A cash-strapped council has been landed with a massive bill following a blunder which saw workmen inadvertently damage a main pipe, causing sewage to spill onto a nearby beach.

The incident in February happened during excavations for an extension to the Cat Nab car park in Saltburn, a project being overseen by Redcar and Cleveland Council.

Northumbrian Water subsequently had to carry out lengthy and complex engineering work lasting for several weeks, building a mini-treatment works from scratch and a dam to redirect water flows from the nearby Skelton Beck, and eventually installing a custom made new pipe and fittings.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) has been told that £1.2m is being sought by the water company from the council in order to meet its costs, although neither party has commented on the actual sum involved.

The Northern Echo: Raw Sewage spills into part of Saltburn Beach from Cat Nab Car ParkRaw Sewage spills into part of Saltburn Beach from Cat Nab Car Park

Northumbrian Water’s demand comes at a time when the council’s finances are already stretched with potential savings being explored ahead of the setting of the annual budget next year.

In a statement Northumbrian Water said: “We have submitted a claim to Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to recover our expenses and are working closely with them while they process our claim.”

The council, which previously referenced the involvement of a third party contractor in the incident, said: “This is currently being processed and it would be inappropriate to comment further on the claim or the incident at this stage.”

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency is continuing to conduct a “live investigation” into February’s incident, a spokeswoman confirmed.

It can prosecute where environmental breaches have occurred with the courts able to impose unlimited fines for pollution spills or even jail sentences. The council’s director for adults and communities, Patrick Rice, was previously tasked with conducting an investigation into events.

That looked at the council’s procedures and processes and has since been completed.
But the findings have so far been kept under wraps.

In March the council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, Councillor Julie Craig, whose department commissioned the car park extension, was relieved of her position by council leader Mary Lanigan.

Cllr Craig she had been told she “ran the worst department within the council” and quit Cllr Lanigan’s independent group as a result.

The LDRS has spoken to a chartered civil engineer and former consultant who described some of the steps that would ordinarily be taken before a “spade in the ground” for something like the car park project.

He said: “It would involve obtaining information from the relevant public utility companies, a risk assessment being carried out, a method statement prepared, and the need to comply with CDM (construction, design and management) regulations, with everything being submitted to health and safety, before you can put a spade in the ground.

“The procedures are the responsibility of the [council] director, but compliance would be the engineer’s responsibility.”

The former consultant, who wished to stay anonymous, added: “Northumbrian Water will want their money and the easiest people to go and get it from is the council.”

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