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Private Sewers and Lateral Drains

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

I am announcing today that following an extensive review of the arrangements for private sewers and drains in England and Wales the Government have decided to transfer, from 2011, existing private sewers and lateral drains in England that connect to the public network into the ownership of the nine statutory Water and Sewerage companies (WaSCs).

Existing private sewers and lateral drains—that part of the drain that extends beyond the property boundary—are currently the responsibility of the owners of the properties they serve, a fact that often comes as a complete surprise to owners, who usually assume that the sewer and lateral drain serving their property are the responsibility of the local WaSC or local authority, private owners have to meet the costs of repairs and these can be considerable.

Private sewers serve more than one property so ownership is shared and usually a large extent of the sewer will lie outside a property’s own boundary. Lateral drains serve one property but always lie outside the property’s boundary. Transfer provides the only comprehensive solution to a range of private sewer and lateral drain problems affecting householders, such as lack of awareness of their responsibilities and unwillingness or inability to coordinate or contribute to potentially high costs of maintenance and repair. It will bring simplification and clarity to owners, local authorities and WaSCs, all of whom typically become involved when these problems arise. Transfer will also significantly help address a lack of integrated management of the sewerage network as a whole, and provide much greater efficiency of effort and expenditure at a time when climate change and housing growth may impose greater demands on urban drainage systems. Having a much greater proportion of the sewer network in the management of the Water and Sewerage Companies means they will be able to plan maintenance and resolve problems more easily and comprehensively.

Transfer will take place from 2011 to allow the water industry and those businesses operating around it sufficient time to prepare for transfer. The costs of necessary future improvement and maintenance will, after transfer be shared by customers as a whole through an increase in the sewerage element of bills for the generality of customers. Although these are uncertain, preliminary estimates indicate increases of around £4 to £12 per year across the nine Water and Sewerage Companies in England.

The Government will now prepare and consult on draft regulations to implement the transfer. The regulations will also introduce steps to prevent the proliferation of new such private sewers, in order to prevent the future recurrence of existing problems.