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Sewage Discharges (England)

Volume 587: debated on Monday 27 October 2014

The Government are committed to improving water quality and protecting the environment. Following consultation on our proposals earlier in the year, the Government have decided to implement a simpler regulatory framework to control small sewage discharges in England. The approach has three main strands:

simplifying the regulatory framework

a more risk-based approach to sensitive areas

communication and engagement with rural householders, business and other stakeholders, as part of wider ongoing work to improve water quality.

I will today lay new regulations [Statutory Instrument No. 2014/2852] which amend the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. These changes will come into effect on 1 January 2015 and will remove unnecessary administrative burdens on many rural households and businesses whilst keeping the essential controls to protect the environment and prevent pollution.

The new approach focuses action on making sure septic tanks and sewage treatment plants are well maintained and not causing pollution through poor maintenance or installation, and that water resources, drinking water supplies, sensitive areas and rare habitats continue to be protected. Over the coming months and during 2015, DEFRA and the Environment Agency will work with stakeholders and partners to communicate the new approach to rural households and businesses.

The amendments simplify existing regulation by removing the requirements to register, keep records of maintenance and notify when a discharge ceases. The requirements to prevent pollution are retained and will be known in future as the general binding rule this means that the basic rules that people need to follow are not changing. The amendments also update the definition of an “operator” - the person in control of a small sewage discharge.

Environmental permits for small sewage discharges will continue to be used in certain areas to protect drinking waters sources and other sensitive areas. Permits, where required, will set extra conditions in addition to the general binding rules.

In summary the regulatory framework will now comprise:

General binding rules that apply to all small sewage discharges in England. These rules set the conditions that septic tanks and treatment plants will need to meet in order for them to be used without an environmental permit.

In or near sensitive areas described in the Environment Agency’s designated sensitive areas list for small sewage discharges, new discharges (i.e. those started on or after 1 January 2015) will be required to have an environmental permit. Existing discharges (i.e. those already being made before 1 January 2015) will be governed by the general binding rules. Additional measures to protect local environments may be set through environmental permits depending on the type of area and local conditions. The Environment Agency will take a risk-based approach to permitting and will work with Natural England, other stakeholders and local communities to take account of local conditions and evidence.

For areas in groundwater source protection zone 1s, all small sewage discharges to ground, both existing and new, will continue to require an environmental permit.

Discharges from septic tanks and treatment plants that do not meet the conditions for a small sewage discharge will continue to need an environmental permit.

The general binding rules consist of the controls specified in the amended regulations laid today together with technical requirements specified by the Environment Agency as the Regulatory Authority. The technical requirements include: the design and manufacturing standards; construction, installation and operation specifications; sitting and installation of infiltration systems; and the capacity of the works and equipment.

Copies of the general binding rules, together with some additional information on the new approach will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Government response to the consultation, published on 9 October 2014 is available on Gov.uk. The Environment Agency will publish guidance when the regulations come into effect. In the meantime questions or requests for advice on the new approach can be directed to the Environment Agency’s National Customer Contact Centre on 03708 506 506.