Edmund Nuttall's £52,000 pollution bill

Top civil engineering firm Edmund Nuttall has been forced to pay out over £52,000 after being prosecuted twice for water pollution offences.

The Surrey-based company has offices all over England, a turnover of nearly £0.5 billion and more than 2,000 employees. In July it appeared in court twice to answer pollution charges after it failed to take adequate precautions to prevent run-off from construction sites polluting watercourses.

In the first case, Nuttall pleaded guilty to four offences before Bridgend magistrates on 25 July. These were three counts of causing polluting matter to enter the river Llynfi, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991, and one count of failing to comply with the conditions of a discharge consent, contrary to section 85(6).

The court heard that Nuttall was appointed main contractor for the £10 million Maesteg washeries reclamation scheme in 2003. As well as moving large volumes of earth and colliery spoil to landscape the site and prepare it for redevelopment, the work involved filling in old mining voids and dealing with contamination from decades of industrial use.

The Environment Agency visited the site frequently and offered advice on how best to control pollution during the project. In particular, it recommended the creation of settlement lagoons to prevent contaminated run-off from the works entering the nearby river.

Nuttall chose not to follow all of this advice and, in October 2003, the Agency gave the company a formal warning about the level of suspended matter in discharges from the site. Despite this, the company still failed to construct settlement lagoons and continued to discharge water contaminated with suspended solids directly to the Llynfi.

The company was fined £12,500 for each of the three offences under section 85(1) but was not fined for contravening section 85(6). It was also ordered to pay the Agency's prosecution costs of £3,122.

"It was really disappointing after all the work we had put in to help them," Agency officer Neil Herbert commented after the case. "The last straw was when they connected to a live system with no abatement at all."

Two days later the company was in the dock again to answer charges of allowing liquid mud to spill into a tributary of the Umborne brook near Honiton, Devon.

Honiton magistrates heard that Nuttall Hynes, a subsidiary of Edmund Nuttall, was installing a new drainage system along a railway line in January this year when the pollution occurred. A temporary earth bund put in place to contain run-off gave way and poured mud into the stream.

When the company became aware of the pollution it took action to stem the flow but it did not inform the Agency, nor did it inform a fish farm downstream.

Nuttall pleaded guilty to causing or knowingly permitting polluting matter to enter controlled waters in contravention of section 85(1) of the 1991 Act. The company was fined £10,000 with costs of £2,134.

"We had already visited this site and given the contractors advice, so we were dismayed that this pollution happened and disappointed that they failed to alert us to the problem," said the Agency's Andrew Sweetapple.