Private Sewers and Lateral Drains

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written statement – made on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Minister of State (Climate Change and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am pleased to announce today that following an extensive review of the arrangements for private sewers and drains in England and Wales the Government have decided to transfer existing private sewers and lateral drains in England 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 typically comes as a 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 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, environmental stewardship and expenditure at a time when climate change impacts 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.

The costs of transfer will be met by an increase in the sewerage element of bills for the generality of customers. Although these are uncertain, preliminary estimates give a range of bill increases of between £3 and £11 across the nine water and sewerage companies in England to cover the costs associated with transfer.

The Government will now consult on a range of ways transfer can be implemented. The consultation will also be used to examine how to prevent the proliferation of new private sewers, in order to prevent the reoccurrence of existing problems.