Clause 100 - Communication with public sewers

Water Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 21 October 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30, 21 October 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 136, in

clause 100, page 124, line 26, at end insert—

'(2A) Substitute for paragraph (b) of subsection (2)—

''(b) to discharge directly or indirectly—

(i) foul water into a sewer provided for surface water; or

(ii) except with the approval of the undertaker, surface water into a sewer provided for foul water; or''.'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 137, in

clause 100, page 124, leave out lines 27 to 32 and insert—

'(3) Substitute for subsection (4)—

(4) At any time within 21 days after a sewerage undertaker receives a notice under subsection (3) above, the undertaker may by notice to the person who gave the notice—

(a) refuse to permit the communication to be made, if it appears to the undertaker that the mode of construction or condition of the drain or sewer—

(i) does not satisfy the standards reasonably required by the undertaker; or

(ii) is such that the making of the communication would be prejudicial to the undertaker's sewerage system; or

(b) where the drain or sewer which it is sought to communicate with the public sewer is to be used for the draining of surface water, refuse permission for the communication to be made, or grant permission for the communication subject to such conditions as it thinks fit, subject to taking into account the considerations set out in subsection (4A) below.

(4A) Under subsection (4)(b) above, a sewerage undertaker may only refuse permission for a communication to be made, or grant permission for the communication subject to conditions, where it has reasonable grounds for considering that—

(a) it is feasible for an alternative method of drainage to be provided, utilised, maintained and kept in repair—

(i) which does not involve communication with the public sewer; but

(ii) which may include the provision of a lateral drain or sewer by any of the means provided for in this Chapter;

(b) this is justifiable taking into account the relative cost to the applicant of—

(i) providing the alternative method of drainage referred to in paragraph (a) above; or

(ii) requisitioning a lateral drain or sewer under sections 98 to 101B above for communication with the public sewer of the undertaker;

(c) where communication of the drains or sewer with the public sewer might contribute towards one or more of the following—

(i) the overloading of the public sewer or the sewerage system of which it forms part, and the consequential overflowing of its contents and the flooding of adjoining property or land;

(ii) the overloading of any sewage disposal works forming part of or connected with the system, so adversely affecting such work's capacity to treat or dispose of

sewage in compliance with any statutory requirement or consent applicable to it;

(iii) increased flows in and resulting overflows and discharges from combined foul and surface water sewers which may have adverse effects on the aquatic environment; or

(iv) the pollution of inland waters, the flooding of property or land, or the impairment of river or drainage systems, whether or not arising from the matters described in paragraphs (i), (ii) or (iii) above.''.'.

Amendment No. 139, in

clause 100, page 124, line 43, at end insert—

'(5A) Substitute for subsection (9)—

''(9) In this section—

(a) 'factory' has the same meaning as in the Factories Act 1961;

(b) 'inland waters' has the same meaning as in the Water Resources Act 1991;

(c) 'sewer provided for surface water' and 'sewer provided for foul water' excludes any sewer provided for the combined drainage of both surface and foul water.''.'.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Once again, we discuss sewerage. In this case, we are dealing with the difficulty that sewerage companies face in dealing with foul water—water that, perhaps, has come from a lavatory—as opposed to surface water, which may have run off the road. Those are very different types of water, and there is a different demand and supply for them. For example, if there is a thunderstorm, a huge amount of surface water is generated, but that will not necessarily correspond to the amount of foul water. The problem is that when water flows into the sewers, it can be of both types. That means that cloudbursts or sudden flash floods can cause the foul water in the sewerage to flood.

We need to ensure that surface water is kept separate in calculating the sewerage capacity required, and that is what we seek to do in amendment No. 136. That means that the sewers that are provided for foul water will be able to cope, because foul water is a regular flow, which is understood. Run-off water is a different kettle of fish, however, and we must ensure that not all the water is pushed into the same type of sewer. The question of allowing access to the public sewer from new developments must therefore be handled carefully, and the amendment seeks also to address that.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Is he suggesting a duplicate system for surface water, in parallel with the one for foul water?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

No, I am not suggesting duplicate systems. I am attempting to ensure that when the calculation is made for foul water, it takes proper consideration of the surface water, particularly when a new sewer is installed and taps into an old sewer. If more houses are built, there will be less land to absorb water; areas such as roofs and concrete drives will contribute to a large amount of surface water suddenly running into the foul water drainage system. At present, that is not being calculated properly, and it is not included in the Bill in the way that I would like. I am therefore grateful to the hon. Gentleman for demonstrating that we should think separately about those two types of water, although they will still run

into the same holes and the same sewerage system. However, we must ensure that the calculation is done differently.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Bill already allows undertakers to refuse connections to the sewerage system if they think that that will cause flooding. They have that power now. If they think that there is a problem they can refuse to allow the connection, and the developers can appeal to Ofwat if they feel that the decision is unfair.

The crux of the problem was touched upon by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). If the drains are not connected to the sewers where do they go? What does one do? A range of alternatives can be looked at. The Department takes this seriously. It is an important issue, particularly when one is dealing with surface run-off in times of exceptional rainfall. The Environment Agency is currently chairing a working group looking at the range of available options. It produced a consultation paper in May 2003 on design standards entitled ''Framework for Sustainable Drainage Systems in England and Wales''.

The working group recently discussed the responses and is considering how to take the issues forward. One of the key issues raised by respondents was the need to clarify responsibility for ownership and ongoing maintenance of sustainable drainage systems. My Department is currently undertaking work to address those issues and to prepare specific policy proposals for a further consultation document to be published by spring 2004.

All surface water disposal arrangements will have to be examined, including the issue of enforceable ownership and maintenance responsibilities. I am referring more to sustainable urban drainage systems than the drains themselves. The various options such as balancing ponds, wetlands and reed beds will be considered. I have seen one or two innovative examples of sustainable urban drainage systems. However, there are arguments about who takes over the maintenance, the management and the responsibility. That has not been resolved yet.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

If one has a right of access in the deeds of one's house which is legally binding and allows one to get to the drains, would that be affected if the sewers were adopted?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are going back in time—that question relates to an earlier clause, but I think that I can answer it. If a person has a right of access to drains, it will not be changed because it is a right of access within the deeds of the property. Such a right generally relates to the curtilage. If the responsibility of maintenance outside the curtilage goes to the undertakers, it should not be a problem for the owner-occupier. But there will be no change in relation to the right of access to manholes and for rodding and so on.

We are looking at the wider issues of sustainable urban drainage and sewer flooding. The undertakers now have the power to refuse connection if they think that there is a problem. There are some quite complex issues, but they can be resolved. That is what we are in the process of doing. The hon. Member for Leominster

(Mr. Wiggin) raised some important points, which we accept and are trying to address.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will see that that is largely what we attempt to do in amendment No. 137. The wording in the Bill was not as clear as it might have been. The Minister addressed much of that. A problem that will have to be dealt with at some stage is whether undertakers have the right to refuse the connection on the basis that the standards are below their acceptable standards or because it would be prejudicial to their sewerage system.

It will be difficult for the Minister to deal with everything that we discussed in the previous debate. There is a problem with substandard and home-made lateral drains and sewerage connections. We have tried to ensure that the industry is not burdened with costs that it cannot expect reasonably to offset.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The problem again relates to the retrospective situation. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the building regulations have been changed under H5, which now has a requirement for separate systems of drainage for new build. That means that a separate system has to be put in place to ensure that rain water is diverted from the sewer systems. In some ways, the problem has been resolved for the future; the inheritance is the difficulty.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

As I understand it—I am stretching to recall the circumstances—even on some recent occasions since the introduction of the building regulations to which the Minister refers, the issue has been enforcement. Some small developments, even individual properties, have made unauthorised connections into the sewer system, rather than go to the expense of putting in separate drainage for surface water. That can contribute to some sewer flooding where there is exceptional run-off.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; our amendment would prevent all water going down the same hole and would ensure that the hole was of an adequate size. He put that point well, and I am grateful to him. Will the Minister also confirm that, in amendment No. 139, the definitions of ''factory'', ''inland waters'',

''sewer provided for surface water''

and

''sewer provided for foul water''

are as the amendment would suggest? I am sure that they are, but can he confirm that? We have a problem with cowboy builders—for want of a better expression—and that is particularly worrying, considering that consultation is taking place about adopting some of the more historical privately owned sewerage systems. There is a danger that new build will take advantage of the Government's good intentions and builders will construct it to a substandard level, on the basis that they know that they will soon hand it over to a water company. I urge the Government to be

mindful of that and to be extremely alert to what may take place in future.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On amendment No. 139, I was not clear whether the hon. Gentleman was asking whether the definitions in his amendments were consistent. Is he asking that?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The amendment would confirm the definitions. That may not be necessary, and I am hoping that the Minister will confirm that.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is difficult to speak on the hon. Gentleman's amendments. On the definition of ''inland waters'', I assume that he is referring to the Water Resources Act 1991. I have a feeling that the definition was slightly different as applied to the Bill. The term ''factory'' in his amendment is the same as in the Factories Act 1961; ''inland waters'' has the same meaning as in the Water Resources Act 1991; the other points concerning sewers for surface water are not required in those definitions.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for replying to amendment No. 139. I have no problem with withdrawing all my amendments, but I am grateful to the Minister for those clarifications and the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). We have touched a nerve, and the Government will have to take that into consideration if they are to do what the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) wanted, when they take all the previously privately owned sewers into the ownership of the water companies. There will clearly be another water Bill when that happens. We shall revisit this issue, perhaps on Report, but certainly under that Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 138, in

clause 100, page 124, leave out lines 39 to 43 and insert—

'(5) Substitute for subsection (6)—

''(6) Any question arising under subsections (3) to (5A) above between a sewerage undertaker and a person proposing to make a communication as to—

(a) the reasonableness of the undertaker's refusal to permit a connection to be made, or the reasonableness of the conditions on which the undertaker is prepared to permit a communication to be made; or

(b) as to the reasonableness of any requirement under subsections (5) or (5A) above,

may, on the application of that person, be determined by the Authority under section 30A above (and accordingly section 105 above shall not apply to any requirement under subsection (5A) above).

(6A) In making a determination under subsection (6)(a) above, the Director shall consult and take into account the views of the Environment Agency and any affected riparian owners.''.'.

The amendment is similar to the previous amendments and we are seeking again to ensure that the definitions are consistent, concise and fair. Judging from the way in which the debate has flowed today, that question is still up in the air. I hope that the Government will include this type of issue in their consultation, certainly that with the professionals who

they hope will take over the privately owned sewers. There is an implicit compliment in that people feel that they are the best equipped to run sewers. I agree with that, but we must be mindful of how we work out how it is paid for. I would prefer stamp duty, as I said earlier, but that is because there will be area charges which will be difficult unless we find a way of smoothing things out.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This proposal, too, deals with sewer flooding, who should be consulted and what should be taken into account in relation to connection.

I take the opportunity to correct the hon. Gentleman about the previous debate on the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood. The Government have not conceded that private sewers are to be taken over by the sewerage companies. What we said is that we are willing to consider an enabling measure in the Bill if after the consultation, discussion and consideration it is thought to be the best way forward. That is what we were discussing earlier. I make it absolutely clear that no decision has been taken.

An authority may wish to refuse connection for a variety of reasons and the amendment would put the matter into the category on which there would have to be an automatic consultation on every connection, which is unnecessary. For example, the debate might be about the suitability of a particular type of fitting. We would not expect Ofwat to have a formal consultation with the Environment Agency or riparian owners on such a minor change.

The amendment also does not list other important potential consultees such as local authorities or the Consumer Council for Water. It could not be justified to single out the Environment Agency and riparian owners, because there are other interested people. There is no need to prescribe as rigidly as the amendment; there will be wide consultation, which is the reason for the working parties. All interested stakeholders will have the opportunity to make their case and to have it taken into account.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The water companies, who have every reason to want the matter clarified, will have heard what the Minister said. The wording in my proposal may be too prescriptive. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.