Developer 'knowingly permits' contractor's environmental offence

Developer 'knowingly permits' contractor's environmental offence

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Author: Sophie Wilkinson

The Court of Appeal has decided that a developer can commit the offence of 'knowingly permitting' the deposit of waste by its contractor, despite having no knowledge that the deposit was in breach of an environmental permit.

The decision was reached in the case of Walker and Son (Hauliers) Ltd v Environment Agency in which Walker and Son (Hauliers) Ltd instructed its contractor to demolish buildings on its site. The contractor then used the site as an illegal waste transfer site and to burn waste.

Walker and Son (Hauliers) Ltd had no knowledge that the activities were in breach of an environmental permit.

The court adopted a restrictive view of 'knowingly permitting' and held that to commit the offence it is sufficient:

  • that waste operations were taking place on site;
  • those waste operations were unlawful;
  • that the defendant was aware of the waste operations; and
  • that the defendant failed to take any steps to prevent those waste operations.

It was not necessary to know that the deposit was not authorised by an environmental permit or was in breach of an environmental permit. The court reasoned that there were means to check whether a permit existed and the conditions of the permits and that ignorance should not be a defence to an environmental offence.

The case provides confirmation that owners and occupiers are required to ensure that operations on their property comply with environmental permitting requirements. They cannot argue that they were not aware of the need for a permit.

The developer was refused leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in April 2014.