Cleansing Services Group Ltd (CSG), which operates throughout the country, appeared before Bristol magistrates’ court on 18 January on a charge of failing to comply with an exemption for the storage of sewage sludge, brought by the Environment Agency (EA). The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
The court heard that the company was contracted to treat sewage waste at Kingsdown Farm, in Longbridge Deverill, near Warminster, Wiltshire, but, as confirmed in a written submission by the company, no permit was in place at the site for the screening and removal of debris before storage and later injection of the sludge into the land.
An investigation by the EA during October 2020 found that the company did not have the legally-required permits to screen sewage before it entered tanks ready for spreading on land. A skip at the farm was found to contain a sewage “rag”, which included gloves and plastic.
The landowner was not involved in the work and was unaware of the unpermitted screening activities, according to the agency.
CSG has now been fined £72,127 and ordered to pay £9,827 in costs and £180 statutory surcharge.
According to the company, the permitting issue was an “oversight”, but the EA challenged this as the company had previously applied for a judicial review of what constituted treatment requiring a permit in relation to section 3 exemptions, and whether the removal of a sewage rag was in fact a treatment requiring a permit.
In a judgment handed down in February 2019, a judge had concluded that the screening process carried out by the claimant to remove debris from the sludge is “unquestionably a form of treatment”.
Stephanie Marriott, of the EA, said: “Cleansing Services Group operates nationwide, and as a large company that had gone to the trouble of applying for a judicial review, knew full well they were acting illegally at this farm.
“As a regulator, the Environment Agency will not hesitate to pursue companies that fail to meet their obligations to the environment.”
A spokesperson for CSG said that the judge had marked the penalty under the lowest category of harm, and noted that the severity of the fine was due to the company’s turnover. The judge had also acknowledged that the company had not sought financial gain through not having a permit, according to the company.
They said: “We fully accept that a managerial oversight involving a local, single tanker operation meant we did not have the required permit at this site. We consequently pleaded guilty at the first possible opportunity and accept the fine.
“We are fully committed to operating to the very highest standards and within all regulations and will continue to do so right across the country.”
CSG noted that this is their first fine for sewage practices in their 90 years in the sewage business.