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Geoff Wilkinson’s Regs: Sewers

Private sewers are to be transferred to water companies

Technically, this is not news, as it was announced in 2008 but, as so few people seemed aware of it during a recent round of CPD talks, I have decided to cover it in this month’s column as a refresher.

There has been a long-standing concern that individual property owners have a liability for the repair and maintenance of private drains and sewers outside their curtilage, ie within third party land and/or the public highway. The vast majority are ignorant of this and could be faced with a nasty surprise if something does go wrong. Back in 2003 the government acknowledged this problem and started to make provision for the transfer of these assets to the water and sewerage companies.

A ministerial announcement was made in December 2008, stating that the transfer would take place in 2011. Following extensive reviews, the Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 came into force on 1 July 2011. The transfer is proposed to take place in phases. Most private sewers and lateral drains (that part of the drain which runs from the curtilage of a building to the sewer) will transfer overnight on 1 October 2011, while any relevant pumping stations will transfer on 1 October 2016.

Private drains that service individual properties and that lie within the property boundary will remain the responsibility of the property’s owner, as will connections that do not drain into the public network – drains and sewers to cesspits, septic tanks, and so on. For an explanation, see the diagram below (click to enlarge).

Existing Section 104 Agreements (ie agreements for the adoption of sewers by the relevant undertaker) will effectively become redundant once the new regulations are in force, because all private sewers and lateral drains will transfer automatically to the relevant undertaker. Undertakers will, however, still be able to benefit from any provisions in existing agreements relating to the provision of security for the discharge of obligations.

For new build sewers and drains, however, the position is slightly different. The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 brought in new provisions relating to adoption by amending provisions in the Water Industry Act 1991. Once the new provisions are in force, all lateral drains and sewers (other than surface water drains) constructed must be subject to an adoption agreement in order to connect into the public water network. The adoption agreement must include:
(a) provisions about the standards to which the drain/sewer are to be constructed; and
(b) provisions about the adoption by the undertaker.

The standards of construction must accord with the standards published by the Secretary of State, unless expressly agreed with the undertaker.  

To support this transfer, new mandatory building standards will be introduced to control the construction of all new private drains and both private and public sewers. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has asked Water UK to produce this standard, and the draft document, Mandatory Build Standard for Sewerage (England & Wales), has now been completed.

Bizarrely, sewers and drains that are built or connected between 1 July 2011 and 1 October 2011 will not qualify for automatic transfer and could potentially remain private pending a supplementary transfer order that is planned for 1 April 2012.

Under building regulations, extensions to existing buildings and new buildings are checked against the map of sewers provided by the water board. This check is carried out as soon as possible and the applicant or agent is advised of the outcome.

Where a proposal is likely to be within 3m of a sewer shown on the map of sewers, the water authority is advised, so that its observations or recommendations can be borne in mind in issuing a decision. Architects should bear in mind that water authorities might require a separate application to be made and might impose additional requirements, such as a CCTV survey, or even diversion. For an example of guidance on building over or close to public sewers, go to www.thameswater.co.uk/cps/rde/xbcr/corp/building-over-a-public-sewer-guide-112Kb-020408.pdf.

  • Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors, Wilkinson Construction Consultants

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