose £140m distillery project, The Macallan, situated close to the River Spey, has been supported by a bespoke water management system.  This is so as to have zero environmental impact on the watercourse.

Putting these scenarios together demonstrates the seriousness with which environmental contamination is viewed in the eyes of both the law and the public.   In a world of immediate news, social media and whistle-blowing, the type of cover-ups we have seen in the past in relation to environmental pollution just cannot hope to succeed, especially as environmental scrutiny on the part of the relevant authorities is now comprehensive and advanced.

Environmental accidents and errors of judgement do happen.  Some sectors, such as construction, transportation and manufacturing, are more susceptible to claims being brought for environmental liability, but many other businesses could also find themselves in court, should their actions be damaging to the environment in a variety of ways.  Pollution to land, air, water and biodiversity can all lead to a business finding itself in the dock.

Environmental Liability Insurance covers the cost of repairing environmental damage arising from both UK and EU legislation and common law claims.  It covers the charges that an authority would levy for cleaning up the environmental contamination, third party liability - which would include adverse impacts on property values - and also nuisance claims.  Legal costs and expenses should also be covered by the policy.

Whilst businesses may have other types of cover, such as public liability, motor and property insurance, these policies typically provide only limited amounts of cover for environmental damage.  With the extensive costs associated with such damage, the amounts of cover on offer through these policies is unlikely to be sufficient for any clean-up, legal costs or damages.

If you operate in a sector vulnerable to accidents that could lead to environmental liability claims and actions being brought against you and wish to talk to an insurance specialist who can assist you with your needs in this regard, please take advantage of our ‘Find a Local Broker’ tool.