West Law Report

UNITED UTILITIES WATER PLC v ENVIRONMENT AGENCY FOR ENGLAND & WALES

Last Updated: 7:01pm BST 24/10/2007

House of Lords
Lord Hoffmann, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Carswell, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
October 17, 2007

Authorisations – Non-hazardous waste – Sewage – Sewerage undertakers – Waste disposal – Water treatment – Disposal of non-hazardous waste – Installations requiring permits – Sch. 1 Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000

FACTS

The appellant water and sewerage undertaker (U) appealed against a decision ([2006] EWCA Civ 633, [2006] Env LR 42) that it was required, pursuant to the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000, to secure permits from the respondent agency in respect of three of its sewage treatment plants. The processes carried out at the three plants involved the partial treatment of non-hazardous waste water and amounted to physico-chemical and biological treatment within the meaning of Sch. 1 Part I s. 5. 3(c) to the Regulations. The waste water was reduced to sludge, thickened and digested, then sent by pipeline to a further processing plant, Shell Green. At Shell Green about a third of the sludge was disposed of either by incineration or by being sent for landfill, and two-thirds was recovered, mainly by being spread on agricultural land as fertiliser. The issue for determination was whether, for a permit to be required, the production and discarding of the end product had to take place within the same installation as its physico-chemical or biological treatment. U submitted that the treatment of non-hazardous waste at an installation that produced an intermediate product which was then transferred to another plant for final treatment and disposal did not fall within the definition, set out in Sch. 1 Part I s. 5. 3(c)(i) and (ii) to the Regulations, of activities requiring a permit.

ISSUE

Whether, for a permit to be required, the production and discarding of the end product had to take place within the same installation as its physico-chemical or biological treatment.

HELD (appeal dismissed)

The three plants did carry out activities requiring a permit. The purpose of the legislation was, among other things, to protect the environment against potential damage from operations involved in the disposal of non-hazardous waste, including physico-chemical or biological treatment. There was no rational explanation for any exclusion from the permit regime of treatment simply on the ground that the final product for discarding was produced elsewhere. A purposive construction of Sch. 1 Part I s. 5. 3 was required and its meaning had to be spelled out by looking at the product’s eventual destination when it was discarded. The wording of s. 5. 3(c)(i) and (ii) meant that the treatment had to form part of a process that resulted in a discarded rather than a recovered product, but did not stipulate where that should take place.

Lawrence West QC and Wendy Outhwaite (instructed by Addleshaw Goddard) for the appellants. David Hart QC and Angus McCullough (instructed by Environment Agency) for the respondents.

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