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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission refers the United Kingdom to Court over poor waste water collection and treatment

Brussels, 26 March 2015

The European Commission is referring the United Kingdom to Court over its failure to ensure that urban waste water is adequately treated in 17 agglomerations. In the EU, Member States need adequate collection and treatment systems for urban waste water, as untreated water poses risks to human health, inland waters and the marine environment.

In four of the agglomerations in question (Banchory, Stranraer, Ballycastle, and Clacton), treatment is inadequate, and one agglomeration, Gibraltar, has no treatment plant at all. In ten other agglomerations, where the waste water discharges into sensitive areas such as freshwaters and estuaries, the existing treatment fails to meet the more stringent standards required for such areas. The areas concerned are Lidsey, Tiverton, Durham (Barkers Haugh), Chester-le-Street, Winchester Central and South (Morestead), Islip, Broughton Astley, Chilton (also known as Windlestone), Witham and Chelmsford.

EU legislation on urban waste water treatment dates back to 1991, with long lead times for the implementation deadlines. Member States had until the end of 1998 to ensure stringent treatment for wastewater from agglomerations discharging into sensitive areas. They had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment from large agglomerations discharging into undesignated waters and until the end of 2005 for discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations.

The case also concerns excessive spills from storm water overflows in collecting systems serving the agglomerations of Llanelli and Gowerton. Innovative and environmentally positive sustainable urban drainage solutions are now being implemented to improve the situation. However the current spill rates are still too high and compliance is not foreseen before 2020. The deadline for having in place compliant collecting systems for these agglomerations was end 2000.

The Commission is referring the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.



The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses, presenting a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, promoting excessive algae growth that chokes other living organisms, a process known as eutrophication.


For more information

On the March infringement package decisions, see MEMO/15/4666

On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12

For more information on infringement procedures:


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