United Utilities accused of "ill thought-out distraction technique" after stopping sporting leases
United Utilities has recently been identified as the UK's worst polluter, according to data released by the Environment Agency.
The data showed that the company owned half of the country's 20 pipes that spilled the most sewage and had pumped waste into the River Ellen, near the Lake District, for nearly 7,000 hours.
As a consequence of the pollution, and the public's disgust, the new CEO, Louise Beardmore has been under relentless criticism in the media all year. Beardmore, who earns £900,000 a year and enjoys holidays in Greece with her husband, suggested that the reason for not renewing licenses for sporting tenants, was to 'ensure the best possible outcomes for water quality'.
Given the widespread water quality and pollution issues around the country that United Utilities faces, it is difficult to understand how the sporting licenses could in anyway be an issue of 'water quality'. And even if it was suggested this was due to lead shot being used, that is changing as lead shot is phased out in exchange non-toxic alternatives.
So what's really going on here? Is this actually an effort to try and get the media, and those members of the public shouting the loudest, to talk about something other than pollution?
Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance told the Telegraph that Beardmore's decision has 'all the hallmarks of an ill-thought-out distraction technique that will inevitably backfire'.
He said, "United Utilities seem to be panicking about its recent appalling media coverage over their pollution of our waterways. The suggestion that it is banning shooting on its land has all the hallmarks of an ill thought-out distraction technique that will inevitably backfire.
“If it is true they intend not to renew the leases for shooting, it will have irreversible damaging consequences for the conservation and biodiversity of our precious uplands as well as the livelihoods of rural people.
“Additionally, it will create a new problem for United Utilities which should expect to find all its operations significantly more difficult, as a large part of the countryside will no longer want to cooperate with them in any way."
“It would be a stupid move for any landowner and utility provider to pick a fight with the countryside, let alone one which relies so heavily on access on to other people’s land.”
Sporting leaseholders have warned United Utilities that the decision will result in gamekeepers and other staff losing their jobs.
Others within United Utilities are questioning where the decision about the lease came from, given there had been no context for the decision prior to it being announced.
One source close to United Utilities told us: "Given the known widespread economic and environmental benefits the leaseholders brings to these uplands through their management, you wonder whether there is more to it than meets the eye or if someone is perhaps applying close personal pressure to one of the decision makers there."
Further details of the decision will be disclosed as we find out more.