Whitehall doesn't rule OK: How a canal trust tragically missed out on a £1 million payout from river polluters
Over a year ago I raged about the injustice of the very wealthy Thames Water private utility being fined £1m for polluting the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal with sewage because they ignored a simple £30,000 repair to the outfall of Tring sewage works. The article is here.
I thought it was particularly unfair on the volunteers who are restoring the canal and decided to write to our local MP, David Gauke, who is now chief secretary to the Treasury, suggesting that the government might reimburse the fine to help the trust. which desperately needs the money.I also lobbied David Lidington, now leader of the House, to see, as Wendover is in his constituency, whether he would back the idea.
David Gauke took a long time to reply ( he admitted that his office had mislaid my letter) but finally at the end of January he replied from the Treasury.
His answer was a resounding NO. He wrote: " Fines are considered a tax-type revenue and government departments and their agencies, in this case the Environment Agency, are legally obliged to surrender these receipts to the Treasury. revenue surrendered to this account is not ring fenced for any specific area of government funding.."
Imagine my surprise then to see this press release on the same day from the Environment Agency. Headed:
Environmental Charities receive £1.5m from businesses that broke environmental laws
This revealed :
"There are 26 Enforcement Undertakings on the new list with payments ranging from £1,500 - £375,000, including 6 companies that have agreed to make 6 figure payments: ( among these were)
Among the beneficiaries were the Nene Country Park in Northamptonshire and river trusts on the Tyne. The list of enforcement undertakings is published here:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/enforcement-undertakings-accepted-by-the-environment-agency
It shows a much wider group of people have benefited.
So I wrote back to the minister which led to this reply last week from Department for Environment and Rural Affairs.
Yes they had been able to do this since 2015 - by accepting Enforcement Undertakings to cover river pollution rather than taking companies to court.
The court case involving Thames Water was in 2016. But here's the rub -because the pollution took place in 2012 and 2013 it was not covered by the change in the law
Two points from this tragic state of affairs. First I am surprised by the ignorance of David Gauke that as a Cabinet minister he didn't know his own government had changed the law.
Second it seems very unfair the Wendover Arm Trust has lost out. Perhaps pressure should be put on Thames Water - who has just been fined for polluting the River Thames - to give a donation to the trust. And certainly if they repeat this pollution immediate representation should be made to the Environment Agency for an Enforcement Undertaking so money can be handed out to the trust in future.