FOR THE TRANSFER OF PRIVATE DRAINS AND SEWERS
We now know that the transfer of private drains and sewers WILL take place on Saturday 1st October 2011. The Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011 was made on 23rd June 2011 having been discussed in both Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in the fortnight prior and came into force on 1st July 2011.
One wonders why, with the issue having been under discussion since the relevant Water Act was passed way back in 2003 and the full consultation procedure on the form the transfer should take having commenced in 2007, the Regulations came into force on the last possible day for the transfer to take place on the designated date.
The Regulations allow the transfer of ownership of a vast number of private laterals, drains and sewers currently the responsibility of householders and businesses to the local water company. The transfer is seen as:
Removing the unfair burden on customers currently served by these pipes
Providing much greater clarity on ownership and responsibilities
Ensure that the cost of maintenance and repairs will be distributed more fairly.
All those involved in this sector of the industry have argued for time to plan for the changes so that a smooth and efficient changeover could be effected. The lateness of the Regulations and thereby the confirmation of date meant the Water Companies had to be fully prepared with copy at the printers and all means of communication ready so that, as soon as the Regulations were published, all customers could be advised promptly.
Even so, the intended accompanying guidelines were not issued simultaneously and have not helped to improve the uncertainties especially for the smaller contractor. There are still several grey areas to be determined and issues to be resolved with items contained within the Floods and Water Management Act 2010, more of which later.
Well maybe. The majority of householders are totally unaware of where their drains discharge let alone know their responsibilities. How many know that if the house was built before 1937 the local water company is generally responsible for their drains if they discharge to the sewerage system? How many know that they are responsible for the pipe until it joins the sewer in the road?
As with all adopted sewers, there will continue to be some pipes that remain private such as the first section of a drainage run and the connecting pipes to the run. Privately owned septic tanks and cesspits and their connecting pipework, large multi-occupier commercial sites and sewers that carry surface water direct to a watercourse will not transfer. Private pumping stations will gradually transfer as they are located and surveyed to determine the works required for adoption with transfer completion taking place on 1st October 2016.
The effect of transfer on the householders’ responsibilities is illustrated in the schematics of typical sewerage arrangements together withand short video representations on Water UK’s website (www.water.org.uk
THE GREY AREAS
Some areas remain grey, some of which should become less so with the issue of the guidance notes. The Water Companies were expecting these in the January just past, so their absence has considerably inhibited both the planning and communication process.
A lot of time was taken at the last consultation discussing what constituted a curtiledge and the issue was taken back to DEFRA for resolution. The issue has not been resolved, despite some fairly robust recommendations, and it is hoped that the guidelines bring clarity. We have yet to know, for example, what external drains surrounding blocks of flats will remain private and how trading estates are treated.
The adoption does not apply to private sewers or lateral drains which are owned by the rail undertakers but exemptions could apply elsewhere if an appeal by owners is upheld; this includes those situated on or under Crown land. The appeals period is open for two months but the decisions could be made after the designated date. As with all legal matters there are provisos and provisions within the Regulations and I will leave it to the reader to visit the DEFRA website (www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/sewerage/sewers/) for more detailed information.
It had been hoped to have a new mandatory build standard in place by the time of transfer but this has proved difficult and is still under discussion with the building industry. Provision has therefore had to be made for adoption of sewers in the period post 1st July and the introduction of new legislation.
A major concern to both the private contractor and, to a slightly less degree, the water company is how a call out system will work. The former is keen to maximise income on what remains private drains whilst the latter does not want them working on their asset. Neither wants to leave the customer in limbo where a problem exists. A delicate balance is required.
THE PROPERTY DEVELOPER
There will be important changes to sewer adoptions for developers. 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. This agreement is being updated and, as well as dealing with layout, location and design standards, will include in particular the requirement for the sewerage company to adopt all sewers and laterals on satisfactory completion.
A specific condition of a Section 104 agreement is that the new sewer development meets a Mandatory Build Standard (MBS) which sets out the required standards in the design and construction of new sewers and lateral drains. This is still with DEFRA and a consultation is promised in due course. It may well be that a self lay registration scheme similar to that in the clean water industry may emerge. A new edition of Sewers for Adoption (Edition 7) will be published once the standard has been agreed.
Provision for Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) are also contained within this later Act and it is not yet known whether this will have any implications for the transfer where downstream pipes discharge to the surface water system.
It is hoped that the changeover will be smooth but call centre staff will have to go through a steep learning curve in order determine whether the caller’s problem is within a private or public drain/sewer and react accordingly. Full training can only be provided once the guidelines are issued, clarification obtained and information assimilated.
The majority of the sewerage company work undertaken to date has been on public sewers on public land, so a new culture has to be encouraged as much work will now be on private land and dealing with the public at a personal level – quite a challenge, at least in the short term.
Some householders may have to wait for the resolution of disputes, as highlighted in the Regulations, before adoption takes place and this will also have to be communicated. Care will also have to be taken where pumping stations exist and the public are encouraged to advise the sewerage company of there existence.
Meeting customer expectations will also be challenging, for while blockage clearance can be undertaken in a timely fashion the repair and renovation of systems will need to be prioritised.
Interim arrangements with small local drainage contractors may also be needed and care will have to be taken with reference to private drains. As each sewerage company seems to be taking a slightly different approach to this issue, there is still much to determine.
As with my last editorial, events will probably overtake publication so I urge you to check the DEFRA website and those of the individual water and sewerage companies for the current position.
National Sewerage Association
NOTE: Since writing this article the guidelines have been issued by DEFRA