EC to take the UK to Court over Waste Water Directive 91/271/EEC

In no small part due to the perseverance and tenacity of Bob Latimer in dealing with the appalling sewage outfall at his Whitburn locale, the European Commission issued the following Press Release at 11 am on Thursday 8th October.

European Commission takes UK to European Court of Justice over waste water collection systems

The European Commission has today decided to take the United Kingdom to the European Court of Justice over non-compliance with EU environment legislation. The Commission is concerned that the urban waste water collecting systems and treatment facilities in London and Whitburn in North East England are inadequate and a threat to human health.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “More attention needs to be paid to upgrading collecting systems to ensure full compliance with EU legislation on waste water treatment. Such investment will bring enormous benefits in terms of improving the quality of the environment.”The Commission is taking action because it believes that the waste water collecting systems in London and Whitburn are being allowed to spill untreated waste waters from storm water overflows (known as ‘combined sewer overflows’ in the UK) too frequently and in excessive quantities. The Commission is also concerned that treatment capacity for the waste waters collected in London is in need of improvement. These shortcomings amount to an infringement of the 1991 EU directive on urban waste water treatment.

The directive required EU member states to put in place adequate waste water collecting systems and treatment facilities for large towns and cities by the end of 2000. The waste waters collected are required to undergo appropriate treatment before they are released. The directive provides that collecting systems and treatment plants may be allowed to spill waste water in certain situations such as emergency shut-downs or unusually heavy rainfall, but the spills being authorised in these two cases are excessive and go beyond what the legislation provides for.

Untreated waste water can be a serious threat to human health, since untreated waste water can carry harmful bacteria and viruses into waters used for bathing or other related forms of recreation. Untreated waste water also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can damage the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes off other life.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a member state that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be such an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a “letter of formal notice” (first written warning) to the member state concerned, requesting it to submit its observations within a specified period, usually within two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the member state concerned, the Commission may decide to address a “reasoned opinion” (final written warning) to the member state. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon the member state to comply within a specified period, normally two months.

If the member state fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending member state is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the EU Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a member state that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the member state concerned.

For current statistics on infringements in general, see:
For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.

To see the history of Britain’s failure to meet the Waste Water rulings do a Search on the MARINET website using the key words ‘Waste Water’.

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