UK: Critical Ruling: PPC Permits Required for Waste Water Treatment Works

Last Updated: 14 February 2006
Article by Sarah Thomas and Helen Keele

United Utilities Water Plc v Environment Agency for England and Wales (2006) EWHC 9 (QB) In a test case brought by the UK's largest water and waste water operator, United Utilities, the High Court has declared that four of its waste water treatment plants do fall under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations 2000. United Utilities (UU) will now have to ascertain which of its remaining 595 plants will also require PPC permits. In its judgment, the High Court was critical of the drafting of the PPC Regulations stating the Court had a ‘formidable task’ in interpreting the PPC Regulations which used language which was ‘obscure and its meaning difficult to grasp’. The High Court left it open to either party to appeal given the difficult questions of interpretation this case has raised.

Background

A declaration was sought by UU in relation to six of its waste water treatment plants. These plants were chosen as a test case to determine the main issues of principle between the parties:-

  1. Are the provisions of the PPC Regulations applicable to waste water treatment activities?
  2. Is sewage sludge waste?
  3. Is the treatment of sewage sludge covered by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive 1996/96/61 EC and the PPC Regulations?
  4. Is the treatment of beer and milk effluent from third party brewing and milk processing activities already regulated under PPC, covered by the PPC Regulations?

Judgment

UU argued that the additional need to comply with the PPC regime was ‘unnecessarily costly and confusing’ and could not have been intended by Parliament. This argument was rejected by the Court which found that the scope of the PPC Regulations should not be limited by the existence of other relevant and applicable legislation and that the Regulations were intended to, and did in fact, apply to waste water treatment activities.

The water industry is heavily regulated under the Water Industry Act 1991, the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (amongst others). However, the Court concluded that the imposition of further responsibilities on sewerage undertakers under the PPC Regulations was not inconsistent with the existing legislation. The PPC permit system was acknowledged not to provide for a substitute administrator, unlike the Water Industry Act 1991, and in theory there could be a situation in which the failure to comply with conditions of a permit under the PPC Regulations could render a statutory undertaker's activities unlawful without a mechanism for substitution of an administrator to continue to process in a lawful manner. This was acknowledged to be a serious practical consideration but not one to prevent the proper interpretation of the legislation.

The aim of the PPC Regulations and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive is to provide an integrated approach to pollution control to prevent emissions into air, water or soil wherever practicable. The Court found that under existing legislative controls there was an absence of a permit system which would require measures to be taken in relation to noise, odour and waste management plans as well as the ability to refuse permits.

Once again, the High Court has been required to consider the application of the Waste Framework Directive (75/442/EEC as amended) and the definition of waste. The Court ruled that there could be no doubt that sewage sludge is waste, but it also concluded that urban waste waters containing sludge is waste in liquid form. Although the Court was satisfied that even if sludge was ‘waste water’ rather than ‘waste in liquid form’ it would still not be excluded from the PPC Regulations by the carve-out in the Waste Framework Directive, as it was not already adequately covered by other legislation.

The four urban waste water treatment plants in question were intermediate treatment plants which discharged sludge to a final processing plant. The Court ruled that the aims behind the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive and Waste Framework Directive could not be achieved if intermediate treatment processes were excluded from PPC control. The PPC Regulations were held to apply unless the end product from the treatment process is sent for recovery. Recovery operations are not subject to PPC Regulations although are likely to fall under waste management controls.

It was common ground that the brewing and milk processing plants which provided the beer and milk effluent to UU's two industrial treatment plants fell within the PPC Regulations. The matter for the Court in this case was whether the treatment plants were a ‘directly associated activity’ which had a ‘technical connection with the activity being carried out at the stationary technical unit’.

The Court ruled that it must be a question of fact on any individual case as to whether the directly associated activity is being carried out on the ‘same site’. The two treatment plants in this case were connected by a pipeline over a distance of 800 and 700 metres. In this case the Court did consider the distances too great for the treatment plants to be considered to be on the same site.

The Court did confess to having grave difficulty in interpreting the legislation in this regard and came to the conclusion that the wording ‘directly associated activity’ and ‘installation’ in the PPC Regulations was so obscure that it was not possible to provide a clear interpretation of them, given the information before the Court.

What are the implications of this ruling and who is affected?

The decision has significant implications for the water industry and also impacts on other industrial sectors undertaking treatment activities for which it is still unclear whether, and to what extent, they fall under the PPC Regulations.This would include not just utilities and other procurers and operators of such plants but also EPC Contractors who will be required to comply with the PPC permitting regime in relation to commissioning of such plants. On the basis of this ruling, the Courts appear likely to adopt an expansive rather than restrictive interpretation of the PPC regime, although we await the next instalment of the proceedings with considerable interest.

Long term position - subject to review

Despite the significance of this case in the short term, it is worth remembering that the PPC permitting system is under review. The European Commission has launched a three year programme to simplify and streamline EU Law and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive will come under the programme's scrutiny. Further DEFRA, the Welsh Assembly and the Environment Agency launched the Environmental Permitting Programme in April 2005 in order to modernise environmental regulation.We expect two consultations this year on the proposal for integrating the PPC and waste licensing systems into a common permitting and compliance framework, including a new regulatory framework. This will be of little comfort however to the industry sectors that have to run their businesses under the current regulatory framework.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.