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A housing developer has been fined 10,000 at Blackburn Magistrates' Court after admitting to polluting a Lancashire stream with sewage.
George Wimpey North West Limited was also ordered to pay 1,610.34 in costs to the Environment Agency, which brought the prosecution.
Finola Eyers, prosecuting, told the court how on 23 September 2003 a member of the public contacted the Environment Agency about a sewage pollution incident on a stream feeding into the River Calder in Whalley. An Agency officer went to the site and saw that a manhole on the bank of the stream was overflowing into the stream.

The manhole cover seemed to have been forced off by the pressure of the discharge. The officer found sewage litter and sanitary towels. The smell of sewage was strong, even 100 metres away from the manhole.The discharge had caused sewage fungus to develop in the stream for about 100 metres downstream of the manhole. At this point, the stream meets the River Calder, where the sewage was diluted by the increased volume of water.The Agency discovered from Ribble Valley Borough Council that the sewer from which the discharge was escaping served Calderstone Hospital and the George Wimpey North West housing development known as Calderstone Park. The responsibility for maintaining the sewer was George Wimpey North West's.

The Agency notified George Wimpey's site engineer of the problem, and the company called in contractors to deal with it. However, the equipment needed was not readily available and the failing light and muddy, sloping ground meant that it would have been dangerous for the contractors to carry out the work straightaway. The following day, the contractors traced the problem to a blockage which had caused sewage to back up, force off the manhole cover and leak into the stream. The contractors told the Agency that they were having problems because their hoses were not long enough, and when the Agency arrived on site early in the afternoon, the manhole was still discharging and the contractors had left the site. The Agency told George Wimpey that the problem was continuing, and eventually the contractors returned and cleared the blockage at about 4.00pm. The next day, they returned to clear up the sewage litter and fungus on the banks of the stream.

Apart from the unpleasant smell and unsightly effects of sewage pollution, sewage reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, which can be harmful to fish and invertebrates. Agency ecologists found that the water quality in the stream was much worse downstream of the discharge, which could only be explained by the presence of sewage from the overflowing manhole. Fortunately, the grass on the river bank had acted as a filter and reduced the long-term impact on the stream, as had the dilution of the sewage discharge as it entered the Calder.

Martin James Fishing