SCOTTISH WATER is facing a massive legal claim from residents who say the stench from the Capital's sewage works is blighting their lives.
The Leith Links Residents' Association has instructed lawyers to prepare a case against the utility firm for failing to do enough to tackle the odour produced by the Seafield works.
With more than a thousand residents potentially in line for annual pay outs of 2,000 to 3,000 stretching back over several years, Scottish Water could face a bill of up to 30 million if the claim is successful.
The case is being handled in partnership by Edinburgh-based legal firm Lawford Kidd and Cardiff firm Hugh James, specialists in environmental law.
The Welsh firm is currently handling a similar case against Thames Water, where more than 1,000 residents living close to a water treatment works in the London borough of Hounslow are claiming compensation of between 2,000 and 3,000 a year.
Lawyer Neil Stockdale, who is acting on behalf of the Leith residents, said: "We are working with Leith Links Residents' Association to investigate a possible claim.
"Lawford Kidd have made several requests under the Freedom of Information Act to Edinburgh City Council, Scottish Water and also Sepa (Scottish Environment Protection Agency] for documentation. We are looking carefully to assess the merits of a case against Scottish Water for the blight the residents have suffered.
"Things are at a very early stage and we have not initiated any action with anybody at the moment."
Mr Stockdale said potentially "hundreds if not thousands" of local people could be involved in the group legal action, which is understood to be being carried out on a no win, no fee basis.
There could also be moves to seek an injunction forcing Scottish Water to stop creating any more odour.
Scottish Water and the council spent 20 million putting an "odour abatement plan" into action, which was expected to curb the sewage smell but Rob Kirkwood, spokesman for the Leith Links Residents' Association, said local people were continuing to live with the stench.
He said: "For the past 50 years, large numbers of Leithers have had to live inside a cloud of hydrogen sulphide – the smell of rotten eggs. Companies have always been able to treat Leithers as if they don't count and it has been very difficult to take on big firms.
"It's now possible to get lawyers to represent you on a no win, no fee basis and these big companies have to sit up and take notice."
He added: "If we managed to get 10,000 residents on board, then that's a lot of money in compensation."
Some residents are said to have been living with the foul smell for decades.
It is not the first time legal action has been considered by local campaigners. A similar plan was mooted in 2008 after complaints that mitigation measures did not go far enough.
A Scottish Water spokesman said the company was not aware of any legal action.
He added: "Veolia Water UK, operator of the facility, is currently constructing a multi- million-pound odour improvement project to address odour issues at the works.
"We have been working with community and local stakeholders to keep them fully informed on our progress."
DIVERSION WORK IN THE PIPELINE
WORK to divert pipes from a sewage works are set to take place to allow for the construction of the new 2 billion Forth crossing.
Diversionary works on an outfall pipe from the South Queensferry Waste Water Treatment Works will begin later this month and will last for around 15 weeks.
The works have been scheduled to ensure construction of the new bridge is able to commence in 2011, subject to parliamentary approval of the Forth Crossing Bill.
Steven Brown, Transport Scotland's roads team manager for the new bridge, said: "This work is essential as this outfall pipe lies across the proposed route of the replacement crossing. By carrying out these diversionary works now we will help ensure construction can begin next year as planned and that the project is completed on schedule in 2016.
"As the majority of the works will take place on the inter-tidal zone we would anticipate minimal disruption to local communities."