Council ‘not liable’ for sewage pipe blunder with claim now in hands of insurers

A council whose workmen severed a sewer pipe during a car park extension project is denying liability for the costly blunder. <i>(Image: Contributor)</i>
A council whose workmen severed a sewer pipe during a car park extension project is denying liability for the costly blunder. (Image: Contributor)

A council whose workmen severed a sewer pipe during a car park extension project is denying liability for the costly blunder.

The damage to the pipe at Cat Nab, Salburn, caused part of the beach to be cordoned off with sewage flowing into a beck and the sea, and led to several weeks of extensive engineering work being carried out by Northumbrian Water to complete necessary repairs.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) submitted a Freedom of Information request to Redcar and Cleveland Council in an effort to establish further facts around the incident on February 23 last year.

The local authority said it had relied on a project design drafted by a third party external contractor with council operatives subsequently damaging the pipe during piling work – where foundations are drilled or bored into the ground.

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It said it had not accepted liability for the damage caused with the matter now being in the hands of its insurers.

Northumbrian Water has supplied the council with an indicative figure of £420,000 in terms of the costs sought.

But the company has stressed this is only an estimate and it could rise.

The LDRS was previously told the final bill for the remedial work required could be as much as £1.2m, although this figure was provided independently and not directly by either of the two parties concerned.

The council’s corporate director for adults and communities, Patrick Rice commissioned an investigation to be undertaken by its auditors Veritau.

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This has examined the external contractor’s involvement, the factors in the lead up and during the works which led to the pipe being damaged and the response of council officers and Northumbrian Water following the incident.

Asked to detail the findings, the FOI response deemed such information exempt and declared that releasing it at this time could “prejudice the administration of justice”.
It said the current intention was to produce an information report for the council’s cabinet at a later date.

The FOI suggested the council had sought legal advice over its position and could take legal action.

The exemptions that had been applied in response to questions posed by the LDRS were necessary to protect the interests of those involved, although this position could change in the future.

It said: “Ultimately, it is considered that disclosure would severely prejudice the council in future legal action if [the] detail of investigations were made public.

“It is felt that, whilst there is a public interest in knowing the detail of this matter the public interest in the minutiae is not so high as to outweigh the prejudice which would be caused to the council, the third party contractor and, ultimately, the taxpayer.”

In a further statement, the council said it had reported the sewage leak promptly to Northumbrian Water, which completed its repair works at the end of March.
It added: “The outcome [of the investigation] will be reported to the cabinet in due course but, in the meantime, actions are being taken to avoid a similar incident occurring in the future.

“The council has recently received an estimated claim for costs of £420,000 from Northumbrian Water, which has been passed to our insurers. 
“The final cost has yet to be determined.”

A spokesman for Northumbrian Water confirmed its final expense claim was still in the process of being worked out.

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He said: “An estimated claim was shared with Redcar and Cleveland Council’s insurers and this would have then been shared with them.

“This is just an estimated figure and is not a final claim.”

Separately, in November the Environment Agency said it was continuing to conduct a “live investigation” into events, with the agency having the power to prosecute where environmental breaches have occured.