Water service rapped for unlawful connections

New developments in Northern Ireland should not have been connected to the public sewers without a full environmental impact assessment, a court has ruled.

Application by Friends of the Earth for Judicial Review

In a case before the High Court in Belfast, the Northern Ireland Water Service has been found to be acting unlawfully by allowing new developments to be connected to the public sewer without taking into account the impacts on the environment.

The case concerned a challenge raised by Friends of the Earth earlier this year to governmental policy which permits new housing developments to connect to the public sewer where sewage treatment is inadequate or non-existent.

Applications for connections to the sewage system within Northern Ireland are made to Water Service who have a broad discretion whether or not to grant new connections.

However, following refusal by the Northern Ireland Water Service to provide assurance that they would not allow further connections to be made where to do so would increase the non-compliance with European law and would increase environmental harm, Friends of the Earth raised a judicial review action against Water Service regarding their policy to allow development within 57 sewage 'hotspots' across Northern Ireland.

The ruling made this week by the High Court in Belfast, finds Northern Ireland Water Service to be acting unlawfully by allowing new developments in such circumstances, with the court having ordered Water Service to take pollution impacts into account when they make decisions on sewer connections.

While Friends of the Earth have been successful in their challenge before the Northern Irish Courts, following a complaint having also been made by Friends of the Earth to the European Commission regarding Northern Ireland's non-compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Directive 91/271/EC), the case remains to be tested in the European Court.

Details of the case can be found here, here and here.

In another action raised by Friends of the Earth, however, matters have not resulted in such a successful conclusion. Following an appeal being raised in May this year, against the Scottish Executive's decision to overturn the independent Reporter's decision to recommend refusal for the Glasgow M74 motorway, the case came before the Court of Session on 27 June 2006.

However, Friends of the Earth have been forced to withdraw from the appeal, having been advised of the risks that, in proceeding with the case, a judgement could be handed down which extended ministerial discretion and therefore may undermine future cases brought by NGOs like Friends of the Earth.

Details can be found here.

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