Yorkshire Water’s £1m pay-out to charities branded ‘pathetic’
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Last updated Nov 30, 2023
A photo of polluted water flowing into Hookstone Beck.

News of Yorkshire Water’s record £1 million payout to environmental charities to atone for polluting Hookstone Beck in Harrogate has met with mixed reactions, with one local politician branding it “pathetic”. 

As we reported yesterday, the utility company polluted Hookstone Beck in 2016 with an unauthorised sewage discharge, killing fish and breaching its environmental permit. 

Following an investigation, it offered the Environment Agency an Enforcement Undertaking to pay £500,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and £500,000 to Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust. The Agency accepted the undertaking, making it the largest civil sanction it has ever accepted. 

Yorkshire Water has also completed a £1.85 million sewer network upgrade in the area as part of the enforcement terms. 

But Tom Gordon, parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, slammed the agreement. He said: 

“This is a pathetic pay-out for a firm which raked in over £500 million in profit last year. Conservative Ministers need to get tough on this polluting firm and fine them far more, as well as ban their insulting bonuses.

“It is a scandal that Yorkshire Water’s exec bonuses are more than double the amount offered for killing animals and destroying rivers in Harrogate.

“This reeks of a pathetic bribe, which Ministers have fallen for – hook, line and sinker.”


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Mr Gordon’s adversary, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, who is a colleague of the Ministers referred to by Mr Gordon, was more phlegmatic. He said:

“This is a significant sum in respect of an incident over seven years ago. These incidents should not happen and I am aware through my regular contact with Yorkshire Water on water-quality issues that substantial investment has been made since this event.

“The fact that such a large penalty has been paid by Yorkshire Water shows the seriousness with which the government takes pollution. I am pleased to see that the money is being spent locally – importantly on improvements to the River Nidd catchment and at Staveley Nature Reserve to support wildlife habitats.”

Photo of volunteers from Nidd Action Group sampling water quality in Oak Beck.

Volunteers from Nidd Action Group sampled water quality in rivers and becks across the district over the summer.

Meanwhile, Nidd Action Group (NAG), which was set up in Knaresborough in 2022 to stop sewage pollution and make local rivers safer, said it was disappointed the deal had taken seven years to strike, but hoped it would serve to change water companies’ behaviour. 

David Clayden, chairperson of Nidd Action Group, said: 

“NAG deplores the huge amount of sewage (treated and untreated) that continues to enter the river Nidd, often via becks that meander through parts of Harrogate and Knaresborough (2,000 spills and 12,000 hours in 2022, according to the latest data available). 

“NAG’s recent two citizen science surveys, in August and October, have confirmed continuing high levels of E. coli bacteria and phosphates in parts of the Nidd Catchment, including many becks.  

“One of our sampling points was on Hookstone Beck, and our surveys this year showed high concentrations of both forms of pollution, causing risk to human life and to the ecology in and around the becks, even after extensive work has been carried out.” 

“NAG is disappointed that resolution of these incidents has taken so long, but hopes that this ‘charitable donation’ acts as a meaningful deterrent to the neglect of our rivers and results in significant improvement of our becks for the healthy enjoyment of these formerly attractive local assets.  

“NAG looks forward to working with The Environment Agency and with Yorkshire Water to review the current evidence gathered by local citizen scientists and to ensure much needed improvements in the Nidd Catchment.”

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