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The case

The Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan gave water and sewage companies until the year 2050 to reduce the mass-scale discharge of untreated sewage into coastal waters. 

Our case concerned an extremely serious environmental scandal and is significant in highlighting the Government’s lack of urgency in combating the crisis and protecting the marine environment.  

We acted for three claimants in the Planning Court in a challenge against the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan. We worked with the UK’s foremost marine conservation charity, the Marine Conservation Society, an oyster company, and a high-profile campaigner (Hugo Tagholm).   

The claim was brought on the grounds that the plan failed to discharge the Secretary of State’s duties under the Water Industry Act 1991, breaches the claimants’ human rights, and is contrary to the Public Trust Doctrine. 

We obtained a positive outcome prior to the final hearing through negotiation on one of the grounds of challenge, which resulted in the defendant announcing a consultation on expanding the plan to cover overflows in coastal areas. 

The case was significant in that it effected real change to government plans. It raised a novel ground of challenge, the Public Trust Doctrine, which provides ancient common law rights for residents to enjoy coastal waters, and confers obligations on the state to hold the waters ‘in trust’ to safeguard these rights for current and future generations

Judgment from September 2023