Welsh Government Goes it Alone

Created on: 14/08/2012

 

CONFUSION AHEAD?
beyond the transfer of Private Drains and Sewers
 
It is now nine months since the transfer of private drains and sewers took place in England and Wales and, despite the lateness of the Regulations and Guidelines, the changeover appears to have been smoother than envisaged. Initial enquiries to the Water Companies indicated that work levels were much lower than anticipated in the first few months; this may have been due to the unseasonal weather in the period or lack of public awareness. 
 
The impact on the smaller contractor has yet to be fully measured but concern has been expressed that Water Companies are undertaking some work which should be available to the private sector thus placing more pressure on their diminishing returns.
 
It had been hoped that a new mandatory build standard would be in place by the time of transfer but this has proved very difficult and is still under discussion with the house building industry.   Provision therefore had to be made for the adoption of sewers in the period post 1st July 2011 and the introduction of new legislation. Developers should now know that there will be important changes to sewer adoptions. 
 
Under new legislation within the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, a Section 104 agreement will now have to be obtained in advance of obtaining a Section 106 agreement. A specific condition of a Section 104 agreement is that the new sewer development meets a Mandatory Build Standard which sets out the required standards in the design and construction of new sewers and lateral drains.
 
It would also be appropriate for surface water pipes that will be adopted by the water companies to be included in this mandatory standard. If the surface water pipes are not included then there is the probability that separate agreements would be required (increasing costs and delays) with all the problems currently in place for adoptable pipes.
 
The delay in reaching agreement has resulted in the Welsh Government decision to `go it alone’ by deciding to implement Section 42 on 1st October 2012; much to the dismay of the house building industry. This means that, in the area covered by Welsh Water, mandatory build standards will then apply to all assets built after 1st July 2011. These will apply to all sewers and laterals connected to a public sewer (i.e. foul and surface water). There are still issues to be resolved but Regulations will be going before the Welsh Assembly in June with non-statutory guidance to be issued in August. 
 
At the time of writing, no date for implementation in England has been advised by DEFRA and the launch of Sewers for Adoption 7 planned for October could further aggravate the current impasse.
 
There are a number of sticking points between the interested parties which more than likely could be overcome if the standard of workmanship is addressed; this can only be to the good of the industry. It should be recognised that the issue is not the mandatory standard, as such, but the ability to lay to a standard compatible both with the material used and the mandatory standard. Most drainage materials are fit for purpose (even some sub standard pipes can be fit for purpose), but it is the workmanship of the drainage operative and the type of contractor engaged in the construction which result in the issues that have required the transfer of private sewers. Poor workmanship results in disputes, delays and further disturbance for customers and additional costs to all parties. Any failures could result in excavation to newly constructed roads, pavements and private lands.
 
The introduction of a register for drainage operatives, advising the skills and competencies of that operative and the use of accredited contractors (similar to the self lay water supply process) who can show they employ registered drainage operatives with the relative skills, will ensure a trouble free process.
 
 
There is only one relatively easy and simple way to ensure better compliance, which is:
1  The entire workforce engaged on adoptable sewer laying has the necessary construction and training skills.
2.   The scheme would prove to all parties that the workforce had the necessary skills for the type of work being carried out and if linked to an accredited drain laying contractor process ensure that the water company had a guarantee that material and workforce had all that was necessary to produce quality systems that should give minimum maintenance requirements.
 
The water companies are looking to a minimum jetting requirement of 4,000psi (265 bar) but consideration should be given to the fact that the cause of blockages in sewers and drains are mostly as the result of inappropriate materials being discharged down a sewer and/or poor laying of the pipes. To clear a blockage generally requires low pressures and a good water flow. A high pressure merely punches a hole through a blockage rather than clearing it.
 
There is already a code of practice in use by the water jetting industry which recognises the need for the appropriate jetting head and nozzle pressure appropriate to the pipe material and condition of the pipe to be jetted.  As all of the sewerage foul system and lateral drains will be under a Water Company control, they should have no difficulty in ensuring that only well trained and informed operators are working on their systems.   Restricting pipes to be used for public sewers and lateral drains to a 4,000 psi minimum is in fact an over assessment of the requirements and will restrict the use of modern alternative materials in pipe design.
 
Common sense says that realistic and cost effective design criteria, such as the use of concrete surrounds to concrete manhole rings should only be required where it is known that ground water levels will cause infiltration to the foul system, and a modern design specification based on realistic probable water flows with a tightening of the construction quality can only be good for the whole industry. Why there is a suggestion that water companies could require a 100% bond when many have found the current practice of a 10% bond to be unnecessary can only be guessed. The use of accredited contractors to lay new adoptable sewers would be of mutual benefit.
 
A lot of hard work has been undertaken within the maintenance industry over the past decades to get conformity of standards throughout the UK Water Industry. This has resulted in competitive mobility, a reduction in costs and uniformity of work standards by competent contractors. The danger now is, with Welsh `going it alone’, that the possibility of variations in requirements will lead to confusion and an increase in costs for both householders and contractors.
 
We would urge all Developers and Contractors to promote the introduction of a register for drainage operatives and encourage their operatives to be fully skilled in the necessary competencies to ensure a trouble free and cost effective process. This surely is the best way to break the impasse and create uniformity of requirement.
 
 
Val Gibbens
Secretary
National Sewerage Association                                                        

Sumitted to Water and Sewerage June 2012