British Waterways Board v Severn Trent Water Ltd: CA 23 Mar 2001

The parties disputed discharges from a sewer outfall into the Stourbridge canal which had been constructed by a regional water authority in about 1976, under the previous statutory regime. The relevant outfall was therefore already in use at the transfer date pursuant to a right enjoyed by the regional water authorities under the Public Health Act 1936 and transferred to the privatised sewerage undertakers under the Water Act 1989. The powers given to sewerage undertakers did not include a power, either express or implied for a sewerage contractor to lay sewage outfall over land belonging to someone else without their consent. Express powers were given for certain acts including the laying of pipes, but not for discharges. This contrasted with express powers for water undertakers which did include outfalls. No implicit power could be inferred; this was neither necessary, and nor could sufficient precision be achieved.
The Water Industry Act had to be construed as a coherent scheme in its own right, without any a priori assumption that it was intended to reproduce everything in the previous statute law.
Chadwick LJ summarised the position: ‘The fallacy, as it seems to me, lies in the underlying (but unspoken) premise that Parliament must have intended that sewerage undertakers should have facilities to discharge (which, plainly, they do require in order to carry out their functions) without paying for those facilities. Whether or not that premise could have been supported in the context of a public authority charged with functions imposed in the interests of public health, it cannot be supported, as it seems to me, in the context of legislation enacted following a decision to privatise the water industry.’


Peter Gibson, Chadwick, Keene LJJ


Times 23-Mar-2001, Gazette 29-Mar-2001, Gazette 20-Apr-2001, [2001] 3 WLR 613, [2002] Ch 25, [2001] EWCA Civ 276, [2002] EHLR 1, [2001] 3 All ER 673, [2001] Env LR 45, [2001] NPC 53




Water Industry Act 1991 159, Public Health Act 1936, Water Act 1989


England and Wales


Appeal fromBritish Waterways Board v Severn Trent Water Ltd ChD 26-Oct-1999
A water company may have the implied power to discharge surface run-off water from sewers into canals. The powers and duties of water companies and sewerage undertakers were different both under statute and in general. The power to lay a run-off . .

Cited by:

CitedThe Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd and Another v United Utilities Water Plc SC 2-Jul-2014
The court was asked: ‘whether a sewerage undertaker under the Water Industry Act 1991 has a statutory right to discharge surface water and treated effluent into private watercourses such as the Respondents’ canals without the consent of their . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Environment, Utilities, Land

Updated: 18 May 2022; Ref: scu.78652